Have you seen that cartoon about Anxiety Girl? The one of a drawing of a girl in a superhero outfit captioned, “Anxiety Girl! Able to jump to the worst conclusion in a single bound!” I think it was drawn by an artist named Natalie Dee. Natalie totally gets me.
I do that. I am Anxiety Girl, minus the leotard (you’re welcome.) My anxiety takes over and I immediately assume the worst, jump to the worst conclusion. I think psychologists call it catastrophizing. Catastrophizing. That’s one of my less glamorous super powers. (I also make out-of-this-world chocolate chip cookies, so there’s a balance to my gifts.)
Actually, I don’t know that there’s balance, but there is plenty of dichotomy within me. See, I am naturally optimistic. One of my top five StrengthsFinder strengths is Positivity. Like I am often the bordering on (and crossing over into) naïveté sort of optimistic and positive. I generally believe everyone is good and everything will work out and this world is a good place and don’t you just love these rosy-lensed glasses I have been wearing my whole life? Every little thing’s gonna be alright, Man.
And yet – there is also this super-anxious corner of my brain. Fear triggers this complete opposite natural tendency to jump to the worst possible conclusion. That’s the thing I have grown to recognize – this is absolutely always rooted in a fear or an insecurity. If a child doesn’t reply to a text, I immediately imagine an opening scene of Law & Order featuring her body as the one found behind the dumpster by the innocent jogger. If you, completely wrapped up in your own stuff, don’t make eye contact with me when I speak to you, or if you reply to my message with a one-word text, or if you take hours to reply (even though I see that you are on Facebook so you clearly have your phone right there in your hand), I will immediately assume you are mad at me or that you have finally figured out that I am a complete mess-up and you no longer want anything to do with me.
When one son was smack in the middle of all that is the absolute worst about middle school, he and another boy made an inappropriate joke to a girl. It was awful. The girl was deeply hurt and embarrassed, and I feel certain she will hear that taunt inside her head at her most insecure, lowest moments all throughout her life (see how fun this catastrophizing is?). I sobbed and begged Jesus not to let my son ever get arrested for sexual harassment -or worse! Friends, this is immediately where my brain went. From zero to three million miles an hour — one inappropriate joke, one moment of bad judgment, twenty seconds of stupidity morphed into this image of my son as some redneck construction worker catcalling women or some Mad Men-esque executive chasing young secretaries around his desk. (Let me tell you, it is an absolute joy to be my child one thousand percent of the time!) So, naturally, I called the guidance department and scheduled a time to go in and watch a video about sexual harassment with my child. And there is something to be said for nipping things in the bud and doing our very best to raise decent people. There is also such a thing as being Crazy Momma. I may have vacillated between the two camps during this time (and -to be honest – during all the times).
Last night, I woke up no less than four times to have imaginary worst-case scenario conversations inside my head. If you know me and we have ever had a disagreement or misunderstanding or talked about an issue that could potentially be something we disagree on at some point in the next forty years, I have probably already rehearsed that difficult conversation. My brain likes to do this when I am in a foggy half-awake state at 3:00 a.m., when I am clearly at my very best intellectually and emotionally. This is part of the appeal of being Anxiety Girl.
At the risk of losing some of my mystery (She’s such a mystery! How can she be so naively positive at the exact same moment she is straight-up crazy with anxiety? That’s so adorable!), I have been prayerfully tackling this anxiety. Though I would love to just ask God to take away my anxiety, while casting all my cares on Him, and naming and claiming a peace that passes all understanding, I have never found it to be that simple. I certainly am praying. And often! But it also requires vigilance and work on my part.
One thing I have found helpful is this list I made called, “When I feel anxious, I will . . . ” On it, I listed things that I have found helpful. Things like — breathe. Because I actually forget to breathe when I feel anxious. So it’s on my list — breathe. Pray. Identify and name the emotion and cause. This sounds like the very basic thing we teach our preschoolers when we remind, “Use your words, Sally.” It sounds like this — I feel sad that I hurt this person’s feelings and scared that he or she will decide I am not worth forgiving, not worth the trouble. or I am stressed about the bills and worried I won’t have enough money to pay everything. I am afraid.
Breathe, pray, name the emotion and reason for the emotion. Ask myself if I am catastrophizing. This sounds like a quick check myself before I wreck myself, “Jenn, are you jumping to a crazy conclusion right now? What is actually the worst that could happen?” And then I remember other similar things I have a 100% survival rate of.
This is when I admit that no, we probably won’t actually end up homeless and living down by the river in a borrowed van. My family would never let that happen. Maybe I will have to pay my cell phone bill a week late and maybe I will drink the slightly-below-average coffee at work rather than buying the good coffee I really like. But I have done this before, and I will survive.
After those steps, I can distract myself — watch a funny YouTube video, clean or organize something, read, write, do something from my to-do list, bake. If it’s 3:00 in the morning, I can get up and pee and then get back in bed and list the things I am grateful for until I fall back asleep.
I do not have to indulge the worst-case-scenario game. I don’t have to rehearse every hard conversation I may ever need to have in my whole entire life as I lay in my bed in the dark of night. I can tell myself, “Snap out of it, girl! You’re making yourself crazy.” And I can, as I did last night, cry out a prayer, “Jesus, take the wheel of this brain-train that is running off the rails! Help.”
Are you also an Anxiety Girl or Anxiety Guy? What have you found helpful?