I’m a big baby and require near-constant validation, so when I tripped while running and got a scrape that bled and oozed and refused to scab and then when it finally did scab, itched like hell, I made sure my family knew I was suffering. I complained constantly about a wound that a kindergartner would have moved on from after ten minutes until one day, after a particularly loud groan caused by sitting down on the couch (the bending! The agony!), L sat down next to me, and said, in her grave voice, “Mommy, I get really worried about your injuries.” Yeah, I know. Way to go, whiny-whinerson.
The fun thing about reassuring her was that I did it by bragging. “I’m fine,” I told her. “I’m just a complainer. I’m totally healthy. In fact, I’m so healthy that I run at least 5 miles a day! [Ed. note: I averaged it out, okay?] That’s how I got this silly scrape—from running! I do all that running to keep me healthy, and I get healthier because of the running. I’m fine.”
She smiled and moved on (and I stopped bitching around her—as long as we’re on the topic, though, it’s still really itchy, a little oozy, and sore. But no red streaks or heat, so I think gangrene is off the table). This happens pretty frequently—she tells me about something that’s worrying her, and I talk her down. It’s what you do when your kid has anxiety disorder. You get pretty good at it.
But here’s the thing: It’s basically a lie. The confidence? The upbeat, calm tone that suggests that I’ve got things covered, and is meant to impress upon her the extreme unlikelihood of bad things happening? It’s a put-on. An act. I don’t believe it myself.
This is what I mean: I’m traveling in a few weeks for work, and despite the fact that she’s flown a lot and has never betrayed an ounce of trepidation before or during the process, L has told me several times that she’s really worried about my having to take a plane. So I go into assurance mode. I remind her of how many flights take off and land every single day without incident. “A plane just landed safely just now,” I say. “Another one did. Another one. And another one. Oh, another one.” I tell her about how my father used to fly between NY and DC several times a week, and it was no big deal. I tell her I will be fine.
The truth is that flying terrifies me, and that I hated when the Delta Shuttle was a regular part of my father’s commute. When I’m on a plane, all the other flights that have landed safely are irrelevant, and it is utterly likely to me that something terrible will happen. I’m just as worried as she is about my flying, and I am far from convinced that I will be fine, because statistics and past experience to the contrary, I believe that terrible things will happen.
That expectation of certain doom is my regular mindset, despite an existence that’s been blessedly free of tragedy and significant pain or sorrow. I am totally physically healthy, yeah—maybe. But lots of healthy people suddenly aren’t. Who knows what’s lurking, waiting? I love running, but as I do, there is a constant, niggling chatter in my head of the potential perils—the uneven sidewalks, the inattentive drivers, the rabid dogs, the falling tree limbs, the lightning strikes, the rapist in the bushes.
If I were to list here all of the things I worry about on a daily basis, and you gave up reading–understandably uninterested at best, irritated at me for being so very annoying at worst– after half a page, you’d still be leaving 98% of my catalog unread. And it grows longer every day. For me, worrying about all the hideous possibilities that are coming is an utterly logical default. It’s a perfectly reasonable life-view—rational, even. I both envy and am baffled by those who don’t share this mindset.
But I’m an adult, and I’ve learned, with help, how to deal with the worries. They’re not incapacitating. I recognize that seeing my world and my future as dark and scary is counterproductive to happiness, and so I do the work (with the help of SSRIs) to lie to myself that the bad things will not happen, and to compartmentalize and step away from the thoughts of doom.
Even though there’s an insistent voice that tells me that this run, this one, today, is the one during which I move from being the woman who crosses Midvale Boulevard safely every day to a small, sad piece in tomorrow’s paper, I run anyway. And on every run I focus more on my internal whining about how this hill is too damn daunting, and on how mind-blowing this episode of TAL is, than the threats that I do believe are there. And that’s a victory. The triumph of making it home safely, coupled with the endorphins? That’s good stuff.
I’ll get on my flight for my work trip. I will be anxious and tense and I will clutch the armrests and shut my eyes and pray and generally be the kind of person you really don’t want to be sitting next to, but I’ll do it. I’ll hope for a reprieve from disaster—the disaster that I’ve been spared thus far, but that I know is out there, and why not for me? I’ll hope for my great fortune to continue, and I’ll be overjoyed and grateful if it does. It’s that joy and gratitude for having dodged my fate that helps balance out the worry, and helps me function.
L’s getting to the age where the confident reassurances will become less effective. At some point, she’s going to start calling us on the lies we tell her to help her worries go away. I worry about that day (surprise!), and I wonder how we will help her through it. I hope that she doesn’t see as much menace in her future as I see in mine, but if she does, I’m going to do my best to teach her that when it comes to overcoming worries, the greatest happiness and comfort lies in being proven wrong, over and over and over again.