“If you’re not worrying, you’re not family.” — Rhapsody’s sister, Andromeda
So good to see you, friends! For today’s post, I’ve thoughtfully arranged the chairs in a semi-circle so you can all see me on the screen up here, and still reach the cocktail olives with ease. The reason I’m addressing you by video today is that I’ve taken myself off for a little rest at the cabin—my retreat when the daily effort of being “somewhat difficult” overwhelms me.
Mr. Roboto and the children aren’t here; this is my time for picking wildflowers, journaling and sipping homemade blueberry wine that doubles as paint thinner.
Arm’s length seemed the optimal distance for today’s topic. With you in the salon, and me in an undisclosed location with a camcorder, I can more comfortably explain what it’s like to be a mildly depressive worrier with just the tiiiiiiiniest bit of an anxiety disorder. To save money and time, I self-diagnosed with the help of pharmaceutical commercials. My doctor was glad I confided to her that I suffer from Rich-Woman-Gardening-But-Not-Enjoying-It Disease.
You see, I’m afraid you won’t understand what I’m talking about today, and will think Rhapsody is a strange and embarrassing misfit—and that is precisely why I must come forward. As a reward for listening, or at least keeping one eye open, I’ve made you each a Rhapsody in Cool first-aid kit stocked with band-aids, emergency flares and a fifth of bourbon.
So grab your life vests, friends, and follow me for an adventure of the imagination! That’s Shit Creek up ahead and we’re putting our canoes in right above the rapids. No paddles on board, please: we’ll just scoop the water frantically with our hands.
* * * *
So that we all know what we’re talking about, let’s establish a working definition. Anxiety is that feeling you have when all the fearful stimuli have left the building but you remain a wreck. And that doesn’t make it any less real, my friends. In fact, it is in the absence of actual threat that anxiety does some of its best work.
Let’s be very clear: worrying is not a choice. If you are the sort who suggests that worriers simply need to relax and stop sweating the small stuff, please understand that this is not how worrying works. It is not a measured response to real things. It is a way of life. Nor is anxiety a “modern” problem, despite those articles you’ve read the titles of on your phone.While only recently uncovered in its full richness by Big Pharma, anxiety has been driving and protecting the human race for eons.
In fact, you owe your very life to the fretters in your family tree. That scrap of DNA that makes you look up just in time to see an oncoming truck is the same one your early-hominid Aunt Minnie used when she said, “Look, Sheldon, this is a nice grotto to build the mud hut, but I don’t like the way that saber-tooth tiger is eyeing us. Can we just go, please?”
* * * *
“But whatever is the matter?” you non-worriers always ask as you jog by on your way to a pep rally.
What’s wrong? What’s wrong? Nothing. I simply woke up today, and every day of my life, feeling like a fire alarm has just gone off inside me. And I find your calm centeredness to be enviable, but also extremely suspicious. It’s why I avoid yoga retreats and the entire state of California. This pattern was established early in my life. At age four I heard one adult say to the other, regarding me, “Why does she make everything so hard for herself?” At the time, I had no idea what she was talking about. Now, I might.
You see, I feel things. Sometimes intensely. Perhaps you do, too?
I have, on several occasions, nearly succeeded at becoming the first person to die of embarrassment. None of these occasions were especially funny or I would tell you about them—the point is that I spend a lot of energy modulating feelings and constructing barriers around what I really think so that these thoughts do not nip anyone on the hand, or shame me into a life of total seclusion.
I suspect that other people may not spend as much time on this. I think maybe, just maybe, they say things and do things in a devil-may-care sort of way, as if they were basically fine and all was right with the world. And to my way of seeing, it is that outlook that has seriously detached itself from facts. Not mine.
* * * *
Now seems like a good time to say that I am not making light of anxiety disorders, which cause serious suffering to a lot of people. I am not that kind of jerk. (I am many other kinds of jerk, but not that one.) It would be truthful to say that mild-to-middling depression and worry are significant forces in the world of Rhapsody, along with the glamour and uproarious humor I’m known for.
Part of the exercise here is to say what it is like to be me, in the possibly vain hope that it will sound familiar to you, and thus make you
admire me more feel less alone. A quick diagnostic exercise may be helpful.
How to tell if you are a worrier (with apologies to Jeff Foxworthy):
- If you wake up in the morning convinced that a pissy email you sent nine years ago was too hastily composed, causing irreparable harm to an important relationship… you might be a worrier.
- If you allow a colleague to land on her head during a “trust fall” exercise because you’ve just dashed out to confirm that the first-aid kit is stocked with gauze… you might be a worrier.
- If you lie awake at night terrified that the 3-story fire escape ladder you keep next to the bed is not in fact “easy to operate” and that in the event of a real fire you will simply become entangled in it… you might be a worrier.
- If you cannot see a play on opening or closing night, for fear that one of the actors may miss a cue, or feel unhappy about his performance… you might be a worrier.
- If the words “audience participation,” or the mere thought of theater improv happening anywhere, at anytime, put you in a cold sweat… you might be a worrier.
- If you are a tuning fork for the free-floating stress of friends, loved ones and strangers alike… you might be a worrier.
You can imagine (or already know) what a mind like this can do with real worries. The polar ice cap is melting. Children are neglected. War and poverty are shredding the world, while the leisure class sits at home and blogs about it. Even my own safe life is interrupted by an actual crisis once in a blue moon, and that’s terrifying, yet there is a part of me that thinks, “At last! A chance to apply my skills to the real thing! It’s show time, baby.”
* * * *
I have no information or reliable opinion to offer about medications for psychological conditions, so naturally I will now to make a statement about them.
The prospect of having my anxiety lowered, or removed, by medication, is both alluring, and frightening. I’d love to be more at ease, but at the same time it seems a bit like giving my taste buds away. Who would I be without the worry? I know our non-worrying friends are thinking, “Nonsense! You couldn’t possibly enjoy being the way you are!” But here’s how the logic goes—and hang on, cheerful ones, because this is going to feel bumpy to you:
If, by taking medication, I become less ferociously guarded in every moment, I will be at risk of exposure as an imposter and a fool because I won’t have my anxiety to keep me vigilant. This is a sweat-producing prospect.
If there is more certain proof of an anxiety disorder, I can’t think what it is.
* * * *
We worrier’s spend a lot of time defending ourselves, and because our moments of vindication also happen to be calamities, there is seldom an appropriate time to gloat.
I’d wager that some of the people attending a play at the Apollo Theater in London on the night of December 19, 2013 when a sizeable chunk of ceiling fell on the audience, had said something along the lines of, “Oh, do stop carrying on, Phillipa! The sky isn’t falling, you know!”
And what could Phillipa say, as she brushed the plaster dust off her dress later that evening, without seeming incredibly insensitive?
Now, if Rhapsody went to the theater of an evening and the ceiling fell, you can be sure she would not be one of the bewildered saying “I can’t believe that just happened!” No. She’d be saying, “I knew it. I knew when I walked in there that the chandelier had a wobbly look. It’s just like my great, great, great, great, great, great Aunt Minnie used to say: if it walks like a predator and talks like a predator, it’s a PREDATOR.”
* * * *
It is fortunate for me, at least from a social-acceptance point of view, that I live in a time and belong to an economic strata that tolerates—even enjoys – the histrionic rants of self-depreciating neurotic depressives.
But I’m not giving these performances because I want you to feel bad, or sad or uncomfortable. I want you to appreciate this fine material I pulled up, these gems I’ve mined from a rich seam of ore down in the blackest places of my soul, and brought back to show you. Just look at them sparkle!
I see that our non-morose guests are still confused, so I will ask them to stop their jumping jacks for a moment and listen to some words from an excellent volume called “Attempting Normal” by comedian Marc Maron. This book has given me a whole new sense of purpose in my jangled condition. Maron is talking about bitterness, which is not the same as anxiety, but the two are roommates and take turns paying the rent:
“The personality itself if really just a complex defense mechanism. A reaction to the first time someone said, “No, you can’t.””
As far as I’m concerned, you can put those sentences on the scale against the works of Freud and they’ll hold their own. But he follows it with something even more useful:
“That’s the big challenge of life of life—to chisel disappointment into wisdom so people respect you and you don’t annoy your friends with your whining.”
I want one of you to make sure these words are engraved on my tombstone. And if there’s room, you can add the rest of the paragraph:
“That said, be careful not to medicate bitterness because you’ve mistaken it for depression because the truth is, you’re right: Everything does suck most of the time and there’s a fine line between bitterness and astute cultural observation.”
Well, exactly. And when a person as dark and self-lacerating as Maron actually does feel happy—that scant 1% or 2% of the time—it’s real joy. He went to dark places to bring back things that are funny and smart and (one in a great while) uplifting, and I respect that. Which is not to say that misery is a requirement in life; it just makes a better seasoning than, say, popularity in high school.
* * * *
Thank you all so much for listening. I know it’s been a long and headachy post, and many of you unscrewed the cap on your complimentary bourbon several paragraphs ago.
I’m going to turn the camera off now, and head out to my porch to work on another post, while rocking just a little too fast in the old maple rocking chair. The squirrels around the cabin are in a constant state of hysteria and several tree branches look like they may crush the roof any moment.
It’s paradise up here.