I appear to have developed some later-in-life allergies. These aren’t the typical allergic reactions—like sneezing and itchy eyes—to things like pollen, dust or animal dander. Instead, I’m having reactions to a variety of behaviors I encounter.
It’s a condition I’ve dubbed age-related asshat allergy syndrome, or AAAS.
We can acquire new
allergies as we age; I
itch to slap some folks.
Apparently, there’s a theory in medicine that all of us have what’s called a “lifetime load.” It suggests that we’re initially resistant to certain irritants, but over time we’re exposed to so much that they begin to break down our immune system’s ability to resist. This explains why someone in her sixties may develop an allergy to tree pollen when it never bothered her before.
I think the lifetime load theory also explains why, as I’ve gotten older, I’m unable to tolerate certain behaviors that I would let slide when I was younger. This intolerance manifests in a wide range of physical and emotional reactions. Here’s a closer look at some things that trigger my age-related asshat allergies, and the symptoms I experience:
Symptoms: Rolling of eyes and shaking of head, dropping of jaw with mouth agape, scratching of head, bile rising in the back of the throat, overwhelming urge to slap some sense into whoever is spewing B.S.
I definitely reached my lifetime load for this irritant during the presidential election, with a full-blown AAAS attack occurring virtually every time I saw an interview with Kellyanne Conway, coverage of Trump’s debate performance, or discovered that someone I knew and thought intelligent was convinced HRC is “evil” despite credible evidence to the contrary. A good antidote against these triggers has been watching “Saturday Night Live” parodies.
Symptoms: Cringing, biting of tongue to resist the urge to correct someone (a usually unsuccessful diversion that results in a sore tongue), compulsively editing what I read, yelling at the television when I hear someone misspeak (especially a newscaster who should know better).
Recently, my condo association had road signs made to encourage adherence to our neighborhood’s speed limit. Two of them said “Drive Slow.” Argh! I pointed out the grammatical error to the association president, who had the sign-maker produce stickers with “ly” to correct the signs. My symptoms abated. And I remain a member in good standing of the Grammar Police.
Symptoms: Wide-eyed stare of disbelief at virtually everything a narcissist says or does, accompanied by uncontrollable shaking of head; inability to comprehend such self-absorption and lack of empathy; desire to flee and stay as far away from the trigger as possible.
I severed contact with a narcissistic relative last year and have experienced tremendous relief from these symptoms. Unfortunately, they flare up whenever I see or hear Trump on television, so I take care to limit my exposure.
Symptoms: Silent screaming, irritation, squirming, urge to yell “Shut the f*** up!” (in extreme cases) or merely interrupt the speaker (in milder cases).
The same narcissistic relative (above) was also an incessant talker, so my exposure to that source of irritation has been eliminated. Subsequent encounters with other sources have been milder and therefore more manageable by practicing conversation interruptus.
Symptoms: Tapping of feet, drumming of fingers, obsessive checking of time, texting or calling to ensure tardy person is actually on his/her way.
These symptoms seem to peak after about 20 minutes without any contact or explanation from the tardy party. At this point, I simply leave and go about my life, which provides relief—and often prevents a recurrence related to that particular irritant.
Symptoms: Visceral reaction including upset stomach and clenching of bowels, face flushing from anger, rising of hackles, severing of relationship if betrayal is severe.
My threshold for dishonesty has gotten extremely low, and I tend to follow Dr. Maya Angelou’s advice: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” It relieves a lot of repeat discomfort.
Symptoms: Tourette’s-like urge to spew profanity (“Bite me” is one of the milder epithets that springs to my lips), immediate cessation of phone connection.
Some hardy folks have the constitution and presence of mind to suppress this reaction and toy with the callers who, these days, claim to be from either Windows technical support or the IRS.
Symptoms: Rolling of eyes, irritability, urge to make sarcastic remarks to knock the offender off his/her high horse (an often-ineffective strategy since most poseurs are oblivious, but it does help ameliorate my symptoms), ignoring the offender (more effective since they’re seeking to impress and want approbation).
At a family gathering back in the 90s, a former brother-in-law with political aspirations “needed” to call to someone at the White House. Instead of making the call privately, he made an obvious show of placing it from the kitchen where everyone was gathered. We ignored him and kept talking—loudly—forcing him to leave to conduct his business. And we never asked about the call.
People who think rules don’t apply to them
Symptoms: Intense irritation, occasionally seeing red, urge to confront rule-breaker about his/her bad behavior, exhilaration when offender is hoist with his/her own petard (like when a speeder who blasts past you gets nailed by a cop—there IS justice!).
An able-bodied woman who attended tai chi classes with me had a handicapped placard for her car because her husband was disabled. But she’d use it to park in a handicapped spot during class. One day I called her out on it, pointing out that she was depriving someone who legitimately needed the space. She rationalized that she only used it if there were another handicapped space open, and I replied that I thought that was wrong, regardless. I never saw her use a handicapped space during class again.
Humorlessness/inability to laugh at oneself
Symptoms: Feeling of dread when forced to spend time with a humorless individual, frustration when attempts to make him/her lighten up fall flat, avoidance of offending party(s) at social gatherings.
I believe that self-deprecating humor is one of the most reliable signs of a healthy ego. And, as the saying goes, “Those who can laugh at themselves will never cease to be amused.” Frequent exposure to these types of individuals enhances immunity to AAAS.
What do you think? Have you acquired some triggers for adult-onset asshat allergy syndrome as you’ve gotten older? Are you able to let things roll off your back without triggering AAAS symptoms, or do you feel compelled to confront bad behavior? Please share!