The Roots of My Worry Run Deep

The ubiquitous question: “Why do you worry so much?”

I am a worrier. I freak.the.F.out about almost everything; present, past, and future. This is the opposite of living in the moment, as they say; a travesty to be unable to appreciate the “gift” of right now.

I find it fascinating that I only discovered that I have high anxiety in the past few years, after realizing not everyone ruminates the way I do and that perhaps anxiety/panic presents differently in different people. Upon this epiphany, I was shocked to think that despite 30+ years of therapy and institutionalization, no one ever cared to inquire if my depression happened to co-present with generalized existential terror.

A short list of things that I am scared of:

-Being in a car, which could at any moment collide with another (surely larger, and most assuredly deadly) vehicle; flip over; cross the median in a fiery head-on wreck; explode spontaneously into flames (like many of my fears, this one is sadly not alleviated by a modicum of understanding of physics or combustion engines)… Never mind the idea of operating the car myself, which engenders entirely new fantasy scenarios involving involuntary manslaughter…

-Walking over metal grates covering holes in the sidewalk; I once had a boyfriend who fell 8 feet into one. That the majority of them are extremely well-secured matters not at all. They are death traps to be avoided at all costs regardless of how ridiculous one looks tiptoeing to their side…

-That everyone I love a) doesn’t love me b) is going to leave c) if they don’t leave, they’re going to die prematurely, i.e. leave

-Crossing bridges. They’re going to break. I’m going to fall to a prolonged, watery death. (I probably should have studied physics, but I doubt it would help; I am also afraid of tall buildings toppling over… hence:

-Heights in general. I’m going to fall. I’m going to die. I’m going to leave behind the people who depend on me.

…and it’s not just potentially dangerous/deadly situations that raise my anxiety.

Long after moments have passed in which I felt humiliated, I allow the ensuing self-loathing to occupy me. In relationships, I often overthink and project and make mountains out of molehills. I have to constantly fight a deep and abiding tendency toward fatalism.

What does it feel like? I don’t often get the breath constriction or heart-attack-like panic others describe. I do– more often than I’d like to admit– become hysterical, unable to stop myself from sobbing or regulate my frantic breathing, often spiraling into utter despair. Or I feel sick, unable to eat, heart beating like I’m on a coke binge. This is my panic. I am seized with the unassailable conviction that it’s all utterly hopeless, that I am devoid of worth, that there’s just no.fucking.point. …And that’s where the anxiety and the depression begin to boil, boil, toil and trouble together.

But WHY? They still want to know, and I do, too.

I can only surmise that it’s rooted almost entirely in my childhood and the way my attachment developed; I don’t buy that it all happens within the first year. When I was two, my parents divorced and my father took off for his home state in a pickup truck, telling me when I asked to come with him that he didn’t have enough food for both of us. I didn’t see him again until he was on his deathbed twenty-five years later.

When I turned four, my mother died of cancer and my brother and I were shipped off to the other side of the country to a strange new “mom”, who– while large of heart– was temperamentally unable to provide the sort of loving comfort a four-year-old who has lost both parents needs. Hysterics, a sadly frequent occurrence, were met with a slap across the face, a recommendation provided to her by a (clearly sadistic) therapist for “snapping her out of it.”

I was bullied. I faced emotional and at times other types of abuse. I learned (subconsciously) that there was no one to protect me, that I was alone; and yet, since there were people who ostensibly cared, I had to take care to remain alive lest I hurt them…

Every moment could be your last! For some this engenders a “joie de vivre!” – live it up today because you don’t know what will happen tomorrow! – but for me, everything becomes a potential danger; in a mind you can’t shut off, everything has the potential to terrify.

No one has ever diagnosed me, and I haven’t sought treatment, the most effective of which (benzos) are hardly benign. I do my best to drive the darkest thoughts away; I self-medicate; I try to live with it and keep the effects away from my loved ones as best I can. I try to practice mindfulness and gratitude. I have attempted meditation (a total joke for me), and work at yoga, but I may be unable to master turning my goddamn brain off, ever, for even one second.

“Why do you worry so much?” It’s just who I am.


Teen Mom

My Facebook news feed is filled with the gummy smiles of infants and the bizarre over-sharing that is a relative stranger’s sonogram (oh, thank the stars there was no social media in my day!)

My friends are all having babies at the appropriate time. In the NorthEast, that means our 30s. . . .Whereas I had mine at eighteen.


The girls I grew up with, and women in my adoptive family, were decidedly not teen moms. College and career came first. My birth mother, though, had my brother when she was seventeen. I was with her in New Mexico for four of my five “formative years” (if the psych textbooks are to be believed), so maybe a part of me was stuck back in a place where it’s fairly or even perfectly normal to get married and have babies (or have babies and not get married) right out of high school.

I had some major complications during my pregnancy, so after I was a week in the hospital in Florida, where I was living, my estranged family had me med-flown back up to Boston (just me, the pilot, and my two cats, who had followed behind the ambulance in a taxi) so I could be treated at Brigham & Women’s. If you’re going to be dying having a baby, it’s a good place to be.

I was followed closely there, and every week when I entered the OB/GYN unit, I felt the stares. Stares from suburban women in sensible haircuts and their corpulent, balding husbands, and stares from pairs of sixteen-year-olds with slicked-back ponytails and braces and bright blue eyeliner who were on their way to their special teen wing, which I no longer qualified for. I was stuck in between two demographics: certainly not the typical “teen mom” with my prep school education and Brahmin upbringing; but lacking the requisite years behind me to be anything but a pariah to the pregnant ladies of “proper” age.

As I planned my wedding in summer school (after missing part of my senior year), my algebra teacher got wind of it and laughed, “well, everyone needs a first!

We got married (in retrospect) mostly so that I could prove to my family that I was right and going to have a fairytale life despite my flouting of their (clearly old-fashioned!) traditions.

I shopped for “mom clothes” that I hated– a pale yellow crew-neck blouse and a navy skirt with a dainty floral print to match, rather than my velvet and fringe-y Stevie Nicks ensembles– hoping to be taken more seriously; and signed up for a new mom’s group in my town, wanting to meet women with kids my son could grow up playing with since none of my own friends had babies.

With their Baby Christian Dior layettes and their frosted $200 haircuts, these post-career, stay-at-home moms looked straight down their noses at me. When talking about their husbands they would gesture toward me and say “and your. . . whatever.” They sneered at me for not having a car (there was a bus down the block which went directly to my house. . . it would be different in New York, surely?), and they whispered plans for meeting up to one another to ensure I wouldn’t participate in their clique beyond the prescribed hour a week.

At playgrounds, too, I was typically shunned. Although I found it insulting, it was fine because I was the only mom who seemed to care to actually play with my kid. (He’s pretty cool).

Many years later a friend told me a story of being at the same parks in Cambridge where I found the mothers particularly unfriendly. She looked quite young when her daughter was pre-school age, although she was in her late 20’s. She tried to join a circle of woman chatting while watching the children play, and was stunned when one of the other mothers turned, narrowed her eyes, and spat “excuse me, we don’t speak to nannies.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

My son missed out on having kids he was always with because the parents are best friends. He also has no close cohort of cousins, as I did, because my cousins are having children now, in their 30s, and he’s a teenager. This is one of the sadnesses I harbor for my choice, because for me they were the closest thing I knew to sisters. I hope he will have that closeness with my niece, at least, although they are seven years apart.

It is difficult, too, that we are in an affluent area, especially his father (we’re long-since divorced, unsurprisingly): my son’s friends have media rooms and playrooms and basketball courts and koi ponds and sixty-inch televisions. . . Of course I wish we’d been more financially stable when we had him, and could have bought a big house with a beautiful yard instead of a small condo. But I don’t think that having everything handed to you builds any character, anyway, even if it were an option. I do believe in spending on the things that matter, like music lessons and instruments and great summer camps and art supplies!

Even if my son hasn’t had the Caribbean vacations and palatial playrooms we both envied as children growing up with wealthy peers, he, like me, has been raised to believe in the importance of education, art, family, and home-cooked meals, and in embracing peoples’ differences rather than denigrating them. It’s what’s inside that counts (although if the outside is Stevie Nicks, that’s cool). After all of these years I’d still rather hang out with my kid than those catty women, anyway.