My Fraught Relationship With The Man-In-The-Box

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Jack in box vector image Courtesy of freesvg.org

I reallyreallyreally do not like inanimate objects talking to me. I avoid Siri, preferring to do my own research than to hear her voice—or to have her record my every Internet search (though I hold no illusions about privacy anymore…). I am not tempted to invite Alexa into my home to find that old Sinatra record for me, thank you very much. 

And back in the day when we actually got into cars and drove places, I always resented the high-pitched voice of that GPS woman, who on occasion directed us to dead-end streets and once recommended that we exit sharply to the right when we were in the middle of a bridge.

I’m not accusing her of malicious intent, but her satellite-guided bumbling was not a confidence-builder. I am perfectly capable of bumbling on my own.

Why then, do I invite the man-in-the-box into my life practically every day? It’s because he’s integral to The Device, which shall go nameless so that I’m not guilty of unintended promotion—or worse. 

Let me sidepedal a bit here and note that I am very receptive to integrative medicine, which brings together the best from East and West. My daily meditation, linking me to the Buddhism of 2500 years ago, has been a great help.

I do try to stick with practices that are evidence-based, and to maintain a healthy skepticism about things that sound extreme to me—Eastern or Western.

When several people whose opinions I respect raved about a physician who practices integrative medicine, I made an appointment.

I wanted to see whether she would offer me new, preferably non-pharmacologic approaches for handling my chronic conditions: specifically migraines that I know have an anxiety component, and mild hypertension.

Well, some of what she suggested made no sense to me. But she recommended The Device, which she felt might help alleviate these issues. And it turned out that she was right.

It wasn’t inexpensive—costing several hundred dollars—but it involved deep breathing, so I felt it was sufficiently safe and akin to the meditation that’s a valued part of my life.

The beloved neurologist who treats me for migraines thought it was a good idea, as it’s a form of biofeedback, which is an evidence-based method to alleviate migraines.

A description: An elastic belt holding a sensor is attached to a computerish small box, as is a pair of earbuds. I snap the belt around my torso and insert the earbuds. Then I listen to the instructions that the little man-in-the-box provides. Note: I am substituting The Device for its brand name. 

Here’s how a session begins:

“Lean back and relax and listen to the music as The Device detects your individual breathing patterns,” he tells me.

If I perform that difficult task to his satisfaction for several seconds/minutes, he says, “The Device has detected your individual breathing patterns. Now breathe according to the guiding tones.” I hear sounds—bom, bom—and I match my breath to the tones. 

Sometimes, as in this morning, he immediately tells me I’ve reached the “therapeutic breathing rate,” which means I’m really cookin’. More often, seconds/minutes pass as he goads me with that familiar refrain: “Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out” before I reach that coveted goal.

Once there, I continue breathing in and out in sequence with the tones for another 14 “therapeutic” minutes (not sure why it’s that time length, but it always is) until he says, “The Device is turning off. Bye for now.” Let me tell you, I’m never sorry to part with him at that point.

And then I get to see how well I’ve performed by clicking on the box’s levers. Here’s where I realize my slight touch of OCD kicks in. I’m back in school, and I really want to do well. 

In fact, I usually do. The range deemed acceptable for the initial breathing rate is between 6 and 30 breaths per minute—the lower the better. I’ve never gone above 7.2; this morning’s readout was 5.2, which I guess means I had a pretty restful night’s sleep. 

The recommended final breathing range is 5-10 breaths per minute, and I’m nearly always below that—usually 4.8-4.9. Occasionally, I’ve gotten to 4.3, which is nearly Yogi territory, I think. More about that shortly. 

The Device also reports my synchronization rate (how well I synchronize my breathing with the tones) and my breath detection rate (how well the sensor can recognize my in-and-out breaths).

I’m usually right where I should be with those as well. Except if I cough or sneeze. Or hiccup. Then all bets are off.

But I’ve learned one especially bitter lesson. If my initial inhalations are too long while the sensor is assessing my pattern, once the tones begin, I wind up struggling to match them. And the man-in-the-box knows it. He chides me: “Don’t hold your breath!” 

Try breathing in for longer than you possibly can—and continue for 14 minutes—and you’ll see what it’s like. (Actually, just take my word for it; it’s not something a sensible person would do.) 

The lesson I learned: When using The Device, never-ever breathe in for long, lest the sensor monster constantly remind me of my failure.

In such instances, my synchronization rate would ensure a “needs additional work” message on my school report card.

He (my electronic tormenter) has also on more than one occasion said: “Try to breathe more evenly.” I make an effort not to take offense that he’s dissatisfied with my performance.

And he is oh-so picky about that sensor. “Tighten the sensor,”  he’ll command. Or  “loosen the sensor.”  Even “reposition the sensor.” His standards are high. I scramble to do his bidding. 

I used to strap on The Device just before bedtime, but I found all kinds of reasons not to go through the process then. So it’s now the first thing I do upon awakening—after taking a long drink of water to prepare my dry mouth for the routine.

Sometimes I wonder, as you may well, why I subject myself to this regimen-with-verbal-abuse on a daily basis. Of course, I always have the option of shutting the darn thing off.

But, while The Device hasn’t totally replaced medication, it really has done what the doctor said it might: migraine frequency diminished, blood pressure low-normal, anxiety lessened.

So I’m locked in to this challenge. Plus, in these pandem-icky days, I figure it’s not so bad to give my lungs a bit of a regular workout.

And then I meditate and express lovingkindness for all the nasty thoughts I’ve had about the bossy little man-in-the-box.

Annie

28 thoughts on “My Fraught Relationship With The Man-In-The-Box

    1. Yes; it’s both weird and good–though probably not quite as weird to the many users who don’t indulge themselves in my degree of anthropomorphism.
      I’m amused that you’re commenting on this one. I occasionally write something on politics–or a poem–and I wonder what your thoughts would be…

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  1. It was very difficult to finish reading this as I was put into such a relaxed state of mind that it completely disrupted my normal thought process. 😇😇

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It does take some getting used to–and a little less imagination during the process. It’s marketed specifically for hypertension, and the claim is that more than 250,00 patients and physicians use it and the American Heart Association recommends it. I don’t know how many stay with it–and have as positive results as I do.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. They used to call The Man-In-The-Box “Jack.” Wordplay aside, I’m going to resist calling yours The Joke-In-The-Box, because I’m a serious guy at all times. Besides, WHATEVER WORKS! Seriously. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can see what a serious guy you are, misterAmuse…and I sure am glad you restrained yourself vis-a-vis my Joke-in-the-Box because you demonstrated appropriate sensitivity to the seriousness with which I regard this topic. But you’re correct: with help from my teensy electronic tyrant, I’M ALL RIGHT, JACK!

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      1. S-h-h-h! I don’t want to awaken the gremlins…I do appreciate your effort! In fact, since writing “like” takes four times longer than a mere click, I am quadruply appreciative!

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    1. Yep; that’s it. But notice that although the study mentions that the woman had migraines, it didn’t say whether her migraines were diminished. It isn’t marketed or recommended as a migraine preventive. Please make sure your former co-worker is aware of that. Thanks.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I know, but it’s the biofeedback mechanism that is interesting and I believe she has a bit of high BP as well. Our workplace was very stressful, worse now with COVID. I’ve mentioned meditation to her before as I thought it would help. I have a meditation tape I listen to for 20 minutes, from a class I once took. The teacher’s voice was so soothing I would leave class feeling like a jelly fish!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting. I commend your efforts here and love where this piece ends up: back in the realm of lovingkindness. I’ll check it out for the migraine sufferers I know. As for the rest of the devices . . . sigh. I’m torn between embracing the new world and clinging to my privacy. On the other hand, the one box I can’t do without is this computer. Can you — supreme researcher — imagine going to back to the Index on Periodicals, just to find page 276 or whatever was ripped out? Here’s the one box we really, really need.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You just carried me back to multiple library visits—my fingers grasping one card in the overstuffed catalog drawer while I tried to write down the info with other hand…so my answer is a resounding no!
      Please keep in mind that the device, which Joni tracked down in the article she linked to in these comments (I was being discreet since I was poking fun, I thought), is approved only for hypertension. Though it’s helped my migraines, I wouldn’t want to mislead anyone. Thanks.

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    1. And how is it for Mrs JP’s blood pressure?😉
      While you’re in this neck of the blogosphere, if you’re willing, there’s a well-researched response to your comment on my voting post that I hope you’ll read — and I would be most interested in your thoughts about it.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi, Anne, I really enjoyed this piece! Perhaps you can tell me the make and model of your little man privately so I can recommend it to a friend? Love, Sally

    >

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Sally–

      I’m glad you enjoyed it. Actually, though I was being discreet because I was poking fun, one of my Canadian blogger friends did some research and linked to a journal article describing The Device. So if you read down the comments, near the end, you’ll find one from Joni that contains the link.

      Love,
      Annie

      Like

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