April 1, 2011

Observations Afterwards

red circle.jpg

the real test of your soul's strength is whether you are trying not to see it

As most know, I was the "victim" of a hold up of sorts, a "patient" came in with a gun and etc, long story short is I'm still here.

But I made some observations which are worth telling.

1.  Despite spending almost 20 very personal minutes in the room with him, I cannot remember what he looks like.  I know he's a male, I have a sense that he's about 6'1", and that he has dark hair, but... that's it.  If he came up to me in the street and offered me a sandwich, I'd take it.   I know the hair was dark, but I can't remember if it was buzz cut, or short, or...

I can't remember what he was wearing.  Blue and white shirt?  Can't remember.

I do, however, remember his sunglasses, I can even remember a hair on one lens.  The glasses were so prominent and unusual that they took my attention away from everything else, and, I reconstructed the physical appearance of this guy around his glasses.  I believe that if he was not wearing those glasses I'd have remembered his face or his clothes better-- thought it's possible my attention would have been focused on the gun. 

Now I know why they rob banks wearing Nixon masks.

2.  As further evidence: I had his chart.  I studied it after he was gone, and for sure I knew his name-- until Monday, when I discovered I had, for the entire last week, remembered his last name incorrectly.  Not misspelled it-- completely a different last name.  And when someone recently corrected me, I didn't realize I had made a mistake-- I was genuinely shocked to see I had memorized it wrong.  I thought they were wrong.

There's been 20 years of good research on the (un)reliability of eyewitness testimony-- generally warning against the transference and distraction effect, and the universally terrible idea of offering a witness one suspect and saying, "is this your guy?"

Most have seen the gorilla walking through the basketball game video, but watch it again:

The problem is that our attention is weaker than our memory, and selective attention to one thing is at the expense of others.  And no, it doesn't help that the girls are pretty. 

Practice can mitigate this, but not extinguish it.  And even someone like me who prides himself on his cool and his 133t perception skillz still gets tripped up.  I'll repeat something important: I didn't forget his name, I really believed it was something else.  I would have vigorously defended that belief.  "Are you guys insane?  You think I'd forget his name?"

3. I had wondered if, involuntarily, I'd be nervous to go back to that same office.  Would I be hypervigilant?  Would I have involuntary physical responses to the area?  Would I dream about it?

No, none of those.  When I awoke the next morning, it felt like it happened a decade ago.  I went back like nothing had ever happened.  I've really tried to understand why this is so I could propose it as a solution to other people who want to get past it, and what it feels like to me is that I was acting in a play a long time ago, playing the part of the doctor-victim, and now I'm onto a new role.

Reinforcing this is my feeling towards the guy with the gun: that if I saw him again, I wouldn't be afraid of him or even angry at him, but like he was an actor in a new role.  Why would I not be afraid of him?

I've tried to parse this out, what allowed me to get over that so quickly, and I think I have the answer.  Maybe this will help someone else.

4.  What's my pivot point?  What's the thing I keep coming back to, over and over?

If I run the fantasy version in my head, where I can imagine myself doing anything I want,  the thing I do differently is I get the door open sooner.  Whether I yell at him and he does it or he forgets to close it or someone comes in, the focus is that the door gets and stays opened.  When the door was open, I felt like I was no longer under his control.  That was the difference between having power and being powerless.

And so when I commanded the woman to get a copy of the insurance-- i.e. to open the door and leave-- and it worked, I had (perhaps the illusion of) power.  He wanted her there, but I told her to leave, and he didn't stop her.  I won that mini-battle.  And even though it closed again and he remembered he was insane, when I run this over I am "proud" of myself for being able to control the situation and get her to leave.

So what it comes down to, at least for me, is finding the one specific moment where I exerted some power, where I was not powerless, and it made up for everything else.   

Which explains the lack of hypervigilance or worry about going back: since I had some power the last time, I'll probably have some again.  All of this may be an illusion or a psychic defense, but reorienting myself away from my powerlessness towards a single instance of power completely changed the emotional memory of it.

Results may vary.