I don’t know where anxiety falls on most people’s list of vices. For me it’s near the top, sandwiched snugly between the impulse to eat endless bowls of cheese dip and the desire to spend days curled up with a book. Looking back, I’d say that I’ve spent a good deal of the last few years trying to give anxiety the stiff arm. It’s not at the forefront of my mind all the time, but often anxiety has acted like a dripping faucet or white noise — a constant, annoying presence that I only notice when I’m completely still. And then its volume is as deafening as the banging on steel drums.
Knowing that job transition can be a playground for anxiety, coupled with my own lingering propensity for it, I have been in a proactive Annihilate Anxiety mode. I’m doing yoga, writing in a journal, going on walks, having a few drinks in the evening, laughing with friends. I take baths, read books, volunteer, go to my part-time temporay job, listen to soul music. My preparation checklist complete, I think, “You got nothing on me, Mister!”
However, following the rush of exuberance, I find myself grinding teeth, wringing hands, or tapping feet. And I get so mad at myself. I have worked so hard at playing defense against this emotion! I waged war and its soldiers still stand. (For those who don’t know, teeth grinding is commonly a sign of anxiety and my personal mission has become to: Make. It. Stop.)
So, yesterday I was in the doctor’s office. (Just for a routine check-up.) While waiting for the doctor, the physician’s assistant and I started to talk. We ended up discussing my unemployment and subsequent anxiety. And she began to tell me about her experience with unemployment and then battle against breast cancer. She carried with her such a calmness and confidence speaking about the strength that she gained. And my response was, “Yeah, but this is my third unemployment in three years…”
Pause for the screeching record sound. Did I just compare anxiety and three rounds of unemployment to breast cancer? I’m pretty sure I did.
When she gave me a look that wasn’t judgement, I breathed a sigh of relief. When I noticed it something more akin to understanding, I wanted to hug her. It appeared she knew that stubborn thoughts return on the edge of new horizons. Because as hopeful as I might be about what lies around the corner and as positive as my outlook may be at times, the reality is that I think the worst will occur unless I am both exceptionally dutiful and diligent. I am always looking for ways to be more so. And my anxiety increases with the anticipation of how reality will unfold. I sensed that she got that.
So here I’ve been, backed up against this wall of anxiety, trying to admit that it does not exist, but it does. I’m probably not better served waging a war against something that…just is. Maybe I can allow myself a litte anxiety. After all, I am unemployed. It comes with the territory.