When your mind is racing frantically like a hamster on a wheel, “put a stick in it” and stop the spin.
The story behind this card begins in childhood, when my brother and I had hamsters as pets. Hamster owners know well their habit of racing frantically on their wheels into the wee small hours of the night.
Hamsters can’t help it. They have to run, or they can get crippled up. It’s hard to believe those tiny, chubby little furballs are actually designed to run miles in a night.* If they aren’t running, climbing, digging or otherwise being active, they can develop debilitating back problems.** It looks like an unhealthy compulsion, but it’s what they’re meant to do.
My brother and I sometimes teased the hamsters in that casually cruel way that children do. We would stick pencils down into the cage, between the rails of the wheel, to stop the little critters mid-flight. At first, they’d be surprised, then grumpy, then curious, then determined. They’d sniff around, try to figure out what happened, try to run in the other direction, and sometimes climb to the top of the wheel to investigate. Fortunately, we felt guilty before they felt depressed, and we took the pencil out and let them keep running.
Decades later, when I had made some progress along a journey of self-discovery, but hadn’t figured everything out, from time to time I would get wound up about something for no good reason. I’d fret and worry and get irritable, even while knowing my reaction was out of proportion. Fortunately, my partner at the time knew my hamster history and came up with a way to interrupt this uncalled-for worry spin: we would “put a stick in my wheel.”
“Okay, I’m gonna put a stick in your wheel now,” I’d hear when I’d been worked up for too long. The memory of those long-ago hamsters always made me smile and laugh at myself. “Okay,” I’d respond, throwing up my hands in surrender. Because I knew my partner was right. Like the hamsters, at first I might be surprised, or even grumpy. But then I’d get curious, and try to figure out what was going on. Eventually, I’d calm down and gain perspective on the situation.
Like the hamsters, I can’t help getting wound up sometimes. Apparently my brain is made to run, just like hamsters are made to run. So I can’t be too hard on myself. But I’m smarter than a hamster (I think) and I’ve gotten a lot better at stopping myself. When that mental wheel starts squeaking and rattling, I know it’s time to put a stick in it, get curious, and figure out what’s going on.
I would like to explain that no hamsters were actually harmed by sticks in wheels–just annoyed. I hereby apologize to all the hamsters whose annoyance helped me become a better person. Here, have some peanut butter.
‘*’ This is true. I once used a bicycle odometer to measure how far my hamster ran. Over a month, it averaged out to 3.3 human miles per night!
‘**’ This is also true.