Henry Stimpson

Decidophobia – a Wild Ride on the Horse’s Ass of the Subconscious


A new conventional mattress or a foam one? A regular one works fine, and it’s cheaper. But the foam kind is supposed to be better for your back and last longer. But the cost! What about an inflatable instead?

In the furniture store, I’m starting to panic. “I can’t believe you’re getting that worked up over a stupid mattress,” I tell myself. “It’s no big deal. I’m not really in that much of a dither.” But I am! 

That there’s no perfect mattress on the planet doesn’t faze my Horse’s Ass of the Subconscious. He knows that I should be able to get one. I should be the James Bond of mattress buying and point coolly point to the best mattress on earth, a steal at 50 percent off. “I’ll take that one—and toss in a bottle of Dom Pérignon ’59,” I’ll say to the dazzled salesman, who’ll give me a knowing smile, bestowed only on a true cognoscente of mattresses.

But instead, I stand there like a lump, filled with creeping dread and intestinal rumblings.

To decide is derived from the Latin dēcīdere, “to cut off,” so I suppose the ancient Romans got neurotic making the final, irreversible choice over which toga to wear to the big orgy. Deciding means cutting off options, and that’s scary because I want to stay flexible, not give up anything, ever.

If I decide right away, I could make a bad mistake by not doing thorough mattress research first. “Bah! You’re just being indecisive and weak,” the Horse’s Ass says.

What if I make a lousy decision? Then I’m an inept fool. My rational mind knows this is not true. But my Horse’s Ass says, “Of course it is, stupid!”  And what I make an otherwise excellent decision that sheer bad luck turns into a horrible mistake? 

Even fun can cause agonizing. In summer, I’ll be standing in my skivvies ten minutes deciding whether to go for a bike ride or take a walk. Choosing whether to take a quick swim at the local pond or drive to an ocean beach can have me see-sawing for as almost as long as it would take to drive to the damned sea. In winter, deciding whether to go cross-country skiing 50 miles away or settle for something closer with lousier snow sometimes requires deep contemplation and anguish and coin tosses.

And those are just teensy decisions. Earth-shattering decisions—like installing vinyl siding on the house versus repainting it—can cost months of agonizing. My Horse’s Ass has a great time snorting and bucking the whole time.

Where did my decidophobia come from?

I see my late mother in a restaurant, tortured by whether to order fish or chicken or scallops, fidgeting, rocking back and forth changing her mind a couple of times. Inevitably, she’d order a mayonnaise-loaded casserole, which, as a good Italian-American, she loathed.

In contrast, my late father made snap decisions in the grip of a mania. He was still going strong in his late 80s: “I just bought a power air mattress so I can have a young woman stay overnight!” (Not that he knew such a girl, thank God.) So blame my parents and genetics for my decidophobia.

But my Horse’s Ass says that’s a copout. “It’s you, your weak, weak self, no one else to blame!” he whinnies.

Even though I’m somewhat optimistic on the surface, I’m also convinced deep down that Things Will Go Wrong, and that will be shameful because I screwed up. I tell myself, things actually go right most of the time. When things do go wrong, it’s not the end of the world. The fear of making a bad decision is worse than the consequences.

My Horse’s Ass immediately reminds me: “Remember when you rented an office in shared space years ago?  You didn’t feel at home. Your office was too big, lonely and empty. Your office-mates in the suite were hostile. You hated going there, and your innards started doing flip-flops, which turned into IBS. A bad decision will be the end of the world!”

Shrinks say confronting a phobia is the way to psychic liberation. So, screw it. I’ll get off the Horse’s Ass and lock him up in the stable of the subconscious. Just decide and don’t worry!

Scary, but it might work. Maybe I’ll do that. I’m still deciding.



Henry Stimpson’s memoirs, essays, articles, humor and poems have appeared in Cream City Review, Rolling Stone, Common Ground Review, Vol1Brooklyn, Poets & Writers, The Boston Globe, Yankee, New England Ancestors, New England Monthly, Bostonia, Boston Phoenix, Beauty/Truth, Embodied Effigies, The Philadelphia Inquirer and others.

He’s been an independent public relations consultant and freelance writer since 1984.  His DNA test says he’s 42 percent Italian plus 5 percent Southern European, so he’s probably almost half Italian, which he always thought.