I’d really like to tear this ticket and throw both halves of the stub away. I’ve been trained, however, to hold onto the piece, or peace, and not let go. I might need it again, and if someone asks, I can show them that I’m capable and competent.
This is what anxiety does:
It could be snowing later in the eastern West Virginia highlands, and even though the locals say that they expect only an inch or so and it’s too warm really for snow and even if we get it, it won’t stick, I am fixated on the prospects of dimness. And tomorrow will be sunny and in the 40’s, and we’re already on Main Street, which leads to I-64, which takes us into Covington, onto another Main Street where we are boarding Max, and there should be no problem picking him up between 9–10 tomorrow morning (if we miss this hour-window, we have to wait until 6–7, which would be too late to then drive the 6+hours back home). He is there at a sweet facility with his equally sweet “nephew,” Warren, but I know he’s wondering where I am and why I left him there. I gave him the t-short I usually wear to bed at night. To comfort him.
To comfort me.
But I’m not comforted much. I didn’t sleep last night, the second night in a row, even though our king-sized bed is as relaxing as an inn’s bed should be. I hovered over my sleep last night wondering what’s wrong with me. Isn’t yoga working? Is this the price I pay for having two bourbons with my family at supper? Can I enjoy any relaxed setting for longer than 15 minutes at a time?
Yesterday, my wife produced her pack of I-Ching cards and got me to play, to ask the deck a question. I asked silently whether my practice of yoga and writing would help me manage my anxiety in the long run. Would I one day overcome this feeling that however right things seem to everyone else, I know, I am the only one to know, that things are really wrong, wrong, wrong?
The I-Ching told me that yes, one day I would reach my goal. But it would take a while, maybe a long time. I have to be patient; I cannot act impulsively or erratically. I can’t jump and try to make things happen too quickly. I must give in to the flow. Yo La Tengo agrees.
I can be patient, though I am not genetically disposed that way.
I am genetically disposed toward anxiety, and I can remember this feeling all the way back into my childhood, when if I didn’t want to be separated from my parents — at school, at church, at a friend’s house — I would claim that my stomach hurt. I used to long for rainy days so that my mother wouldn’t push me out of the house into something I didn’t want to enter or see. I was fine, right there at home.
Part of me, of course, still feels that way, and what causes me even more anxiety is that I believe that part of me is the larger, but not greater, part.
It’s been almost three weeks now since I admitted to myself, to my wife, and to my therapist that I have more anxiety than I have ever revealed. I always thought that whatever these feelings are, I just needed to be strong, “calm,” and perhaps worse, I needed only to “be a man.” No one in my intimate life said such words to me, but isn’t that the message permeating every social setting a guy walks into, breathes in to?
Be a Man.
As if I’m not; as if being totally in control of my emotions, or never showing any real emotion besides anger, is the sum, due, and goal of every man.
Now, I am above normal levels of competency. I work hard. I understand ethical dilemmas; I can read and understand the novels of William Faulkner and Margaret Atwood. I can make it through any David Lynch movie. I understand the New York subway system, and can decipher old road maps.
Last week, I thought I had made progress into managing my anxiety. I thought I understood its cost and price, and that by admitting it into my and my wife’s consciousness, I had shown it who’s the real alpha dog.
It was a Wednesday, and I was returning home from my morning yoga practice. Maria had worked me hard; I was stretched out, limber for a man my age, and more importantly, my active mind was at peace. My post-practice cafe au lait was just perfect.
And then, when I returned home, I noticed my front door was wide open. We are doing home renovations, so I knew that our friend Kurt was working away. What I also knew was that Max was gone.
Though I called him anyway, went searching in the lower yard, I absolutely knew he was out roaming, doing what a dog wants to do.
I called and called. No response. I had no way of knowing how far he had gone, though I suspected he was in the woods behind our house. Kurt looked too. We searched for an hour, and the good news is that Max returned, aided by our neighborhood friends Eddie and Josh. Max appeared to be fine. Wet, but fine, and the look on his face said,
“I had such a good time! Where were you? We could have had such fun together.”
You know that smiling dog face, the one that I adore.
Of course, my yoga practice melted away; my coffee got cold. I sat with Max on our porch, just breathing and recovering. When my wife walked in for lunch, I told her the story. I am glad she was spared the worry, the 65 minutes of wondering.
During those minutes, I traveled a rough terrain. I cried, thinking of the road near our house, of random pit bulls or other more ferocious dogs that might be loose. I saw the worst even when I was telling myself that Max was smart, that he would find his way home.
I was also saying to myself, “But he’s just a little dog (actually 48 pounds) and he’s not a fighter, though he works hard to protect us.”
As my wife and I discussed Max’s journey, I said to her,
“If he hadn’t come back, I don’t know what I would have done.”
“What do you mean by that?” And she looked at me, puzzled.
“Exactly what I said. I do not know what I would have done had I lost him now.”
It’s the truth. It’s also true that loving your dog this intensely is not necessarily a sign of anxiety.
But I know how I felt in that moment. I have felt it more than I like to admit: that feeling where my head spins a little bit, and I look around but it’s like I’m on a merry-go-round and the rotation, the wheeling, won’t stop. And I just don’t know exactly what is real anymore. What is real, and what is a nightmare movie on my home street?
So my therapist, when I told him about these feelings, suggested that I write about my anxiety. That I write to and for my anxiety. Here it is then.
I accept and admit my anxiety. I permit it to enter my consciousness. I ask it for its ticket, and I will keep that stub in front of me, with me. I will sit with it, as the reel unspools and spools back again. My manhood is not compromised by this patron next to me.
My anxiety doesn’t define me. But it lives here in my head and sometimes in my heart. Maybe I don’t even want it to go away. Maybe all I want is for it to settle into its seat, and trust that after a couple of hours have passed, I will lead it back into the light and open air where it can breathe again, too.
Maybe I need to see my anxiety as being on a leash. The leash I control; the leash I hold with tension and love, and when the time comes, the leash I relax, let go of, and hang up until we need it again.
If I decide to venture out again. If all is mainly well.