I messed up and didn’t realize that the PFAM’s ( Patients For A Moment) blog carnival deadline was by midnight tonight. The subject was fear. I’m wondering if deep inside I just didn’t feel up to writing, competing, finishing or if I was dissassocating myself from the project. I was going to talk about the web of anxiety and how it feels when it starts to swell in my stomach. It always starts in my stomach beginning with a slight twinge, quickly advancing to panic and anxiety. My arms and legs feel tingly and somehow not connected to my body, I am alternately hot and cold or both together.
The first time that queasy sensation started was the summer before my freshmen year at college. I was eating dinner with my family in a fancy Italian restaurant in Queens, NY. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t speak, it was the first time I had ever felt anxious and I remember calling it “cold dread.” How could I explain this new, horrible feeling when I had never experienced it before? How do you name something you do not know?
Those fearful sensations in my body became like a close cousin to me. We lived as if we were conjoined; I could not separate reality from frightful fantasies. It was something that I have learned to live with and deal with. I started with a tiny germ of truth and blew it up out of proportion. There was no stopping my obsessive worrying, nothing helped: warm milk, hot baths, reading a book, distraction. I remember a time when I was sitting in the trolley in Boston and thought what I had whispered to my friend was overheard by someone else and I became overwhelmed and frightened. What if? What if? It became a wakeful nightmare for me. I did a lot of catastrophizing back then and even now, once in a while, it still tries to creep into my brain. I need to forcefully push it away, as if an intruder was about to enter and I had to slam the door hard, with brute force. Sometimes that is enough, sometimes it isn’t.
My cousin’s stomach ache could be pancreatic cancer, my sister’s low throaty voice could mean she was manic, my narrow-angled glaucoma could make me blind in a second. I worked with a hot-headed, explosive employee that I thought, for sure, would bring a gun to a grievance meeting and shoot us all. I remember strategically seating myself closest to the door, just in case. I lived in a world of tragedy, of horrendous outcomes, death, madness, cancer, stroke, coma, terrorist attacks, murder, mayhem and more. “Health and welfare” is what I worry about as I tried to succinctly wrap it up like an adorned Christmas present, perfect silver wrapping with a tight red bow.
The truth of the matter is that now we DO live in a fearful world and something COULD happen. Fear perpetuates fear and even while I am writing this down I feel the first fingers of anxiety like a gray mouse with darting eyes. I take deep cleansing breathes. I ask myself questions: “what are the odds of that happening?” The media doesn’t help: “Don’t go to public places when you are traveling in Europe” What? Of course we would go to public places if we were in Europe. Is too much information just too much? I refuse to watch the news on TV before I go to sleep. The only thing we can do is try to push the worry aside and live as normally as we can; even if it takes enormous strength and effort. Carpe Diem as they said at Boston College where I worked: Seize The Day, as best as you can.
It is a scary world, in so many ways. Cyberbulling makes school yard taunting seem like a gentle slap rather than a kick in the gut. The what ifs are endless, and as you suggest, keep growing.
And, since I learned to always expect the worst, then I’m rarely disappointed when the fears and phobias become realities. One of my professors at graduate school told me that I was the most jaded individual he had ever met (I was in my mid-30s, he in his mid-50s)
That said, it doesn’t take away the angst, the gnawing in the pit of my stomach, the racing heart, the washing over of waves of anxiety. Since the mid 2000s, I’ve been taking small dose of generic xanax to help me sleep, and even smaller dosages to stop my often irrational or “free-floating” panic attacks. What if, what if, what if — maybe that should be turned around, somehow, into a manta!
Thx for sharing what must have been a difficult blog entry to write!