Yesterday I went to my nearest Montreal subway station, paid $3.00, then just sat on the platform screaming at trains. I’m one of THOSE people now. I swear though, this isn’t a sign that I’ve gone crazy, I had VERY good reason for doing so. One of those trains was talking shit about me behind my back, and I’m not standing for it anymore! No but really, it’s an INCREDIBLE way to release stress in your body.
A couple of months ago, while reading a book on female sexuality called “Come As You Are,” I stumbled on a science-y paragraph explaining different manifestations of stress in the body* (and why they make most people avoid sex as though it were two dudes in nice suits ringing your doorbell). We have three general reactions to stress, which will likely sound familiar to you: fight, flight, and freeze.
Picture yourself in your ancestors’ shoes, thousands or millions of years ago or whatever. You’re sitting in front of the hut that you made out of leaves and your own poop, just roasting some poor animal’s organs on an open fire.
Scenario 1: You see a freakin sabertooth tiger prowling towards you, but from far away. It’s in that place you went to fart last night so your cave-partner wouldn’t hear you and tell you how disgusting you are. You made sure to fart off-wind, but crap has that ever backfired. Your best option here, is to GET THE FUCK OUTTA THERE, aka, FLIGHT.
Scenario 2: You don’t notice the sabertooth tiger prowling towards you, because you’re too busy fishing out the 4TH EYEBALL you DROPPED in the GODDAMN FIRE. When you finally look up, the sabertooth is just sitting nonchalantly next to you, licking his lips. There is no way you could run at this point, so your best option here is to grab that stick that’s not even sharp enough to hold an eyeball, and FIGHT.
Scenario 3: Okay so this scenario is the darkest one. You realize, as the sabertooth is munching on your shoulder with no intention of stopping, that this isn’t the most fun place to be. You can’t run, you clearly can’t fight, but you CAN just mentally leave your body for a while so you don’t have to WATCH him EATING YOU. This is the FREEZE response.
*If you’re interested in reading more about this, Peter Levine has written some (what I hear to be) great books on it, with a focus on how to use it to heal trauma.
In modern life, our sabertooth tigers have become… a powerpoint presentation for all your coworkers. A girl you went on a date with who’s not texting you back. A um, global pandemic, where you have lost all of your paid work, you don’t really know what you’re meant to do in life, you are having EXTRAORDINARILY intense periods*, and you are completely isolated from your friends because your boyfriend lives with two pregnant couples and you can’t afford to take ANY risks, but they’re Quebecois, so like, even though they speak really good English you feel this inherent pressure to speak French, but really that just makes you stop speaking altogether and you spend most of the time you’re at their house just glazing over in your own thoughts because they’re speaking French so fast you don’t even really know what the TOPIC is let alone the nuances of the discussion; annnnd you got in a huge fight with your landlord over a slimy deal he made with you 2 years ago that you’re only just now contesting because it would put 900 more precious dollars in your jobless pocket every year. Just an example. (Those “theoretical” couples are, for the record, very sweet)
*If you are ALSO having periods that are ruining your life, check out this article for some juicy VALIDATION.
So let’s just say I’ve been very stressed. I’ve got loads of stressors, just like the rest of you, but where does that stress go?? Especially in the winter/early spring, where only the most die-est of hards put on their smooth-bottomed sneakers and RUN on ICE. In normal times, maybe we’d go to a gym?! Or go play laser tag and run around screaming bloody murder? We could go SIT on our DEAREST FRIEND’S COUCH and TALK?!? That’d be nice. So the stress just like, stays in your body. Maybe you don’t feel it because it’s really good at spreading itself out, hiding in all those lil nooks and crannies, but it’s there. It’s even speculated to cause diseases like cancer! But that’s a topic for another… person.
I’m lucky enough to be a part of this wonderful group of 9 women who meet every Friday morning over Zoom to talk about our feelings, disguised as a kindof creative book club. Last Friday, our week’s leader had us “shake out all the stress in our bodies” to this song, and I was shocked to find myself not only dancing like one of those uninhibited hippies from Burning Man, moving like I didn’t even know was possible; but I started sobbing. Quietly, so my neighbors wouldn’t hear me. SO MUCH STRESS was being released through this shaking, that it was overwhelming me. Then suddenly my throat started closing up, and I felt like I was being strangled?! Okay so I give the experience an 8 out of 10. I asked Kass, the leader, what might have been happening? And she tells me the same thing has happened to her. “You have to engage your throat” she said, otherwise the stress gets stuck there. And when you think about our caveman stress response system, it makes total sense. If you were running from a sabertooth tiger, or hell, running INTO battle, WOULD YOU NOT YELL?!?
We have trained ourselves to be so quiet, so neat and tidy, to fit into a civilized society, but we NEED to YELL. We need to run and dance and shake and fight and SCREAM!! Especially right now.
So, this is how I found myself on the furthermost platform of the Montreal subway system. (It’s called the metro, but despite fear of being kicked out of Quebec, I’ll use the term you ALL know) I came here to complete the stress cycle. My heart wrenched a little as I saw a sign on the wall with the number for a suicide prevention line—for some people, this situation is so much more dire than we could even imagine. Well, I’m starting to be able to imagine.
As I rocked from one foot to another at the spot where people statistically go to take their lives, looking at oncoming trains but never getting on, I wondered if anybody on the platform or in the security camera room was starting to worry about me. “I just came to yell at the trains!” I’d say, which I imagine would be returned with a look of recognition. “Just don’t do anything stupid!” I imagined them replying. That, by the way, is a line I just subconsciously ripped from Nisha Coleman’s amazing storytelling show about suicide, “Solving the Problem of Living,” which you can now watch on her website!
Let me just say, where you stand on the platform really matters. At first, my yells sounded more like high-pitched whinnies, as the trains weren’t as loud as I’d hoped. I was relieved to have a mask covering the VISUAL proof that I was screaming; but if you have ever studied EQ, my high-pitched lady range was actually sharing the audio space with the low-rumbling train quite beautifully. So I walked to the end of the platform where the train coming IN to the station was right in front of me, rather than on the opposite end of the track. The problem is that the train has already started to slow down as it comes in, so you have a very short period of time over which you can yell and be pretty sure that guy standing by the trash can is just going to think he’s hearing a ghost. What I found, is the best time to yell is at this very spot, when the train opposite you is LEAVING. It took me a few tries, spaced an unbearable Saturday-train-schedule distance apart, but soon I was just LETTING RIP from the moment the train started to pick up speed until the millisecond it left the station. At that point, people hear you again, as I learned the hard way.
After one yell, I felt pretty good. After two, I felt really good. After three, I felt fucking GREAT, and I started laughing my ass off to boot, just in case people were still on the fence about whether or not I was crazy. When I felt like I’d released all the stress I needed to, I calmly left the station, trying to walk with the body language of someone who clearly did not intend to kill themselves some other way instead.
Before I yelled at the trains, I was in a really big funk. I’ve been feeling super disconnected lately, generally walking around very slowly, mostly looking down, and avoiding people’s eyes in public. But after the trains, I was SMILING AT STRANGERS. I don’t DO that. I walked into a public library 5 minutes before closing, and just like, skipped around looking at books. I asked the librarian a question I could have looked up online at home, IN FRENCH! I ran into a couple of people I know, and felt myself telling them about my dumb landlord situation but all the while smiling so wide my cheeks were starting to hurt. I felt miraculously reconnected to myself, so I had the ability to connect to others.
So, I’m just saying. I really think there should be some sort of club for this, where we meet up outside and just scream. Maybe we could take turns chasing each other! I’m starting to understand why this one guy I went on a few dates with in the Fall told me about a fantasy he had that I would one day chase him naked through the woods with a gun. Or maybe that’s… unrelated.
Anyway go yell at something! Go to the top of a mountain, or to the middle of the woods if you’re lucky enough to not live in a crowded city. If you do, but you’re too shy to go to a subway platform, grab a few pillows to muffle yourself. Try it! There’s also a “Rage Cage” in Montreal and possibly places like it in other cities, where you can pay some dollars to go yell and smash things. Or you could just do like my downstairs neighbor did last night, and bang on your walls while drunkenly belting out opera tunes late into the evening, taking breaks every hour or so to go outside and scream “FUCK YOUU!!!!!” at the top of your lungs. While I was vaguely annoyed, I respected his ability to unabashedly release stress,* and we could all stand to take a page out of his book. A true sage for modern times.
*The cops may or may not have been called