In December I went to a conference in Washington, D.C. My flights got all screwed up because while I was in the air the Dallas-Fort Worth airport apparently disappeared, or at least was lost in fog. Shenanigans ensued. When I finally got to my hotel room, I hadn’t eaten anything but airplane pretzels in 16 hours.
I looked at the hotel restaurant and room service brochure. The kitchen closed at 11pm. The clock said it was 11:03. I went down the hall to the door that said “vending,” but the only thing behind it was an ice machine. I stumbled to the gift shop, where I could see food behind the locked door. That’s when I fell to my knees and cursed the heavens.
Then I remembered that major cities have all-night restaurants that will bring you food! I found one online, blessed the Founding Fathers for making America a haven for immigrants and their pizza, and sat down to wait, feeling good about life. Almost immediately, I started feeling bad about life again, which is pretty par for the course.
Was it ok that I ordered pizza in a place that has a restaurant? Would I get in trouble? Maybe I could go stand at the entrance to the hotel driveway and wait for the delivery guy there and then hide the pizza under my shirt like some kind of boxy, fragrant tumor until I got to my room.
I called my friend Chris, who has heard stupid things come out of my mouth since first grade, and explained my worries.
“Hold on,” he said. “In your mind, you’re going to walk in with pizza and the guy at the desk is going to yell, ‘Hey! You can’t eat that pizza in here! This is a pizza-free hotel!’ and then smack it out of your hand and throw you out?”
“That’s insane, Christopher,” I said. “But yes.”
It was insane. But the trouble with anxious thoughts is that they don’t seem insane while you’re fixating on them. They seem believable and unavoidable.
Things I Worry About All the Time
- That an extension cord will start an electrical fire and my house will burn down.
- That every unusual smell is a gas leak.
- That I will wrong someone and they’ll get revenge by killing Winston. And then I’ll come home and his head will be on a pike outside my house, Game of Thrones-style, as a warning.
- That my brothers will die in incidents involving quicksand or lava or possibly both. Worse, that it will be a quicksand/lava catastrophe that I inadvertently caused.
- That I’ve alienated the people I love. At least once in every friendship or relationship, I’ve convinced myself that I accidentally did something that made the other person never want to talk to me again. Even if we just spoke.
- That I’m secretly incompetent but everyone is lying to make me feel better.
- That my face will stick that way.
Those are just a few of the highlights. I didn’t even get into work, my love life, home improvement, finance, my personal appearance, or the inevitability of death. There is so much stuff to feel anxious about that when I don’t feel anxious, I start to worry about why that is.
It doesn’t help that I’m really impressionable, either. I never thought about arson until I read an article by someone whose house was randomly targeted. I heard about the Malawi Terror Beast once and now every bump in the night is a terror beast. And the reason my brothers aren’t allowed near quicksand or lava is not because they’ve expressed an interest in hanging out near those things, but because I had a couple of nightmares. It doesn’t make sense, but it’s how my brain works.
Sometimes when I tell people I’m worried about something, they say, “What’s the worst that can happen?” I guess they don’t realize that they’re asking someone whose hobby is figuring out the worst things that could happen.
The Worst Things That Could Happen
- If I make this phone call, the ring could startle the person I’m calling and give them a fatal heart attack. Now I’m a murderer.
- If I walk through the house with this power drill, I might trip on the carpet, compress the trigger, fall on that cat and accidentally kill him. Now I’m a cat murderer.
- If I take this chicken out of the oven now and eat it, I could die of salmonella.
- If my brother fills the lawnmower with old gasoline it could explode and kill him.
- If I tell my neighbor that I’m unhappy with something he’s doing, he might try to hit me and then I’d try to hit him back and then he’d get really mad and come after me with a gun but I’d escape and move somewhere else and change my name and my appearance and I’d think I was safe but someday my daughter who looks like me could be passing through here and my old neighbor would see her and murder her.
There are a lot of factors that affect my anxiety levels and none of them are funny, so I feel weird mentioning them here. I may have inherited it from my socially anxious grandma. It’s a side-effect of the PTSD I started exhibiting after a bad thing happened. I don’t know if you’ve noticed the obsessive list-making or not, but I have more than one obsessive-compulsive trait, too. I should see someone about all of this, but naturally that makes me want to hyperventilate.
Last month I started having some unusually frightening anxieties and I turned to WebMD in my hour of need. It asked me a few questions and then made a diagnosis. “Postpartum depression!” it said.
“Oh my god, really?!” I thought.
I don’t even have a kid.