Two weeks ago our internet service started shutting down at random times. One minute humming along, the next suddenly gone. In the past, in less complicated times, I have had to interrogate this problem over the phone with Comcast on a number of occasions. So, like a trained dog, I followed the algorithm burned into the neuronal wires of my brain. Go downstairs, check the modem, unplug it, plug it back in, wait for reboot, and if I am lucky, voila, back in business.
The internet going down in my house has always aroused a moderate level of tension in me for two reasons: 1) I hate calling Comcast and dealing with their voice activated system and having to go through the same old steps that I have already done, and 2) my daughter and wife are usually waiting, virtual arms crossed, for me the fixer to fix it, fully recognizing that the pressure I feel is self generated.
Not so this time around. My daughter, a senior in high school, is fully online now. My other daughter is home from NYC (thankfully) and is working full time from home online. And my wife, a physician, has started doing clinics from home. The pressure to fix this issue is real.
I trudged downstairs and looked at the modem. Only the power light was on. The air was thick with the threat of a real internet problem. My Pavlovian dog response – unplug modem, replug modem, wait and see algorithm failed to bring the treat. So I called Comcast and went through the voice activated system, the Covid-19 blurb, an offer for an inexpensive internet package for low-income individuals.
Once the virtual woman let me say something I kicked into gear with my perseverating response – representative, representative , representative , representative, representative, representative – until I finally got someone on the line. Of course they made me do the unplug, replug routine again. They sent a technician, Steve. Steve found a bit of metal on one of the connections that he thought was shorting out the modem.
Relief. Problem solved, thank God.
Until the next day. Same problem with the modem. I called, went through the same charade, and was told to go to the Comcast store to get new modem. Done in 20 minutes. The new modem didn’t activate properly. Another call and another going through the charade. Finally I got on the line with a delightful woman named Cheryl and after 45 minutes, supervisor consultations, and many failed experiments done from afar, they finally decided to send another technician. The technician arrived that afternoon and she activated the modem with her cell phone in 5 minutes.
Relief. Problem solved, thank God
Until that afternoon. I was standing in the kitchen. Suddenly I alerted to the start of a familial eruption, each alert coming from the respective family member’s respective rooms – my wife – “Michael, why isn’t the internet working? and my daughters “Papa the internet isn’t working again.” Notice the different way the problem is framed depending on the presenter.
I ran downstairs and looked at the modem. Same problem. Only the power light was on. A mist of helplessness started to accumulate around me, but I blew it off, pulled out my cell phone, and dialed up Comcast. Same virtual assistant, same questions, but their path to a human being had changed, dramatically.
On the other calls I could just keep saying representative, representative, representative, representative and eventually I would get one. Now it was actually impossible. They had set up a new process that made you go through the usual plug, unplug, recheck stuff and then they they asked if you would like a call back later after going through the steps, all of which they can monitor remotely. Then the virtual woman just hung up on me!
I tried three different calls to see if I could dig a tunnel to a representative by saying different things or answering things differently. No luck. There was no way in. I was standing at the kitchen counter after the third call and I was furious at my helplessness and at my inability to solve this problem.
I found myself staring out the window into the back yard. I was struggling, a lot.
Each one of these Ground Hog movie like days are exercises in the steady state sailing of my mental state, and I have noticed that even small breezes can try to pull me off course unless I manage my sails effectively. The pressure to get the internet back online for my family combined with the frustrations of virtual humans on the phone was a serious gust of wind that threatened to capsize me.
It was all hands on deck to regain my footing.
First I invoked the formula I use all the time when I find myself facing something I absolutely cannot control. Pain x Resistance = Suffering. Pain, be it physical or emotional, is one thing, but it can be amplified dramatically by resisting it by complaining, feeling sorry for oneself, blaming others, to name a few. I was suffering because I felt near hatred for the virtual representative and now Comcast.
The only preventative and antidote to suffering is acceptance. Total acceptance. In the bones acceptance. The kind of acceptance that causes your shoulders and neck to relax, the jaw to loosen up, and the ability to be aware of your breath again.
Second up on the rescue mission was the self compassion algorithm – I started talking to myself “ok Michael, you have been doing a damn good job of keeping your state in steady state, and this problem is a challenge and would frustrate the hell out of most people and I don’t blame you for getting so irritated.” I became mindful of my common humanity and I gave myself a pat on the back. I tell myself to hang in there.
Third, I needed some activation of the parasympathetic nervous system with some extra deep breaths to further calm me, all while continuing to tell myself to let it all go and accept this reality completely so I could move on and solve the problem.
All this only took about 30 seconds.
Now that my boat was steady, I called Comcast back for the fourth time, went along with the charade, and 30 minutes later got a call back from a lovely man named James. Of course, it didn’t hurt that I had my brain in smooth sailing again so I could actually call him by his first name and be patient and friendly with him, since I had to recite the entire saga yet again.
It paid off. He got me another technician’s visit (even though my internet was not completely down) and we had a great interaction. Tony came, tried some things, and hopefully that is the end of my internet troubles.
But even if it happens again, I am ready.