A short-short story about a person with generalized anxiety disorder.

Posted Feb 07, 2016

Edvard Munch, Public Domain
Source: Edvard Munch, Public Domain

In some recent posts, I've been embedding information about mental disorders and their treatment in a very short story. Today's effort focuses of generalized anxiety disorder.

It’s October 10, 2015. As usual, Miriam woke up not refreshed--She usually has trouble sleeping. Each morning, she’s grateful for the first few minutes when her anxiety hasn't yet taken over her.

But within minutes, she starts to worry: that her kids won’t have time enough for a good breakfast, that her anxiety is making her a bad wife, that that headache is cancer.

Miriam's husband reassures her yet again: “You’ve been to the doctor and she says you’re fine. It’s anxiety. Take your Prozac and use your Pacifica app. And that vigorous walk across the Damascus Gate plaza will de-stress you. I love you. I’ll see you tonight."

Miriam walks her two kids to school, worrying, excessively worrying, about a terrorist attack, especially as she gets to the plaza. After all, there had been recent attacks there and just since September 15, Israel has suffered 117 stabbings, 41 shootings, and 23 car rammings.

At the school, Miriam kisses her children good-bye but doesn't leave until she sees them enter the building. Even their young faces show that they have absorbed their mother’s angst. They seem to have already surrendered their childhood innocence to the adult's worries. After all, they sense that adults' attempt to live as though things are normal is just a veneer covering fear. The kids' worry is reinforced by their Ashkelon relatives' phone calls about having been rained on by Gazan rockets and that her cousin once had to be hospitalized for shock.

Miriam arrives at the hotel coffee shop she manages and says hello to the security guard, who pats down customers before they're allowed in. That security effort doesn't reflect Rebecca’s anxiety disorder. It’s the norm in Israeli coffee shops, restaurants, and nightclubs that can afford a security guard.

Miriam leaves work daily at 3 PM so she can pick up her kids from school. Today, she gives them their weekly treat: a stop at a falafel café on the way home. As usual, she tells her kids to eat quickly---She can’t stop thinking of all the suicide bombers who deliberately choose places where Israelis go for respite: cafés, nightclubs, buses, hotels, even bar-mitzvahs. Rationally, Miriam knows that the chances of an attack are small but her anxiety disorder, by definition, trumps rationality.

After finishing, Miriam and her kids walk back across the Damascus Gate plaza when, suddenly, they hear screaming. A 16-year-old Arab man is stabbing two old, screaming Jewish men. The police race to stop it but the terrorist tries to attack them, screaming "Allah Akhbar" at which point an officer shoots him. Palestinians swarm the scene, "rioting and throwing rocks at police."

Miriam swooned, almost fainting, and dropped to the ground. “Mommy, what’s wrong? What’s wrong?!” Miriam started to cry and then so did their children. Passersby rushed to her aid as did a police officer. The embarrassment shocked Rebecca into enough of a recovery to say, “I’m fine. It was just difficult to watch that.” She took her children by the hand and sped toward home. As soon as she was out of the onlookers' sight, she said, “Let’s run.” When they entered the apartment, she triple-locked the door and pulled out her Pacifica app.

Miriam told her husband that she can no longer take the stress and needs to quit her job. Her husband tried to change her mind: “All of us must continue to live. We can’t let them stop us from living.” Reluctantly, Miriam agreed to continue working.

But on November 10, there were three separate Jerusalem terrorist stabbings. Miriam asked her boss for a week off, got it, and a week later decided to try to be strong, and went back to work.

Alas, on Feb. 3, 2016 at 2 PM, just an hour before Miriam would have been walking past the Damascus Gate with her children, police officers asked three nervous-looking young Arabs for identification. It turned out they were hiding machine guns, pipe bombs, and knives. The terrorists stabbed one of the officers to death and shot the other one to death. Both officers were female. 

Miriam quit her job and is scared to look for another. Her husband and children don’t know how to handle it all.  She has found a cognitive-behavioral therapist, takes her Prozac religiously, and practices desensitization and other activities with the Pacifica app.

Of course, there are explanations or at least rationalizations, for violence on both sides of the Israel-Palestinian dispute, indeed regarding most disputes But the human toll even on people who were not hurt or killed can be profound, especially if you have a predisposing emotional condition such as generalized anxiety disorder.

I read this aloud on YouTube.

This is one of the 62 of Dr. Nemko's short-short stories in his book, Modern Fables.  You can reach career and personal coach Marty Nemko at mnemko@comcast.net