Because I'm the Mom

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Hypervigilant anxiety meets worst-case reality: I got punk'd by my own brain

I got punk'd by my own brain

Can grief be an antidote to anxiety?

What happens when you've spent your entire life in an epic state of panic, waiting for the horrible, terrible thing to happen? It's around the corner. You will not be fooled or surprised. Everything is risky. Germs, driving, date rapists, identity thieves, breast lumps, pandemics, stranger danger, ebola, ecoli, left arm pain, child abductions, odd bloating sensations, racing heart rate, lower back pain, radon, Y2K, weird rashes, killer bees.

You've been on it your whole life, checking under the metaphorical bed, kicking the tires, peeking behind every door, watching your back. Waiting. Getting your flu shots. Relentlessly checking your credit rating. Upping your flood insurance. Yearly freckle checks at the dermatologist. Pap smears. Mammograms. Colonic health. Flossing. Praying. Fasting. Being good. Doing good. Breathing out bad thoughts, in strength and peace. Wishing others well. Mostly.

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But, nothing terrible happens.

Until it does.

The worst thing ever has happened. I lost my brother, the best person in my life, taken from me, out of nowhere. How did this one get past my supersonic, hypervigilant anxiety radar? I thought I had played out every possible loss, every scenario, all of the potential wolves and Nazis at the door. Never saw this one coming.

In my lifelong attempt to protect myself from getting hurt, I placed my bets wrong. I made decisions to avoid certain kinds of demons, but not the right ones. It is pure Greek myth-sized hubris to think I could have foreseen anything, really. I'm like my own mythical Cassandra, in reverse: consigned to a life of knowing the truth but never to be believed. I was so certain I knew what to look out for. I bought my own hype. What arrogance. What a waste. I thought I could outrun the wolves I thought were coming after me.

Now I'm left staring over the bleakest, most enormous pit of regret, full of
decisions made out of fear instead of strength, choices made to give bad luck the slip. I know these are just thoughts and my life is full of profound blessings. But that's not how if feels. I got punk'd by my own brain. Big time.

What does this mean for my anxiety? It's kind of a pathological innoculation. A relief. Nothing is scary anymore. No loss seems impossible, but I'm so lost it doesn't register. More bad news? Just add it to the list. Put it on my tab, bar keep. I'm already there. Lightning has already struck.

 

 

Pamela Cytrynbaum teaches at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

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