I am an anxious person.
If you know me in real life, you are probably not shocked by this information.
It’s not something I like to talk about often, because it has the connotation of weakness, and I don’t perceive myself as a weak person. It’s absolutely something I would change about myself, if I could. If the option presented itself, I would stroll on down to the Brain Depot and swap out my Anxiety Brain for something a little more functional. But I just made the phrase “Brain Depot” up, and since that’s not a real option … I … look, to paraphrase La Lady Gaga, I might just have been born this way. I was a kid who routinely practiced my escape plan in case the house caught fire and I still check the backseat of my car for muggers and rapists every time I get in. I once sat through a performance review where the feedback was “You are doing incredible work! You are really doing a great job! The only comment I have for you is ‘be less nervous.'” Just the fact that my boss had noticed how incredibly nervous I was — I thought I was hiding it so well! — made me even more nervous, and I had to sit in the bathroom for ten minutes afterwards taking deep breaths and trying not to vom.
So a few days ago, I started to feel a little bit sick. Well….. not sick, exactly. Just … off.
You know how you know your own body? Something just felt a little off.
My brain, as usual, was super helpful:
After a solid two days of despair spirals, I managed to book myself a Monday morning appointment with a general practitioner, and proceeded to eat every meal in the meantime as if it was my last. I drank two glasses of wine last night and ate cheese and crackers for dinner, making small talk with a friend, while in the back of my mind I slowly whispered, “Goodbye, wine. Goodbye, cheese. Goodbye, sweet friend. Goodbye forever.”
At 11pm, I was in bed.
At 4am, I was awake, staring at the ceiling, wondering if this was my last time waking up with all my limbs intact.
At 5am, I was googling symptoms again.
At 6am, I went downstairs and drank a glass of water, because it was probably the only thing keeping me alive.
At 7am, I started googling reviews of this doctor. They were all great, glowing reviews. Of course the reviews are all great, my Anxiety Brain whispered, because it’s clearly a scam. Yeah. I bet it’s a scam. I bet he’s not even a real doctor. I bet he’s just some guy who set up a bunch of profiles on, like, Yelp For Doctors or whatever this is I’m reading, and all of these reviews are just him under a bunch of fake names making up a bunch of fake stories about what an amazing doctor he is. I bet he’s going to take my personal information and steal my identity. I bet he’s going to send me a bill for a thousand dollars. I bet he’s a murderer. I should cancel. There’s no way I’m going to this thing.
I managed to shut my crazy down just long enough to make it to the appointment, where I shoved my insurance card in the unsuspecting receptionist’s face and blurted, “I have scary inadequate terrifying health insurance and I’m really worried that I can’t pay for this and can you tell me if I’m going to be okay or if I should just leave? I should just leave, right?”
I think she must get this a lot, actually, because she was incredibly nice about it and it took her all of five minutes to come back and say, “It’s a $30 co-pay,” at which point I almost fell down and wept tears of joy.
The doctor turned out to be the most genuinely lovely person I’d met in awhile, and he was funny, which I think means he’s going to be my doctor forever. About halfway through my panicked ramble, he laughed and stopped me long enough to say, “Let me guess. You looked all this up on the internet and the third result was cancer and the fifth one was full-blown AIDS and you came in today because you’re convinced you have a deadly, incurable disease?”
He just gets me.
Apparently I have the blood pressure of a rockstar and it’s vastly more likely that I have a Vitamin D deficiency than anything else. We made some jokes about my pale vampire skin. I’m likely not going to die anytime soon. This was very good news.
Except now I’m waiting for the blood test results to come in and all of the good energy from the doctor’s office has somehow dissipated. Even the phrase “I’m waiting for my test results” makes my heart beat a little faster. Which means I’m now 95% convinced that whenever the phone rings, it’s going to be my new doctor, playing really maudlin violin music in the background, slowly begging my forgiveness for misleading me, and asking me to sit down because he has something to tell me, and through his guilt-stricken sobs, he informs me that he was wrong, so wrong, because I DO HAVE LIFETHREATENING IMMUNO-DEFICIENT-CANCER-AIDS AND I ONLY HAVE ONE WEEK LEFT TO LIVE.
See what I mean about my anxiety brain?
And you know, writing on the internet about it both helps (immensely!) and yet it doesn’t (at all!) I’ve been struggling a lot with the interactions between … I suppose you could call it my ‘personal life’ and my ‘public life,’ though that sounds really pretentious, so perhaps my ‘real life’ and my ‘internet life’? That’s not totally it, either, but — you get the idea. What I write about here has real-life implications for my day-to-day existence, and I’m still learning how to navigate those boundaries. And my anxiety brain doesn’t always help that, either.
Every time I hit “Publish,” I’m like:
And then this happens:
And then the comments start to roll in.
Anxiety brain, man.
And it’s better on some days than others. There are days when I hardly notice it. There are days when it takes the wheel.
(I present to you, Figure 4a: two incredibly insignificant moments in the past hour of my life):
And the thing is, while I would change it if I could, most of the time I don’t think it’s all that bad. Anxiety evolved as our brain’s mechanism for keeping us safe, right? If those early humans weren’t justifiably afraid of those sabertoothed tigers, things probably wouldn’t have ended so well for them. And my anxiety brain has this useful quality that I often find motivational — if I’m really anxious about an upcoming deadline, or anxious about not wanting to seem like a failure — it pushes me forward, it helps me to focus. Is it annoying and distracting and maybe a little detrimental to my overall well-being? Sure, yeah. But it also makes me get shit done.
And the funny thing about it is — I worry. I stay up all night, I pick my nails, I pull my hair out and every time, every damn time…..
I’m fine. I always am.
Know what usually happens? Nothing.
Nothing at all.
So I’m going to work on being better at remembering that last part. When it’s 4am and I’m staring out my window, or when I’m on my twelfth page of WebMD results. I’m going to remember that in all likelihood, the answer is “You’re fine.” The answer is “You’re okay.”
So here’s the part where I hit “Publish Post.” And I take a deep breath. And I wait for the comments to roll in, and I remind myself that the comments that matter are never the ones from jerks with names like BonerBrain6969, they’re the ones from real people who are listening, and who want to engage with what I’m saying, and that is an incredible and wonderful thing. I take a deep breath, and I hit the button, and I remind myself, “I’m okay.”
EXTREMELY IMPORTANT UPDATE: And sometimes you post a long thing about anxiety, and you wait for the comments to roll in, and the first one requires a copy-paste into a google translator, and…
I think “patience key to the vagina” just about sums it up.