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.

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“Take My Wife. . . Please!”

I gave my boyfriend a fridge magnet that reads “Marriage is having someone who will die for you. . . If you don’t kill them first.”

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The famous Henny Youngman one-liner in the title, like all great jokes, is funny because it is true. So many couples drown in mutual resentment. To paraphrase either Henry Rollins or Chuck Palahniuk (the quote is lodged in my mind but its source proves elusive), they are “killing each other with the mundanities of daily life.”

We are not married, it is true, even after nearly ten years together; I am probably the more reticent one, having already given it an abysmal attempt once before. . . But my reluctance is largely financial, since it cost me almost twenty grand to get out of the last one.

I do believe in marriage, though, even if I have no parental model and my own first was a failure. Not necessarily the religious or paperwork sort, but at least the idea of finding someone you don’t mind spending forever with. Strike “don’t mind”: WANT to.

I grew up with several incredible examples in my extended family of cousins-once-removed and family friends. Emily Esfafani Smith’s Atlantic article Masters of Love ( http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/06/happily-ever-after/372573/ ) discusses a longitudinal study of what observable traits make a difference in the “three in ten” of those who have wed who “remain in happy, healthy marriages.”

Unsurprisingly, an undercurrent of mutual support seems to be key, but I had not thought about the body language aspect: That couples who do not last often do not physically turn toward one another when communicating. (A simplification of an excellent study and a fascinating examination, to be sure. . . It is worthwhile reading!)

Anecdotally rather than scientifically speaking, the loving, lasting marriages I know of seem to be what I think we all hope for: Best friends forever. A clever division of labor never hurts, either. My aunt has made all of the (delicious and precisely, impeccably planned) meals and my uncle has done all of the dishes for some thirty-nine amicable years.

My boyfriend’s grandmother’s near last words to us were “take care of each other. Love each other.” Which, naturally, sent both of us into sobbing fit. Then we remembered that she had previously told us that the secret to a happy marriage is just finding “someone whose bullshit you can put up with.” Which helped us to smile through our tears.

My favorite boat captain and his lovely wife will tell you, more specifically, the secret is DATE NIGHT. Raising their son while living and working in the most isolated of places for many years, they made it a point to schedule some special time away from their usual routine every single week, without fail. It seems to be like exercise. . . Keep up the habit and it is easy to get moving. Slack for a while and suddenly re-starting seems insurmountable. Thirty-plus years in, she still smiles at him like she knows a secret, and he still looks at her like she is the prom queen he can’t believe he has scored.

Something else I have noticed: Each of the individuals in the good marriages I am thinking of is creatively or professionally fulfilled. More so than most of us who have settled for careers quite far from our passions! I wonder whether it is partly that they are happier overall because they are pursuing meaningful work and have encouraged each other’s artistic or otherwise satisfying activities (despite the potential economic consequences)?

My uncle insists that his wife (she of the perfect dinners) “solved most of my problems by marrying me,” and their incredible unity through the most adverse of experiences makes me suspect he may be the one person for whom Rebecca Webber’s Psychology Today article “Are You With the Right Mate ( https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201112/are-you-the-right-mate ) might ring hollow. For the rest of us, she points out, there is almost certainly no one person who will magically not annoy us or make us question if we have made the right decision. We can fantasize about a mate with different habits or characteristics or someone who just wouldn’t be so. . .

. . .But that person does not exist. If not that idiosyncracy, then some other. A bugaboo you haven’t even conceived of.

My man and I have our share of issues and miscommunications (someday I will write all about the Headless Chinese Porn Affair; quite a hoot, in retrospect) but goddammit, he’s smart enough and nice enough and I like him! (And for many other reasons which don’t fit neatly into an SNL reference).

I hope we will be one of those forever couples: that we continue to teach each other and (rather eerily) share tangential thoughts, that we find a way to divide chores mutually satisfactorily, face adversity sharing our strength as well as our grief, cherish each other, communicate openly, and support one another in becoming who we each hope to be.