Anxiety plagues my family. Everyone on both sides seems to give excessive attention to all the things that could go horribly wrong in every situation. There are only a couple of blood relatives I can think of who do/did not over-worry. My paternal grandfather was pretty chill, and he lived to be 101 years old. My niece, T, does not seem to stress as much as the rest of us. Other than those two, we are all complete neurotics.
I once saw a special on the making of "Seinfeld". Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David were being interviewed about the initial success of the series, and their reactions to the network ordering more and more episodes. Jerry thought it was great! Larry was paralyzed with stress with each request for another script. He could not imagine himself able to rise to the task. I saw myself in Larry David. I would never be the Jerry, shrugging and all "it'll work out." I am the Larry. I want success, but when it is staring me in the face I am all: "I will NEVER be able to pull this off!"
I think our world is set up for Larrys not Jerrys. Our society had become so complicated, fast paced and success-centric that we are all balls of stress pretending not to be. There is a good reason that so many of us are searching for a simpler life. There is a reason why downsizing, growing our own food, and greening up our lives, has become so trendy. It is my belief that we all suspect, even if only subconsciously, that something has got to give and we want to be ready with our bunker in the mountains and firewood and home canned food when we officially strive ourselves into implosion.
Lately I have been really fixated on a single issue in my life. I won't go into specifics, because, obviously, that would stress me out. But I think about this issue a lot. And when I think about it just logically, I know it is really not a big deal. But tell that to the little demon in my brain. That demon always needs one point of fixation on which to survive. Kind of like how the plant in Little Shop of Horrors needed human blood. Because if and when I stop fixating on this ONE thing, that demon will immediately start to feed on something else.
One of the kids recently woke me in the middle of the night. After I'd settled the baby back down I couldn't get back to sleep myself and immediately began to stress about the thing I am currently stressing about. So, to distract myself, I started to think about my pattern of stressing out. Here's a few episodes I thought of:
The first panic attack I can clearly recall happened in grade one when I realized I'd forgotten to return a stack of flashcards I'd borrowed. I slept in bunk beds with my sister, and I can so keenly remember lying in the top bunk, my six year old head hot with anxiety about what would become of a kid who committed such an atrocity as this. I schemed about how I might get to school early, before the teacher, and sneak the cards onto her desk. In the end, I, in a state of pure terror, walked up to her desk, handed my teacher the cards, and she said: "Oh, thank you." And that was that. It was all fine.
When I was fifteen I settled in to study for my French final exam, and without warning I suddenly was pounded with the manufactured realization that I had waited too long to cram and I would surely fail and that there was nothing I could do to stop it. This fear came out of mid-air, landed on me and I became paralyzed. I could not study. I was so panic stricken that I just turned out the light, crawled under the covers and waited until the morning when I could march to the gallows and get it over with. The exam was fine, and I passed the course easily.
When I was in my 20s, at university, I realized that the student loan people had neglected to send me a specific form that was standard procedure then - a confirmation that the borrower had worked in the summer and was also contributing to his or her own education financially. I called and asked for the form to be sent and it didn't arrive. I called again. And then, one evening, I convinced myself that the lack of this form meant that I would not be eligible for the breaks the government was then giving to students who completed their degrees in a timely manner, and I would have to pay back the entire amount, and consequently my entire adulthood was now blown. Cue flop sweat, shakes, and an overwhelming need to lie down. Of course the form eventually arrived in the mail, I filled it out and all was well.
Oh I could go on. But those examples probably paint the picture well enough.
This pattern of sudden, brutal anxiety has etched itself into my entire life. I don't ALWAYS react to adversity with a panic attack. In fact, many of the situations that actually should cause panic I handle quite well. I'm really, really good at many of the really big things. I have been called upon to help people who are at the end of their lives and have found the experience profound and rich and fascinating and in no way scary. I stand up in front of crowds and speak and perform on a very regular basis. I have zero problem with confrontation, yet I am anxious every day when I have to get the mail because I am sure there will be some sort of horrible message that will turn my life on its head. And sometimes, with little warning, I fixate on something totally random and spiral and feel like Larry David facing a blank page on a computer screen.
I have come to believe that this kind of anxiety disorder (is it a disorder?) is so much a part of me that it must be somehow connected to the parts of me that I really like - my creativity, my wit, my ability to recognize the beauty in the ugliness of life. So I accept it and try to do what I am doing now - to remind myself that it is, indeed, a pattern. If I can show myself that this is me, and this is my own special crazy and without it I would be a lesser version of myself, then I can usually talk myself down and get on with things.
I think Larry David is brilliant. I love him. And ever since I saw that interview I always think of him as a kindred spirit. He knows he has something to say, and work to do, and as much as his demon makes him doubt himself, he gets on with it. So I am okay with being a Larry. Larrys grit their teeth and get the job done.