I’ve always been easily startled. I think it’s a function of how deeply engrossed I get in whatever I’m doing. I’m truly not in the room that I’m in, not mentally. Details around me disappear and all I can see is what I’m doing. Sometimes it’s not even what I’m doing, just what I’m thinking. In many ways, it’s a blessing. I can generally concentrate on what I’m doing amidst other chaos, once I get in the groove. It helps my writing – I often feel like I’m simply describing what I see in my head.
But when someone sees me, say, sitting at my desk, and assumes that I am sitting at my desk, as a sane person might assume, and speaks to me, I get ripped out of the inner sanctum so quickly that it actually startles me. Alarms do the same thing; so do claps of thunder.
I feel the tingling shot of adrenaline as it happens, the momentary fall into fight or flight. Sometimes it actually feels like my heart skips a beat. It only takes me half a second to recover, but the physical effects will last a bit longer.
Enter my new FitBit. The old one died at, I swear, 9,997 steps for the day, a middle finger from the universe not allowing me to see my (rarely met) 10,000 step a day goal be celebrated by digital fireworks. So I got a new one. The new one gives me so much information. More information than I need, surely, but also more information than I want.
Turns out, my heart really does do measurable things when I’m startled. I get a little graph of my heart rate, and you can look at it and see when my alarm went off.
I’ve talked about it before, but I’ll mention again, that I have a neurological disorder called “Essential Tremor.” It is a largely benign tremor (meaning: it will annoy the ever-loving crud out of me, it will make tasks like eating soup and buttoning shirts super difficult, but it won’t kill me) that is progressive. It used to be only in my hands, and now it has gotten stronger and moved to my head, causing untold aggravation when people (again: rightly) assume that I am shaking my head in disagreement with what they are saying. The tremor becomes infinitely more pronounced when I am stressed.
Combine those two things and now I have data. I recently had to perform in front of a crowd. Public speaking doesn’t stress me out that much – 30 years of being a trial lawyer have wiped out that fear. But I had to perform. You might or might not know that in a previous life, I was a dedicated flutist. I won competitions and I’ve played on some of the most famous stages in the world. But that was a hundred thousand years ago. Now, I mostly play in my living room. My dog thinks I play well, as does my husband, but neither of them know how much better I was in the 80s. I know. So playing in public was so scary and so stressful that my FitBit thinks I got three minutes of exercise. That’s how fast my heart was beating. Seriously. Look at this actual picture of the event:
Then there was the day a few weeks ago where I had to deal with someone at work who was completely irrational and mightily angry. Usually, I can talk people down and it all ends in a few minutes. But this person was relentless. And wrong. And they got me going so badly that my FitBit thought I did 95 minutes worth of cardio. The most physical exercise I got that day was walking to the copier, but according to my watch, I burned a lot of fat. Maybe I actually did.
Perhaps I can figure out a way to market the stress-at-your-desk exercise plan.
All of which is to say that it’s peaceful inside my head, even when I’m thinking about difficult topics or doing intense research or writing. Really, if you will just let me stay there, I’ll live a longer life. But I’ll have to figure out another exercise routine.
 This is a serious problem for the courtroom, one of the many reasons I try not to take cases that will make me go there anymore.
 This is a very real job hazard for lawyers. It’s also why we’re generally calm in situations that other people think are stressful – because your basic “why won’t this idiot go at a green light” stress is so much less than someone screaming and cussing you out over the telephone for things you have zero control over.
If you enjoyed this and want to read more like it, visit Lori on Twitter or on Facebook or read her award-winning books. You can order her novella, “Broken Things”, by clicking here. The audiobook can be found on Audible or iTunes. Look for her novel “Devil’s Defense” coming in November 2024 by She Writes Press.
Lori B. Duff is an award-winning author who practices law on the side. Her latest book, “If You Did What I Asked in the First Place” was awarded the Gold Medal for humor in the Foreword INDIES awards in 2019. You can follow her on Twitter at @LoriBDuff and on Facebook. For more blogs written by Lori, click here. For more information about Lori in general, click here. If you want Lori to do your writing for you, click here. If you want Lori to help you market your book, click here.