Dear chronic anxiety: What have you done for me lately?
No, really. You hang out chewing on the sides of my brain all day, every day. You quiet for a few moments while I am treating a patient, which is maybe why I try so hard to fill my days treating patients, but then afterward you are there when a patient tells me they are feeling better for the first time in years, whispering: maybe it wasn't the acupuncture. i bet he knows it wasn't the acupuncture. you can't really help anyone with anything.
You hiss they are SO annoyed with you, they feel sorry for you, they think you are fat when I hang out with friends or they think you are bragging and full of yourself and they can see right through that, they think you are grossly insecure. You push all the buttons that make me stumble over myself trying to make sure that my friends will know I did not mean to offend, and then when my friends laugh and tell me they weren't offended, how could they be offended? you cackle now they think you are just so weird. just stop talking, already, GOD, you are so weird and awkward. and fat.
The moment you notice I am home and happily settled on the couch with the love of my life, you remind me nothing is forever, no one is impervious to harm, life is precarious, what are you doing to protect him? We start to eat the lovely dinner he prepared and you don't let me serve myself first even if he asks me to serve myself first because what if you take the one piece of chicken he really wanted? what if you take more than your fair share of the greens? you want to deprive him, you want to make him sad, you want to let your own husband, the beautiful man who has made you this beautiful dinner, this beautiful life, go hungry? you are so fucking selfish, so greedy, so disgustingly gluttonous. glutton! stop eating so fast, you are repulsive, stop eating so slow, you will hurt his feelings, are you getting drunk again? again, really, when your mother died of cancer that crept to her liver, you can't even respect your own liver? do you think the wine will shut me up? you want to race and see which gets shut down first, my voice or your precious fucking liver?
My husband and I get ready for bed, for the blissful quiet moments where we rest skin against skin waiting for sleep to come, and you ratchet up your efforts: there are so many ways you or he or the dog or the cat could die tonight because you weren't careful enough. the stove, the floor, the outlets, the corners of things. the house, this life, it is a minefield. try to be happy for one second, fine, but that might be the second that you forget to look and step on a mine.
My therapist told me one day that she's noticed that the most anxiety-ridden people are the ones who do best in a crisis. She told me a story of one woman who was so afflicted with anxiety it was hard for her to leave the house. One day this woman walked out of her bedroom and into the kitchen and saw that the kitchen was engulfed in rapidly-spreading flames. She grabbed her cat and her dog and walked calmly out of the house to the church across the street, where she called the fire department. Then she waited on the steps of the church, holding her pets, for help to arrive. In short, she did everything exactly right. When her friends asked her, "But weren't you terrified?" she replied, "Well, it wasn't any different from every day."
And the fact of the matter is, I am pretty good in a crisis. And I should be: they are rehearsed in my head daily, probably hourly, whether I like it or not: the propane-delivery truck careens across lanes in front of you; the smoke billows from the ceiling and burns your lungs; the madman takes you in a group of hostages; the earth quakes and you're on the seventh floor; and none of these are as terrifying as maybe your husband is sick, maybe your sister needs help, maybe your father blames you. maybe you will break all of their hearts.
I am good in a crisis, whether it is a crisis of the broken-leg variety or the broken-heart variety. I am calm, collected, rehearsed. But it is not worth it, not even close. Even with this small advantage, I would never choose anxiety. I would rather be a completely useless, panicked idiot in one fire than live every day in a burning house.
Friday, February 4, 2011
Today on the creek path, I passed another cyclist. He was bearded, and pulling a bike trailer with a baby in it. Like me, he was dressed for work, with one pants leg cuffed and a helmet on. We nodded to each other and I felt a flash of recognition: I thought--right there is my people. Northern California, thank you for being you, all of you bike-commuters, beard-sporters, organic-produce-growers, yoga-practicers, local-business-supporters, homemade-gift-givers, ecology-protectors, food-and-wine-makers: I am home.