Thursday, January 14, 2010


A riff on anxiety with much less proofreading than I usually do (which, as you will see, is a good thing)

This post began when I left my iced tea, without a cover, on a little round café table on my way into the bathroom. Before I’d even entered the stall, a vision of my iced tea, just sitting there - abandoned and vulnerable - flashed into my mind. Why, anything could happen! Someone could come by and drop a packet of poison in there! Someone might innocently pass, incubating plague of one sort or another, and sneeze. What was I thinking?

I turned right back around to get it. But, at the door, I stopped: Why there were much worse risks bringing an open cup into the bathroom! Germs, untold substances, on every surface if I took it in the stall with me. If I left it out here on the bathroom counter, we were back to the same anything that could happen to it sitting, all exposed, out in the cafe. I was frozen at the door. And, though it only took a moment for the cycle to run its course, it was agony, a brutal, gut twisting moment that I've experienced every single day of my life.

But something new happened. First, I lifted off, an omnipotent observer, watching myself go through the usual back and forth, yes and no dance. There were the same dance steps - the worry, the indecision and the other worry, I really had to pee.

And then, much to my surprise, I saw her give a little shrug and think:Whatever.

And from my perch, above it all, I smiled.

I’ve changed.

My whole family struggles with anxiety – suffering, analyzing, anticipating, worrying, and wringing our hands over each minute and preciously examined detail of our experience to the point of exasperation… for some people.

Like my son’s ex-girlfriend, who once slapped the dinner table, exploding, "Don’t you people EVER stop analyzing? Can’t you just, for once, talk about the weather?"

As she stormed away (to the bathroom, coincidentally) to cool off, my kids and my sister and I looked at each other, truly baffled. We LIKE talking this way. Doesn't everyone?

Still, we agreed, just for now, for her, to try and launched into a discussion of rain, snow, world weather patterns and by the time she returned to the table, we were discussing, in our worried and obsessive way, global warming.

Still, recently, somehow, I am not worrying. Wait, that's not entirely true. See? I'm worrying about having written that. So it's not over. But it's better - I'm worrying less - and that’s been a great relief to me.

I still agonize about the condition of my home – a constant irritant – and I worry about whether I will ever be able to finish a book project (because this worrying manifests in my work as such acute perfectionism that until each sentence is crafted, proofread, fine-tuned, spell-checked, reconsidered, remastered, and finally, laid upon the page like a strand of precious pearls, I cannot let anyone see it.

But even this is a big improvement… really it is.

It's gotten so I can forget to take my vitamins or come to yoga practice a couple of minutes late or even, eat a piece of cake once in a while without spending the next 12 hours weighing myself. Look! I'm even able to NOT close a parnethetical phrase - as you will surely have noticed I've done (See above open paragraph after the words "book project")- and not be compelled to go back and close it.

What a relief.

This “whatever” approach isn’t carelessness, it’s a life raft, a flotation device, an inflatable dinghy helping me navigate the anxious world in which I live. It is also a carefully cultivated understanding that: Things happen and that, when they happen and that I am strong, capable and smart enough to handle them.

But there's something else brewing: A deeper knowing, a bit of faith that whatever happens, whatever comes, will bring with it another opportunity to learn something about myself. I've grown comfortable with challenges - knowing, finally, that each roadblock is evidence of a stuck place or boundary inside of me, a stuck place or boundary which, when challenged, will yield some new understanding, some gift, some wisdom.

With this understanding comes a grander and perhaps, most stunning to me, knowing: That all of this – the challenge, the boundary, the pain, the struggle, the discovery and the uncovered plastic cup of amber tea left alone on a café table - are part of an unfolding story: My biography, my sacred story. And it couldn't turn out any other way.

Earlier this week, I reported a conversation I’d had with my 21-year-old son Max in a blog post. Later that day, I went back and deleted it. If you were one of the lucky few who read it in the original post, skip this paragraph. If not...

We were sitting in a cafe and I was talking about my mother, his grandmother, who’d just had open-heart surgery. I was wondering if there was more we could be, should be, doing for her (more than the six hours a day I was spending at her bedside, the drive from her hospital to my dad’s nursing home to keep him posted; the reading and responding to the countless emails and phone calls from loving friends and relatives; the advocacy and coordination with her many doctors, nurses, surgeons and dear best friend to make sure my mother did not receive one ounce of the wrong medicine or endure one unnecessary procedure or spend one hour unsupervised.) That kind of more.

“Mommy,” he interrupted. “All of this wondering, ‘What should I do? Am I doing the right thing? What do I have to do tomorrow?’ is anxiety. The truth is, there's nothing to do. The only thing we can do right now is address what’s before us, right now. All we can do is enjoy our tomato soup. Things will sort themselves out. And if they don’t. All we can do, still, is enjoy our tomato soup.”

My little boy had become a natural, self-taught, Eckhart Tolle - sitting at a cafe table dispensing wisdom.

He's right, I thought. And I shrugged it all off - all the angst and love and guilt and worry. "Whatever," I smiled. Then we enjoyed our tomato soup. Well, to be perfectly honest, he was having the soup. I enjoyed (but I mean REALLY enjoyed) my iced tea.

And now, without proofreading or rewriting or spellchecking this post, I am sending it off and going to yoga… and if I arrive a couple of minutes late this morning… whatever.


be open.let go said...

I lift my cup of tea to meet yours...cheers to growth! I love this post. Thanks for sharing.

Julie Daley said...

Amy, I love this. I can just see you shrugging a Whatever. So much freedom in that, freedom that allows something completely new to emerge. Thank you.

Lisa Adams said...

Love it, Amy. You have been bearing the weight of so much lately, being able to put things in perspective is such an important thing to do. Cheers! Thanks for this post.

Lindsey said...

What a sage your son is - I very recently blogged that I had realized for the first time what people meant when they said their children are their teachers - this seems one of those moments. I relate very much to your anxious nature and desire for control and perfection - so this is heartening and encouraging to read. Thank you!

Sally G. said...

I'm embarrassed to say that I DID see the open parentheses in the paragraph above the one where you noted you knew about it. I was actually going to comment 'good for you' about it -- but you beat me too it.

May I just say that the angst you go through is truly very beneath the surface - which does not make it any less real, but maybe there's comfort in knowing that it's not apparent to those of us who interact with you in a meaningful, significant way on the level of spirit, of essence.

You couldn't be more perfect and beautiful. And I mean that ...

Shelly Kramer said...

Cheers to you, Amy. As someone who mostly lives in the moment, I always wonder about my friends (and my oldest daughter) who seem to worry about things to worry about. I've come to believe that that's simply a result of the way we are wired. I am most thankful to be wired like Scarlett O'Hara and have the ability to say "Oh well, I'll worry about it tomorrow. Things will be better then." But am most empathic to those of you who are not thus emotionally wired. I applaud your wonderful son and hope that with or without his help, you can continue to enjoy the soup, iced tea, yoga, being late or being on time and, really, just being. We all have so much to be thankful for, that worrying and being anxious just take us away from life's everyday blessings. Let us make a pact to remember that - and celebrate them more often. And I promise, if you'll let me know when you're feeling anxious, I'll make you laugh and you'll feel better. Smooches to you, my friend.

Dandelion said...

I have the same thing.

Btw, there is a book called "fuck it", it's quite good, though you don't need to read it, just knowing about it is enough.

MrsWhich said...

We are sisters in anxiety. I call it vigilance - I am of the tribe Vigilant. We are gifted with heightened awareness and scrutiny, which is a heavy burden but critical. I believe we can see what others don't and thus play a critical role in the world, if we can keep our equilibrium, build good filters and release mechanisms, and grow optimism and hope to counter-balance.

Sheila said...

Hi Amy, I came across your name via Julie Daley on twitter. Funny, I was just focusing on this issue in my last post. I am continuously trying to balance the organizing, analyzing, worrying and the letting go. The right amount of analyzing is a constructive thing. Paradoxically, the right amount of letting go is a constructive thing. Some times I am a task master and other times I just let go...creativity is best at this time. Loved the post and try to enjoy a cup of tea every day :)

Marie said...

It amazes me to that our children, regardless of the age can teach us so much. I love the fact that your 21 yr. old son will call you mommy, just as mine does. I love it. I love how you took to heart his words of wisdom.

Worry is such a hard thing to get out from under, griping us with horrid fear and yet – it absolutely gets us nowhere.

“Whatever” – amazing freedom in one little word. Enjoy some guilt free whateverness everyday.


Marjory said...

Beautiful! Letting go of control and perfectionism can be so liberating, something deep and untouched by the conscious mind resurfaces as we relax into the fluidity of effervescent moments.
Thank you!