A Conversation With...

Tonight, we'll be speaking with My Anxiety:

Me:  Anxiety, welcome - it's great to have you here for a chat.

Anxiety:  Well, I'm never really not here, am I?  Hahah.

Me:  Well, yes - that's true.  And we've been working together for a long time, haven't we?  What was your earliest appearance?

A:  Well, as I recall it, your parents left you at the house of one of the neighborhood kids when you were four or five, to run an errand  and I showed up to keep you company, and we've been together ever since.

M:  I remember that.  I recall being really upset and feeling like something was wrong.  It occurs to me that my parents might have been going to therapy for the first time, because that was after a major blow up they had at a friends' wedding.

A:  Yeah, that sounds about right.  We've been through a lot, haven't we?

M:  We have.  For many years, I couldn't do slumber parties because around 10PM, you reminded me that my parents could die, and I wouldn't be there to save them.

A:  Oh, gosh, yes!  Classic.  You finally got over that when you were about ten, right? 

M:  Yeah, but I've had definite bouts of homesickness for my entire life.

A:  That first year you were married - man, what a mess.  Plus that job you were terrible at.  And I stuck close to you for all of it.  Every lunch hour, when you would go to a vacant parking lot and cry for ten minutes, then pull it together for the remaining twenty.  You were sick to your stomach constantly.

M:  Oh, I remember.  Vividly.

A:  Good, you should pull out that gem every time you're feeling pressure about work, just to remind you how fragile your happiness is.

M:  Uh, yeah...so, as you know, I try to keep you contained by use of pharmaceuticals - what are your feelings on that?

A:  Honestly, I think they're great at helping me hyperfocus on your most pressing concerns.  Like, remember how you used to white knuckle the four miles down Monteagle on the way to Atlanta?  That's nothing for you now.  And of course, we got through losing Lola and your father, and those were huge in terms of material for me to work with.  I have no issue with you taking the meds.  It gives me a ton of freedom to be creative.

M:  That's fair.  You do seem to come up with some real out-there worries.  Very specific.  Like my extremely rational fear that small children are going to dart out in front of my car when I'm driving down 10th Avenue, and I'm going to hit one of them.

A:  Well, that's a pretty good one, and it would be life altering, so I enjoy workshopping that with you.  Now that you don't commute that route, it's not as frequent, though.

M:  Well, to be fair, I'm not commuting, period.  Which has been interesting.  What have you learned from the whole Covid-19 situation?

A:  I've learned that you can spin out about nothing.  And that while you're pretty resilient, the things that set you off can seem completely catastrophic.  And it's fun to watch that happen.  For me.  For you, I know it's horrible.  What's interesting is, you don't seem to especially afraid of the virus itself.

M:  I'm not - at least, not contracting it.  I don't want to spread it.  That is what worries me - that I'm an asymptomatic carrier, capable of giving it to others.

A:  A very real and possible concern.  But I think the source material that has given me so much to work with is the fact that you are confined to a small space with not a lot of human contact, and that is honestly the perfect fertile soil in which to grow problems.  Like tiny little poisonous mushrooms.  And the beauty is, a lot of your typical self-care methods are not available to you.  No visits to Mom, no pedicures, no massage.  You can shop online, but that is a fairly joyless experience.  The visits to Trader Joe's are now very clinical.  You aren't getting the positive energy you need from external sources, and that is starting to wear on you.

M:  Accurate.  I will say,  I am doing some virtual social things, and that helps.  But it's not a substitute for living my authentic life.  I miss the farmers market.  I miss chatting with strangers.  I don't like wearing the mask, because it feels weird, and I tend to feel panicky.  I guess that's partly on you.

A:  The masks are torture, but you're trying to do the right thing.  I get the struggle, I do.  You can only gamify your inconvenience so much, and while you love the cute patterns, and supporting a small, woman-owned business, it's all you can do to get through a trip to Kroger without feeling smothered.

M:  Word.  And nobody else seems to be wearing them, well, not nobody.   But also not everybody.

A:  Those words, nobody, everybody - they are critical to the work I do.  Sweeping generalizations are a conduit for anxious thoughts. 

M:  That's true.  And I try to be very careful with my thoughts, but you know - the media.

A:  Listen, the media does most of my work for me.  Whether we're talking traditional news outlets, or social media - you're screwed.  Everyone (and there's that word again) is quarantining better than you, or they all think it's a hoax, or they think the Russians made it in a lab... and it's exhausting, trying to filter through the clutter.  Because you already know how you feel, and now there are all these different sources of data - I hesitate to even call it information - that can confirm or refute how you feel.  And as a good liberal, former journalism student, humanitarian, you want to give everyone room to think and feel what they want. 

M:  Even if it's garbage.    Especially if it's garbage.

A:  Right - and the media fatigue leads to actual fatigue - and that, leads to bad habits...

M: Staying up too late, or napping too much, eating poorly, obsessing with social media...

A:  Exactly - and that just drops you right back into my vicious cycle.

M:  Right, and I know this academically, I can look at facts and realize OK, I can worry about X this much and that's reasonable, but I need to stop stressing about Y.  Which brings us to a difficult conversation about some material you've been hard at work on.

A:  Are we talking about race relations?

M:  You know it.  As a hetero, cis, white, middle aged middle class female, I honestly feel like, what can I possibly say that will be meaningful or different than whatever else has been said, and I know that very feeling means I come from privilege.  I have not  attended protests (see Covid-related anxiety), nor have I said anything on Social Media, because again, I don't know what to say.  This morning, you helped me run through my mental rolodex and list out a lot of micro (and macro) aggressions I have committed in my lifetime.

A:  Holy cow! So many.  Like the time in college when you looked a sorority event guest list, pointed at an attendee and said, "I bet she's black" .  Or that time you rubbed your co-workers bald head in High School, or the time you said that black people seem to be fond of Tasmanian Devil tattoos.  Or the grade-school chant you all used to say that included the imitation of Asian people.  Or the time  when you were five and you claimed that Hitler  must have had a bad childhood, Or that time in the French bakery when you kept calling that sweet roll shaped like a little man "a frog".  And your father kept correcting you and explained when you left that frog is a pejorative nickname for the French.  And those are just some of the "funnier ones".

M:  The frog thing, I was six years old - how in hell would I have known that?  The bald head thing - I had no idea I was being racist - he just had nice, shiny bald head and I thought it would feel nice.  I asked permission and was granted  it.  That's another one where Dad freaked out and corrected me.

A:  I mean, it's not a good look for you.  Your father seemed to have his ducks in a row where the Civil Rights movement was concerned.

M:  Based on stories he and Mom have told me, yes.  Dad was, by all accounts, a pretty woke man.  I wish I knew what he would think about all this.  What he would tell me to do.  Probably stay out of it.  He got more cautious as he got older.

A:  I know that you think about him a lot - not really with anxiety - that seems very settled to you.

M:  I was more anxious when he was alive, worrying about him dying.  Now, I just miss him, but there's no anxiety from that - just sadness.  And wonder, and I guess a nostalgia.

A:  Would he want you to feel anxious?   Would the things that are bothering you now seem foolish to him?

M:  Maybe.  He had a low tolerance for bullshit, but I also know he was a people-pleaser, and that would have been a struggle for him.  It's actually my struggle as well - or, maybe I am just projecting my angst into what I think his reaction would have been.  I know that he typically sided with us.  Once, he told Laura her French teacher was a "piece of merde".  Mom and Dad usually sided with us over authority, which is nice.  Although, to be fair, we were typically not putting them into a position where they had to do that.

A:  They tried to shield you from me, in other words?

M:  Maybe, but I think mostly they were just trying to be good parents, and in my mind, they crushed it.  I see places where there were weaknesses - but in hindsight, only.  At the time, I thought they were perfect. 

A:  Isn't it interesting how your perspective can change?  And interesting that if someone else were experiencing the same thing, it might feel totally different to them. 

M:  Yeah, that is interesting.  Look, I've taken up plenty of your time - I hope you feel heard, and that we have paid you due attention.

A: Absolutely, I appreciate it - but I'll be back.  Sundown is when I hit my stride.  My best work is done in the dark.

M:  Words to live by.

For those of you joining us, I'd like to thank you, My Anxiety, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation because dick jokes make me giggle.  See you next time.