My Anxiety is Like Fox News
As someone who is in no way an expert, I can't speak to all forms of anxiety because I know there are many. (That being said, if I was like Fox News, and it wasn't just my anxiety that is like Fox News, I would hardly let that stop me.) But in my case, anxiety is JUST like Fox News.
Image: Vincent Desjardins via Flickr
Just as there are people who prefer potato chips to chocolate (not that I would knowingly cahoot with any of THOSE people), there are people whose brains are more vulnerable to different neurochemical assault. For instance, depression is not my Achilles heel. I have been depressed at times, generally around a catastrophic event or when my self-esteem can't NOT see me as a size 187. But in those times, even in the worst of those times, I knew that depression was big-assed liar. And the lying voice was never louder than the voice that says, "It will be better tomorrow. Or maybe the day after, but it will ABSOLUTELY get better than this shit right here." I have always been able to hear that voice, so liar-mouthed depressed doesn't generally keep the guest room in my brain.
Anxiety, however... Anxiety brings extra luggage, asks for the wi-fi password, and takes a shelf in the refrigerator without even asking.
Because my anxiety is too smart to lie. I could spot the lie a mile away. What my anxiety does is inflate, exaggerate, spin. My anxiety takes a tiny truth and turns it into Paul Bunyan and his goddamned periwinkle cow. Which means I can't do the "pfffft" sound at it like I can at depression. Because I know there's a sliver of truth in there, and my analytic brain can't be dismissive of things when there is a fact somewhere in the pile of crap.
And this is how it's like Fox News.
In order to adequately parry Fox News, you have to be prepared to parse. You have to be able to identify where the thumbprint of truth lies and then Sherlock your way from there to the end result so you can show exactly where the truth meandered off in search of more interesting things and the ridiculous wandered in and started putting up posters and ordering pizza. You (and by you I mean me and all the awesome OCD-have-to-be-the-smartest-person-writing-this-post-angst that comes with the awesomeness that is me) have to be able to discriminate where "Not all scientists believe in climate change" is really 2.9% of scientists don't believe in climate change and they're probably the 2.9% that believe in astrology. "Not all" and 2.9% is sort of a big deal in the telling of truths, but you have to be able to dial it in in order to get reality back to the table.
This is what my anxiety does, but unfortunately without the peer-reviewed, heavily footnoted research that I can generally get my hands on when it comes to Fox News and how gay marriage is the cause of the demise of America and All Things Good and Casseroles.
My anxiety takes a small truth -- trees sometimes fall on houses -- and turns it into a movie that plays on endless loop of ALL our trees falling on the house as soon as I'm not watching them. (For visualization's sake, bear in mind that we can't even count all the trees on our property, that's how many there are. Trying to watch them at all times is like trying to watch all the fish in a reef or all the Kardashians. But don't do that, those people need to stop being famous.)
While I can research "redwood trees falling on houses" (almost never), I can't find the kind of serious research that I really want, and it doesn't change the fact that I know -- goddamned college education -- that statistics apply to populations not individuals. So while in general I know that the statistical likelihood that any of my trees would fall is incredibly small, the fact that a tree might fall hangs on to my imagination like Bill O'Reilly holds on to 2.9% of scientists and then creates an impenetrable plexiglass barrier around the "OFF" switch.
The same is true for other things that my brain decides to be afraid of. My husband drives a windy coastal road to get to work. I then visualize horrible accidents. My son goes to college at a beach-front university where a rogue wave hit a pier this winter and snagged a restaurant employee (who was fine, by the way). So now I envision sneaker waves crashing along the footpaths.
My anxiety does not taunt me with underground terrorists or government-controlled brain seizing alpha waves being broadcast from the coffee maker. None of my anxieties are so ridiculous that I can simply wave them away. It takes an unlikely but within the realm of possibility scenario and wraps it in an inflated probability and puts it directly in my field of view like a mutant, illness-inducing carrot. And I chase after it for reasons that I cannot explain. What do I hope to do with the ugly carrot if I ever manage to snag it? Eat it? Shred it into a coleslaw? Steam it with butter? I DON'T EVEN LIKE CARROTS.
I guess what I really want is to be able to turn my back on the visions, to be able to dismiss them like the imaginary nightmares that they are. But the tiny kernels of truth in them snag me like nettles, and I am no more able to fully ignore them than I am able to fully ignore Fox News. The same part of me that has to get at the truth of the ridiculous things Fox News passes off as information is the sibling of the twisted inability to banish the anxiety that grew from a seed of fact. So, for the next little while it seems, I am just stuck with the current programming.
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