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The sure cure for stress is a tiller in your hand

2008 July 16

I did something the other day that I have promised myself on a discouragingly regular basis that I will never do again. I accompanied She Who Must Be Obeyed to Wal-Mart.

For me, shopping of any kind is a mind-numbing experience, but it is particularly wearisome at Wal-Mart. I would rather spend an hour sorting my sock drawer than spend 10 minutes in Wal-Mart. For one thing, it's huge and impersonal and SWMBO usually sends me on an errand to keep me occupied. "Go buy a box of Band-Aids," she says, knowing it will take me longer than it does for her to get all the groceries for a year. I end up walking several miles, asking a dozen clueless clerks, and then discover that they only carry pink Band-Aids with little Barbie figures on them. Not on my finger.

But she caught me off guard: it was too hot to work outside and I didn't feel like paying the bills, so I agreed to take her to Wally World. I thought I'd be smart this time, though, and told her I'd wait by the magazines.

I started by browsing the junk magazines by the check-out counters, and quickly realized that you can't pick up a magazine or a tabloid that doesn't have someone telling you how to "be happy." When they weren't sharing the details of what Brad and Angelina had for breakfast, they were promoting some new way to "de-stress your life."

The headlines are designed to make it impossible not to buy these magazines. "Is Life Crowding You? Here's How To Break Out Of Your Rut" "The New 'S' Word Isn't Sex, It's Stress: How To Cope With It" "Grumpy Boss Got You Down? Ten Easy Cures" "Always Tired? Jump-Start Your Life With This Diet."

I wasn't feeling tired or depressed or unhappy until I started reading the headlines. It seems that life is too much with us these days, and we need to rely on these informative articles just to get through the day.

I've got a better suggestion: go sailing.

Fishermen love the bumper stickers that say, "Even a bad day fishing is better than a good day at work," and that's even more true for sailing. Sure, I love the blue-sky-fluffy-clouds-mild-breeze days on the water, but I also cherish the rail-down, spray-flying, mainsail-wet-to-the-second-batten kind of days.

The check-out counter rags seem to want us to be happy from adolescence to old age but that just isn't going to happen to us. Well, maybe to Brad and Angelina, but most people have to deal with life's vagaries.

I once tried to schedule paying all my bills right before I went sailing, because a fresh breeze and the pull of the tiller made me forget how grumpy bill-paying makes me. Even just climbing in the dinghy for a sail across the bay is an antidote for depression.

I was still musing over the magazines that seem to be doing a booming business, judging by the number of them that seemed to fall into shopping carts at Wal-Mart, when I flipped on the television that evening to check the weather.

Perhaps I was sensitized after my Wally World experience, but I realized that we're also inundated by television ads telling us how to relieve the stress and trauma of our daily lives. One commercial suggested that their pills could turn around "your daily depression" in just a few weeks.

Of course, the full disclosure that is now required of all such medical commercials was a bit off-putting: it turns out that same anti-depression pill could also cause hair loss, nosebleeds, suicide, rashes, and your fingernails might fall off.

But the phrase "your daily depression" stuck with me, and I thought about all these people who are apparently plodding through their daily lives with no joy. You should be able to recognize them easily, because they are only shown in dreary tones of gray on the screen.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that many people are finding artificial substitutes for simple pleasures. My mother-in-law presented my wife with a stylish case for an iPod and was shockedSHOCKED!to find that her daughter didn't own an iPod. My wife has never found it necessary to have constant music from dawn to dusk and, although she had a long and distinguished career as a big-band jazz singer, she doesn't like constant background noise.

We also don't have a Blackberry, nor do we have a cell phone capable of texting our friends. In fact, my wife's cell phone only rings when I run out of gas, need to be picked up at the marina, or when our alarm company wants to let us know our house is being burgled.

I don't think I'm an old codger quite yet, but iPods seem to be so people don't have to think, cell phones are used as a distraction from themselves, and texting constantly is just another symptom of boredom. We know a couple who send e-mails to each other's computers when they're at home and only a few feet apart. Tell me our electronic world isn't getting just a bit weird.

With the lurid "be happy" headlines from the tabloids on my mind and the nightly anti-depression drug commercials still fresh, I encountered my neighbors while getting the mail. Our conversation was cut short when she looked at her watch and told hubby, "Time to go our aromatherapy session is in 10 minutes."

I couldn't let it alone. I had to ask. "Aromatherapy?"

"Oh, yes", she gushed. "We have aromatherapy three times a week to get rid of depression and lift our spirits."

I swear I didn't flinch visibly, but it seems they spend a small fortune (from their very large fortune) for sessions at a local spa where they inhale a concoction of different scents that are supposed to make their life manageable.

Later, I realized that I also benefit from aromatherapy, but mine isn't lavender and hyacinths with a touch of rose petals. My aromatherapy is the essence of salt air, of varnish and sails, of suntan cream and old foul-weather jackets. Best of all, my aroma therapy always works, with no side effects.

Need to shed your depression and make your life happy? Forget about pills and diets and drugs and treatments.

Go sailing.