Grumpy, jumpy and jangled

I’ve got nerves that jingle, jangle, jingle.

Too much daily coffee and a tightly wound nervous system make me jumpy, particularly if I’m in a bad mood or trying to concentrate.

(Funny how often those two things go together. Do bad moods make concentration more difficult? Does concentration put me in a bad mood? Is that why my head hurts? What’s it to you? Grrr.)

Anyway, I’m frequently on edge, and that means a certain amount of wear-and-tear on my family, who must put up with having in their midst a person with the emotional constitution of Don Knotts.

My nerves apparently lie near the surface because it’s so easy to get on them, and my startle response is strong. I often react to everyday events like a skittish kitten. Surprises send me straight up in the air. Bad news can leave me reeling. Even an unexpected phone call can make me grouchy and tense.

Sudden loud noises occur in any household. But in our house, they result in even louder noises as I curse and spume and clutch at my heart. Normal people react to sudden noises with a brief start, perhaps followed by a chuckle. But for us uptight types, the clatter of a dropped pan is a perfectly good excuse for cardiac arrest and/or a phone call to Homeland Security.

The noise doesn’t even have to be sudden to be debilitating. Regular sounds can move from normal to annoying in the twitch of an eye.

Let’s say I’m writing something (which would be, oh, any given day of my life). Now let’s say someone is talking nearby. On the phone, in person, it doesn’t matter. Harmless casual chitchat. To me, the sound might as well be the scream of a power drill against my skull. Pretty soon, I’m typing gibberish. Or, shall I say, even more gibberish-y than usual. (Hah, beat you to it.)

I should be able to tune out noise. For years, I worked in newspaper newsrooms which, in those days, were noisy, smoky, rowdy places, full of practical jokes, clanging phones, loud arguments and the occasional small fire.

(Since computers and political correctness came around, newsrooms tend to be about as rowdy as banks, but that’s a complaint for another day.)

I was still a testy type, and a few newsrooms have dented file cabinets to prove it, but I learned to work through the hubbub. Once, I was on a roll and kept writing after the fire alarms went off. I only left my desk because my superiors demanded that I go outside.

But I got spoiled. Twelve years ago, I left newsrooms behind and started working all by myself. Working at home, I was able to control my environment. If there was a loud noise during the day, it was one I made myself and I usually knew it was coming.

After school hours, I still had the thrill of noisy young men, with their electric guitars and minor emergencies, in my home, but for several hours a day, it was just me and our sleepy dog.
That changed when my wife started working at home, too. She’s much busier than I am, and the phone rings constantly, and people come and go, and pans clatter in the kitchen. She can’t understand why I’m so jumpy and grumpy all the time.

It’s not me, I tell her, it’s my jangled nerves. They’re scaredy-cats.

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