I must confess something.
I have an itty-bitty flaw in my personality. Just one of many, this particular defect is becoming worse. It really irks me -- and a lot of other people, too. Okay, okay -- so it's not so teensie-weensie . . . .
I HAVE NO PATIENCE.
Zip. Zero. Zilch.
Most people would describe patience as the ability to tolerate frustration or annoyance without complaining or coming undone. That quality has alluded me.
I know exactly what patience is. I know individuals who have it, and I actually have been known to exhibit this highly desired attribute myself. I've actually heard of people who, when faced with an irritating problem or impossible person, can carry on in a calm and even-tempered manner, even when they’re exasperated. I, on the other hand, have trouble keeping my annoyance at bay.
I have a friend who can stand on line forever without becoming apoplectic. From my experience, that’s anything longer than five minutes. For this same gal, twenty minutes of waiting on hold for a human to pick up the phone doesn’t turn her into a rabid dog. Nice quality if you have it.
On the day character flaws were dispensed, I received more than my fair share of impatience. Over the years, I’ve lovingly nurtured and refined this trait. And I’ve developed a whole host of colorful expletives to go along with it!
So, now you know. Patience isn't one of my virtues. Some people describe their impatience as ants in their pants, pins and needles, or shpilkes, but I’ve been blessed with the “heebie-jeebies,” if you know what I mean. I’ve suffered with it for most of my life.
I’ve never been patient. Ask anyone who knows me. I have several fine qualities, but waiting isn't one of them. Family folklore has it that I’ve had the heebie-jeebies since before I was born. Patience is not something I do well, or, um . . . at all. Seriously.
The way I see it, a single wasted moment is like another nail in the coffin. I’m insecure about running out of time before the grim reaper comes for me.
I rarely cook anything that has more than five ingredients, and I don’t use crockpots or wait for anything to simmer for hours. I don’t bake because the urge to open the oven door and look or taste is irresistible. When I have a task on my to-do list, I won’t rest until it’s done. I make tea with hot water from the faucet because I can’t wait for the water to boil.
If you ask a question in class, I’ll shout out the answer whether you want it or not. Most people don’t. I’ll interrupt you in mid-sentence because, if I don’t say what’s about to roll off my tongue, I’ll forget it. I can read your mind and know exactly what you’re going to say next, and I don’t hesitate to tell you. If I have an opinion, you’ll get it, like it or not. I know you think I’m rude. It’s the heebie-jeebies that make me do it!
If I need something from the grocery store, I go right out and get it. I don’t leave dirty dishes in the sink or clean laundry in the dryer. I make the bed as soon as I get out of it. Spent blossoms get yanked off my plants before they get the death droop. I have eighty rolls of toilet paper stored in my basement because I simply can't tolerate running out. I don't sulk. If I have a problem with my husband, it has to be solved right now. I don't dance around it. I say what I need to, kiss and make up. Quick and dirty.
"Do you want dessert?" I ask my husband lovingly when we've finished dinner.
"I think I'll have it later, thank you," he responds politely.
I look him straight in the eyes and say, "There is no later. Later is now!"
I have no patience for long lines, telemarketers, incompetent drivers, small talk, poor service, salespeople, growing vegetables from seed, explanations, and hardboiled eggs. Stop signs frustrate me and I don’t like taking turns. I don’t wait, I don’t watch, and I don’t think; I simply act. I love immediate results. I don’t believe that every goal worth achieving takes time. If I were a stone and fell into the water, I’d find the quickest way to the bottom. Life itself is often a constant, unyielding obstacle. I end every day with the same prayer, “Please grant me patience — and do it immediately!”
For most people, achieving balance on the tightrope of life requires time, practice and — of course — patience. But I’m not most people. Sometimes I wander the world in circles of my own making. The heebie-jeebies have made it a challenge to be me.
Believe me, I’ve tried to be more patient. It’s not that I don’t want to develop this habit, I can’t. I’ve reached for the brass ring time and again, but I’ve failed. If there were a school for patience, I would be the first to enroll and the first to flunk out. I just don’t have what it takes. Personally, that is.
As a professional, however, I lived life as a creature of an entirely different sort. For over thirty years, I practiced psychotherapy as a Clinical Social Worker, a career that required inordinate amounts of twiddling my thumbs, tapping my feet, and counting to ten. Or ten million. And I did so with the most exquisite patience, in fact, dizzying amounts of patience. Work was no place for the heebie-jeebies.
I was drunk with patience, besotted with it. The words that came out of my mouth were timed with polished perfection. Moving slower than molasses in January, I was a model of relaxed composure with my clients. Cool and unflappable, nothing upset my demeanor. I gathered information in a methodically organized fashion, and then cultivated my intuitiveness ever so gradually, permitting it to ripen unhurriedly into incomparable bits of precious wisdom.
And then, with unrestrained precision, I would share those insights with my clients. I was outrageously skilled at waiting it out, watching it take shape, and allowing it to grow, all in its own good time. And it didn’t matter how many years I had to wait for that to happen. Even decades.
In fact, I treated one client for over twenty-four years. Diagnosed with a rare and difficult to treat mental illness, the individual was challenging and her treatment was complicated by other emotional, familial, and medical issues. Working with this client was excruciatingly slow and often frustrating for both of us. For many years, the rewards were few.
Many years later, I shared my experiences as her therapist (with the client's permission, of course) with colleagues in a professional context. “She's truly cured?" one asked, or "How did you do it? Twenty-four years with one client!” another remarked.
With my fingers crossed behind my back, my response was always the same. “I am an unusually patient person . . . ."
The contrast between my personal and professional selves has always bewildered me. I often wondered how the personal me, a woman who can be so ripe with the heebie-jeebies, managed to be so conscientiously enduring and tolerant in her professional life?
Perhaps the well of patience with which I was born, what I once believed to be limitless, must have had a finite volume. Maybe I just used it all up in my professional life, sucked every last drop out of that well. In its absence, the only thing left was -- you know -- the heebie-jeebies.
Or, perhaps my client's long road to healing mirrored my own. We were both damaged in our own ways. And that damage took decades to scab over and fall off. Maybe it helped me to hold her hand through the darkness, to give her the courage and desire to persevere through the pain. Perhaps working with her inspired me to develop more patience for my own healing.
It’s possible, isn’t it?