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Decisions, the Fate of the World, and Everything In Between
Growing Up Anxious
Do you remember the moment you realized that not everybody thinks the way you do? (Apologies if now is that moment.) Growing up, I looked around me as people seemed to live without a care in the world. In kindergarten, the principal called my mother (at some point, can we talk about education?) to tell her that I refused to use scissors in class. When my mother asked me why, I told her that the teacher said to cut on the line, and I was worried I would make a mistake.
In college, my friends seemed to know exactly what they wanted to do in life. Straight to med school, law school, accounting, advertising, teaching, assorted other grad school programs - they had their five year plan. I didn’t have a five minute plan. I’d have to gauge how I was feeling. Weigh my options. See what’s what before I made any big decisions. And any decision was/is/will be a big decision.
When faced with the choice of getting out of bed and “accomplishing” things, or sleeping in and catching up on my tannins (that might be wine), I tossed and turned in a haze of restless doubt, getting nothing done. (also, come on, sleep debt? They’re all just thinking up ways for me to fall further behind.)
When faced with the choice of going on a run now or later, drawing cartoons now or later, or maybe, just maybe, watching a movie now or later, it became a game of weights and measures. What made the most sense? What would I regret the least? Wait, let’s read all the movie reviews first! But do I rely on the expert Rotten Tomato score or the audience score?
It was all lose/lose for me. Having the fate of the world hang in the balance of every decision was so exhausting!
Looking at everyone surf through life made me feel like I was simply not trying hard enough.
(As a side note, for some reason, I have no problem ordering at a restaurant. Faced with a list of foods in various languages (insalata?) I’ll just point and pick. It’s my superpower.)
I Am Who I Am
It turned out I was an anxious person. And while plenty of people don’t operate the way I do, plenty of people do, and to varying levels. Learning that I was not so unique brought me a certain amount of comfort. Being able to “label” myself felt like fencing myself in and freeing myself at the same time. Knowing what was going on didn’t solve that daily clawing tightness in my chest, but putting a name to it made that roiling mess not “me” but a thing about me. I understood myself. Because everyone loves a little mystery but not necessarily when the mystery is yourself and why you can’t ever relax.
So here I am, anxious and alive! You might not know I’m anxious when you meet me (I’m very anxious about appearing anxious) but you don’t have to dig to deep to find it. Just ask me to make a decision. Once, at work, someone complimented me on being “even-keeled,” and I was pleasantly surprised. Fake it till you make it!
Still, anxiety is a muscle I’ve honed and refined. I exist in a quantum state at all times, sorting through data and ideas at a rate faster than I can eat a bowl of pasta. Which is fast. Too fast, my mom tells me. I am always both ready for anything and worried about everything! I cannot be stopped!
Breaking it Down
Anxiety comes in different forms, and I’ve basked in its various textures and hues. I’m actually somewhat of a connoisseur. It’s my own psychological Swiss Army Knife. Here are a few examples…
The What If
I cycle through all permutations of every upcoming scenario. This is a great skill for a cartoonist, and a horrible skill for a human.
The What Are They Thinking?
I think too much about what other people will think when we all know quite well that most people are either thinking about themselves or thinking about what other people are thinking about them.
The What Am I Thinking?
It’s hard to isolate my own thoughts into one defined narrative. I am an ever-branching line reaching for eternity. I am a washing machine tumbling all the colorful socks. I am the cloud of atoms circling the atomic nucleus. I am tired.
For those of you too young to remember, a rolodex is a contraption where you can flip through cards connected to a rod. They form a circle of sorts. I’d try harder to explain, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that, just like someone can flip through all of their contacts - actually, just imagine the contact list in your phone - I do that with every single decision I’ve ever made. I look back, evaluate, catalog, and sometimes regret.
The You Can’t Do It Wrong if You Don’t Do It At All
I’ve written about it before, but anxiety can be a root cause of procrastination. Worried about doing something? Push it off! You aren’t actually lazy. You’re avoidant. Much better. I’ve written all my papers at the last minute, handed in all my report cards right at the deadline, and waited until the last minute for just about everything that I was able to measure down to the, well, minute. Works every time!
The challenge of living so long a certain way is that you begin to rely on that mode of operation as a crutch, a lens through which to see the world, and an identity. Can we change who we are at our cellular level? I don’t know. (Actually, can we?) But we can certainly learn to navigate our inner and outer worlds in a healthier fashion.
Eating right, medication, exercise, therapy, meditation. There are many strategies and courses of action that people can and might ultimately take. I’m no therapist, and I can’t and won’t tell anyone what to do. But, what I definitely do do (ha, doo doo) is draw about my own experience and hopefully shed a little light and spread a bit of humor. If you can’t laugh at yourself, then what can you do? Lots, my therapist tells me. But still.
Growing is tough, and healing is hard, and acceptance can be an uphill struggle. Put all those three together, and you have living life. You also have:
I have more to say about all of this (cat included), but I’m already overthinking what I’ve written so far, and I think there are some guys knocking at my door telling me it’s time to pay up on my sleep debt. So, thanks for reading!