What’s Real? The Stories We Tell Ourselves

While I was waiting to get my Pfizer booster vaccine, a thirtyish woman and and her male companion entered the small pharmacy. They were first-timers, there for the single-shot Johnson vaccine.

We briefly chatted in the waiting area until the pharmacist appeared, motioning me to the curtained alcove where the shots are dispensed. He was efficient and quick. I felt only the slightest prick in my left arm.

As I settled back in my chair for the recommended post-shot wait, the woman began to murmur how worried she was about getting the shot, how needles terrified her.

“I could pinch your arm and it would hurt more than that shot did,” I tried to assure her. To no effect. She claimed she was about to have a panic attack because of her dread of needles. I suggested that she go outside, remove her mask and take some deep breaths. She agreed, and I watched through the door as she stood on the sidewalk, gasping. Within seconds she returned, although now nearly hysterical.

Soon it was her turn behind the curtain. I was astonished to hear the pharmacist say, “Oh, what’s your tattoo?”

“A butterfly,” she answered. Moments later, she emerged, glaring at me.

“That was WAY worse than a pinch!” she complained.

She returned to her chair, and I scooted over next to her.

“I’m sorry if I’m being nosy, but I heard the pharmacist say you had a tattoo. How did you manage that?”

“I was drunk.” Made sense.

“It was a bet,” she continued. 

“Did you win or lose?”

“I won,” she said. She started to explain when the pharmacist showed up with her proof-of-vaccination card. She asked where she could get the card laminated. The pharmacist replied that it wasn’t a good idea to laminate the card because he wouldn’t be able to write on it if she needed a booster shot.

“I’M NOT GETTIN’ NO BOOSTER SHOT!” she shouted as she grabbed the card and headed out the door. “I wouldn’t have got THIS shot except for [insert profanity] Inslee …” That would be Gov. Jay Inslee and his vaccine mandate. Her words trailed off as the door swung shut.

She got me thinking about the stories we tell ourselves. We might tell ourselves we’re deathly afraid of something and then find a way to anesthetize our way around that fear. Or we might tell ourselves that we’re victims, helplessly pitted against someone or something more powerful. I wonder if this woman’s story would include intense pain in her arm and side effects from the vaccine so severe that she wouldn’t be able to work the next day. It’s all the [insert profanity] governor’s fault.

Reality is subjective — subject to the stories we tell ourselves. You know the cliche? “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!” Yet whenever I’m feeling unreasonably angry or unreasonably dejected or just plain unreasonable, most likely the fix is not “out there,” but in my own head. The story I’m telling myself could use a rewrite.

Just a pinch?

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