Last week, my husband and I sat down to put together a Christmas list for the kids. We’d been putting it off, because it’s a daunting task, choosing presents for ten beloved people who have very individual tastes, who keep careful track of how even everything turns out, and whose parents are not millionaires. All through November, I got hives just thinking about it.
So this year, my husband made a radical suggestion. He said, “Let’s just pick out some stuff and give it to them.”
Or, as most people call it: what one does. How else would one do it? Well, you could agonize over every possibility. You could disappear down a dozen rabbit holes of contradictory consumer reviews. You could twist your into self-doubting pretzels because the children’s tastes are not impeccable and are therefore a reflection of one’s own failure as a parent.
You could interrogate yourself into a blubbering mass over whether you’re picking out things the kids actually want, or second-handedly compensating yourself for things you wanted as a child and never got. And then you could excoriate yourself for making the holiday too materialistic in the first place, when you should really be spending the day passing out socks and toothpaste to homeless squirrels.
So when my husband suggested just buying stuff, my first response was ballooning horror . . . which was quickly deflated with a weak giggle. We really could just do that! We could spend an evening or two making our best guess at some decent presents, and then move on with our lives, and it would probably yield just as good results as the protracted, agonized plan. Who wouldn’t want to do this? Why would it seem preferable to put ourselves through torment every year?
Because I was confusing anxiety for love. I was letting myself believe that, if we didn’t suffer and fret and get angry and lose sleep, it meant we didn’t really care. And I did care.
Therefore, it seemed cold and unloving to opt out of the agony.
More and more, I realize that anxiety has been ruling my life, when I didn’t even realize it was in the room. If I had realized, “I am making this decision out of anxiety,” I would have been able to think twice; but I didn’t realize it. I thought I was just thinking things through.
I’ve done this my entire life.
Anxiety is a shameless impersonator. Not only does it fill your heart with fear and anger, it tells you this is what life is supposed to feel like. It sets your house on fire and says, “What? Don’t you want your children to be warm at night?”
So it’s dreadfully hard to have the will to get rid of anxiety and the things anxiety makes us do, because they’re so tightly bound up with good things that we do and should care about.
Anxiety is like a strangling vine. Rooting it out feels perilous, because you’re afraid that all the wholesome, fruitful shoots will be uprooted along with it. If I stop fretting, will I stop caring? If I stop freaking out, will I stop making an effort? If I’m not suffering, is it really love?
But anxiety is a parasite, and if you let it grow undisturbed, it will eventually overcome its host. Which is you. So it’s worth some effort to fight it, even if it causes some disruption in your life while you sort things out.
There’s no way I can tell you in a quick blog post how to manage or overcome your anxiety; but I can tell you to be on the lookout for it. Many anxious people don’t even realize that’s what they are. So this is just a simple reminder to take a look at how you evaluate your behaviour.
If every important emotion you feel always comes along with a lot of suffering, struggle, and fear, then anxiety has probably taken root and learned how to camouflage itself as something else. The first step to disentangling it from your psyche is to see it for what it is.