Commentary by Bill Buchanan
I have a terrible temper. It pains me to admit it, but it’s true, as far back as I can remember.
When I was 11, I received a James Bond Road Race track for Christmas. The 1965 Sears Christmas catalog was dog-eared and worn from my grubby little fingers thumbing through the pages to marvel at this wonder, and when Santa brought me my heart’s desire on Christmas morning, I was ecstatic. But after it was assembled, James Bond’s Aston Martin failed to make more than a couple of laps in a row without stopping. I was crestfallen, then furious. If a nuclear-class temper tantrum was capable of repairing defective plastic toys, mine would have run perfectly.
Over the years, my temper has been a source of embarrassment to both me and my loved ones. When I really lose it, reason and common sense seem to take a vacation. I honestly don’t know how my wife has put up with me for 33 years, but I thank God that she has. I have “lost it” in public and in private, more times and in more places than I care to remember.
On one occasion, in the early ‘80s, I published a small newspaper in south Louisiana. The newspaper had an adversarial relationship with the mayor and several members of the city council because of stories we had written decrying the appalling management and corruption of the city government. In keeping with the fine Louisiana tradition of crooked politicians, the mayor was later convicted of an ethics violation.
One day, when I was having a very lively “discussion” with a council member over the phone, I became so enraged that I ended the conversation by cursing him and slamming the wall-mounted phone down so hard that I tore it out of the wall.
Our office building had two stories. Unbeknownst to me, a lady had been sent upstairs to speak with me. It was after 5 p.m., and I assumed everyone was out of the building. I had been yelling at the councilman so loudly that I did not hear her come upstairs. As the phone separated from the wall, I turned to see a woman who looked like Mother Teresa in a polyester pantsuit staring at me in abject fear and horror. I apologized profusely, and then asked if I could help her. Timidly, she held up a piece of paper, and in a trembling little voice said, “I wanted to put this engagement announcement in the paper —- but it can wait.”
I was embarrassed, disgusted, and mortified. But the damage had been done. It’s like the old saying: You can pull a nail out of a piece of wood, but there’s still a hole.
Fortunately, things have changed. My temper has improved greatly in the last two years, and I believe it’s due to my CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine. I finally agreed to Ava’s repeated urgings that I visit a sleep center for testing, and it has been one of the best decisions I ever (finally) made. I was diagnosed with sleep apnea, and after years of being chronically sleep deprived, I am a changed man. It’s been an epiphany. While no one will ever describe me as mellow, I can say that I am happier, and more in control of my emotions. Now that I’m actually rested, the “meltdowns” are far fewer, and less severe.
The process is no day at the beach. At the sleep center, they paint your face and body with a gluey-goop so they can attach about 200,000 wires to monitor you. As I attempted to go to sleep below a surveillance camera, I felt like a lab rat. But viewing the video footage the next morning, and learning that I stopped breathing or held my breath for a minute or more several times during the night made me see the severity of my problem.
Getting used to the CPAP mask was a challenge. I looked like a fighter pilot preparing to shoot down enemy planes. And though I was told that some people had difficulty adapting to the mask, I found “bourbon therapy” to be a helpful aid.
With time, I adjusted, and the sleep mask is a much better solution for holding my temper than something ridiculous like “counting to 10.” All counting to 10 ever did was just to make me even madder.