of cats and bananas
Recently, one of my cousins and I were talking about different forms of anxiety, including how different hers are from mine. It really is amazing how anxiety takes root in so many different shapes and sizes in so many different people.
So, what does my anxiety look like? Many things:
- Being afraid animals escaped from the zoo and are on my street. This has happened (on other streets nowhere near me) so not completely unreasonable…
- Thinking everyone is a serial killer.
- Deciding something has to happen so IT NEEDS TO HAPPEN RIGHT NOW WHY HASN’T IT HAPPENED YET I CAN’T DO ANYTHING ELSE UNTIL THE THING HAPPENS.
- Bugs. Too much nature. Spiders – just no.
- Airplanes. Transportation in general.
- What did I say to that person four days ago and are they mad at me?
- What am I making a list of? Oh right, anxiety.
- The house can never be clean enough.
- Constant guilt.
- Last but definitely not least, a little game I like to call “am I dying?”
I can talk myself out of most of the things on that list with little trouble, but the last one is the most prevalent part of my anxiety. It is the only aspect of my anxiety that I remember clearly from an early age.
I was bitten by a huge bug and ran home to take a shower, thinking “I want to be clean for death.” I was probably 11, and I was really convinced I was going to die. I was really upset about the incident but didn’t tell anyone because I was embarrassed that a thought I knew was irrational was controlling my mood and actions. At this point in the story, I should point out that I was not actually bitten by a huge bug, or any bug for that matter. My friend told me earlier that day that there are giant mosquitos you can die from if bitten, and I convinced myself I had been bitten by one while playing outside. I vividly remember that day because there is a part of my brain that still struggles to separate my reality from scary events happening to other people.
In adulthood, “am I dying” has subsided but is definitely still a huge part of my anxiety that I manage on a daily basis.
When I was in college, hearing about mass shootings at other colleges kept me from going to class for days.
Today, news stories about things like Ebola, Zika, more mass shootings, and especially airplane crashes really slow me down and make it hard for me to concentrate at work. I’m not even linking to those things because I don’t want to have to find a link.
Here is an actual text I sent my mom a few weeks ago:
Sooo clearly, “am I dying” is still a part of my life. In my defense, my finger WAS really bleeding, not just a little cut. And this had been going on for three hours before I texted my mom, so I actually feel pretty good about how I handled that situation.
So, how do I manage all this anxiety? By laughing about it with my husband.
The summer before we started dating, when we were friends, I called him while having an anxiety attack driving on a busy highway. No one in my family was answering their phones, I felt stupid calling a close girl friend, and I really, really needed to talk through my anxiety. Future hubby was wonderful on the phone during my attack, so, Reader, I married him.
This phone call makes it easy for us to laugh about my anxiety because it brought us together. Years into our relationship, he decided we needed a code word for when I’m acting or talking irrationally. I didn’t know he decided this until one stressful day after the vet.
Lillian, my overweight (I’M TRYING OK SHE SNEAKS FOOD) cat, went to the vet a few years ago for dental surgery. A few hours after returning home from surgery, she was very groggy and did not want to eat at her normal dinner time. The vet said it could be a whole day until she eats again, but Lillian does not EVER miss dinner.
When Jeff came home, I was sitting on the floor feeding her. The following conversation ensued:
Amy, what are you feeding the cat?
She won’t eat her normal food.
Is that oatmeal?
I mashed up a banana.
Jeff knelt down at that point so he could look me in the eye and held up my hand, which was covered in the gooey banana I was trying to coerce the cat into eating (unsuccessfully).
Amy, you’re feeding the cat a banana.
I looked down at my gooey hand and laughed so hard I couldn’t breathe. “You’re feeding the cat a banana” is now his code phrase if I’m being unreasonably anxious about something. It helps me get out of my head, look at the bigger picture, and laugh a little.
Having a mom who is patient with her 28 year old daughter still playing “am I dying” and a husband who has learned to identify and help manage my anxiety have kept me from worrying myself over the edge.
If you are struggling with your own anxiety, I encourage you to talk to the important people in your life to make sure they know what your anxiety looks like and how to help you through it. And if your way to get through it is laughter, great! This doesn’t mean you aren’t taking it seriously (and make sure your family knows how serious it is), it just means you found something that works for you.
And please, don’t feed your cat a banana. Unless your cat likes bananas. Then maybe just don’t do it with your bare hands.