General Anxiety (and Other Existential Crises)

I’ve dealt with anxiety my whole life – literally. Some of my earliest memories from my childhood are of having panic attacks due to intense separation anxiety; at five or six years old, I was convinced that my mother was going to drive off and abandon me if she stepped outside to heat up the car in the winter, or dropped me off at a Girl Scout meeting. As a teenager, it was social anxiety that crippled me to the point of near reclusiveness.

If I had to give it a name now, as an adult, it’d just be general anxiety (I’m pretty sure this is a thing anyway). Now it’s no longer confined to social situations or separation from a parent – instead, it’s just everywhere.

Dani doesn’t answer her phone even though I know she’s free? Well, she must be dead, obviously.

Dog barfs on the carpet? Gonna be dead.

Cryptic, “Can you call me when you get a chance?” text message? It must be something terrible. Someone’s probably dead.

When I was working full-time, the intensity of this anxiety was muted – I think the constant grind of teaching left little time for fretting over hypotheticals (though everytime I had to send a parent e-mail, I felt the familiar twinge of, They’re gonna hate me and call the principal). Since I started graduate school in August, a much more solitary experience where you literally spend the majority of your days alone with your own thoughts, the symptoms have ramped up again. Oddly enough, I have very little anxiety about my academic performance – that’s an area where I feel, strangely, relatively confident – but other existential questions have been bubbling to the surface. It feels like I’m watching the days pass me by and waiting for that “someday” when my life is going to start. I thought that uprooting to a new state and beginning this new chapter would help, but in truth I think it’s only gotten worse.

Why am I here? What am I doing with my life? Is this what I want? What DO I want? What am I waiting for?

I don’t know the answers to any of those questions. Or, I know the answers —

I want to travel. I want to teach and serve others. I want to write. I want to create a life I’m proud to live, not one that feels like a fulfillment of the expectations society has put before me

but I just don’t know how to make it all happen. Yet when I think too much about all of this my heart begins to pound. I sweat. The nausea hits. And then I find myself on the couch, scrolling mindlessly through social media but not really seeing anything, trying not to fret about another wasted day.

I leave for France in less than three months, and this finally feels like a step in the right direction – it’s something to do since I studied abroad in 2011, but then life and other circumstances and opportunities lead me down another path. Yet with the move comes even more anxiety – and let me tell you, there’s a reason the French are collectively depressed. The bureaucracy of such a move is ridiculous and it times it feels overwhelmingly, unbelievably impossible that it will actually happen. I mean, who can manage with such chicken-and-egg procedures such as:

  • To get a visa, you need proof of accommodation for the first three months of your stay.
  • To get such an accommodation, you need proof of a French bank account.
  • To get a bank account, you need a local address.

I’m not even going to talk about the paperwork involved with bringing a dog abroad, because frankly I’m mostly embarrassed that we’re even doing it, but it involves pages of documentation and such a tight timeframe of appointments with a variety of specific people that it’s all kind of making my head spin.

I am trying to live in the moment. I am trying to remember that everything always gets done, even when it seems really, really hopeless. I am trying to remember that despite our best laid plans, we never really know where life will take us. What opportunities will the next year present? Who or what will push me in a direction that I never anticipated? The truth of the matter is that I have no long-term agenda. No commitments that must be fulfilled, or plans that are so significant that they cannot possibly be changed. When I’m in this frame of mind – the one in which I am in 100% control of what I say yes or no to, when I remember that I am allowed to change my mind and make new plans – it becomes easier to quell the panic.

I mean, Lexapro would probably help too. One thing at a time.