First, it was on a plane ride. When I was gazing at the sky and counting my blessings, he interrupted my happy thoughts with “I know it’s not statistically plausible, but you could die on a plane. Why not you? You’re probably an outlier.” The thing about Anxiety is that once you hear him out, he always has your ear. Put enough weight in his words and he’ll take control of your body. In the case of flying, he likes to inflict cold-sweats and visible shaking upon you. But once you take his advice on one subject, he’s got you convinced that he’s the knower of all things.
Next, it was my parents. I’d be minding my own business and Anxiety would tap me on the shoulder and say, “I’m sorry to tell you this, but there’s going to be an accident.” Then he started interrupting my sleep, urgently insisting I needed to wake-up because I was surely about to receive the dreaded 2am phone call. His favorite activities included driving my dreams and souring my imagination. Eventually he dropped the Southern front, stopped being polite and kept pushing back my bedtime.
Then he started playing philosopher and I was naive enough to consider his theories. He’d remind me how even though I had my health, a good job, a steady relationship, close friends, numerous opportunities… that I couldn’t control how fast it was all passing by. He liked to remind me when another day had passed, he reminded me that I was already in my twenties, and he especially liked to remind me that death is imminent. He liked to brood on depressing subjects and he never missed an opportunity to bring me down with him.
He got me feeling like I was missing something. Like the only way I could end this bad relationship was to busy myself with other things, to fill my time with new commitments. He got me looking at people and passions as suspects. Was I subconsciously unhappy with my job or relationship? Would he have found me so easily if I were off back-packing the world? Anxiety likes to ask questions with no answer.
But I am a problem solver and I am not a complainer. Internally, I was struggling to solve this problem and suffering by not vocalizing this on-going dialogue. Occasionally I would mention it, but not to the detail it demanded. I just kept looking for an answer to my problem. Is it a therapist? Anxiety meds? A sharp stick in the eye?
I’m currently reading possibly the most cliche travel book of all time. Yeah, you guessed it. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabether Gilbert. I bought it because it was $4.99 at Half Price Books and I liked the movie and am a firm believer that the book is always better. I never expected it to influence my writing style or be a source of spirituality. This week, I was in Oklahoma with my mom and nieces and lo & behold, Anxiety showed up. I tried to leave him at the airport, but the parasite bought a plane ticket. One night, I was having annoyingly existential thoughts about time and how fast the girls are growing up and how I just want it to slow down and I just needed to breathe. I texted Nic and he tried his best to comfort me. I told Anxiety to shut-up and I went to sleep.
The next day I was supervising the girls as they swam in the lake, taking quick glances in between paragraphs to make sure no one was drowning. I think/I’m hoping what I read will change my relationship status with Anxiety. I’ll insert the excerpt:
Time – when pursued like a bandit – will behave like one; always remaining one country or one room ahead of you, changing its name and hair color to elude you, slipping out the back door of the motel just as you’re banging through the lobby with your newest search warrant, leaving only a burning cigarette in the ashtray to taunt you. At some point you have to stop because it won’t. You have to admit that you can’t catch it. That you’re not supposed to catch it. At some point, you gotta let go and sit still and allow contentment to come to you.
Letting go, of course, is a scary enterprise for those of us who believe that the world revolves only because it has a handle on the top of it which we personally turn, and that if we were to drop this handle for even a moment, well – that would be the end of the universe. But try dropping it. This is the message I’m getting. Sit quietly for now and cease your relentless participation. Watch what happens. The birds do not crash dead out of the sky in mid-flight, after all. The trees do not whither and die, the rivers do not run red with blood. Life continues to go on. Even the Italian post office will keep limping along, doing its own thing without you – why are you so sure that your micromanagement of every moment in this whole world is so essential? Why don’t you just let it be?
I hear this argument and it appeals to me. I believe in it, intellectually, I really do. But then I wonder – with all of my relentless yearning, with all my hyped-up fervor and with this stupidly hungry nature of mine-what should I do with my energy, instead?
That answer arrives, too:
Look for God. Look for God like a man with his head on fire looks for water.
This now seems so painfully obvious. Why add more responsibilities to my plate, which will only Anxiety more things to badger me about? Anxiety won’t be cured by busy-ness, but Anxiety wouldn’t know how to behave in stillness. Instead of waiting until Anxiety has invited himself in and made himself comfortable on the couch to call for back-up, why don’t I just call God first? He’s easy to visit before breakfast, when we make an appointment and I’ve got all my materials ready, but do our meetings really need to be so formal? I think God would appreciate it if I asked for help before I was desperate. When I compare stats, Anxiety really is no match for God.
I know a lot of people are silently bullied by Anxiety and even if God isn’t your security guard, I hope being reminded you’re not alone gives you the courage to fight back. There are people who won’t reply “You have nothing to be anxious about” when you share your thoughts with them. There are people who will say “I’m sorry this is happening, how can I help?” I hope you find ways to cope, because there surely aren’t resolutions to slowing time or avoiding death. I hope we find a way to enjoy where we are, instead of worrying about what’s coming. I’m starting to think I should be excited that I don’t know what’s coming, because it just may be better than I’m imagining.