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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Day I Forgot My Library Book

As I've told you before, I have an anxiety disorder. Most people I meet and even know fairly well have no idea, though, because I've had it my entire life, and I've learned how to cope with it very well, and, consequently, hide it from most people. To all but my closest friends and family, I probably come across as a normal, healthy, functional adult. If they could only glimpse into my brain for about five minutes, I think I would have significantly fewer friends.

I think most people who do not suffer from anxiety disorders have a naive understanding of the reality of them (and mind you, I wouldn't say mine is severe, as it has rarely actually affected my life - yes, I avoid many things because of it, but I can't recall a time I couldn't do something I had to because of anxiety. Although I do spend an inordinate amount of time vomiting or pacing, which one could feasibly consider disruptive to a normal life...). For the longest time, Husband would try to rationalize out my anxieties.

"Why are you nervous about going to the vet? You've taken the dogs to the vet multiple times and never had any problems. Is it because it's a new vet?"

"It's partially because it's a new vet. And I've never been to the location before. So I don't know exactly how long it will take me to get there, and since I have a scheduled appointment, it's paramount that I get there in a timely fashion."

"Well, you know it's about 10 minutes away, even with bad traffic. And even if you're late, it's not a big deal. What would happen?"

"They'd yell at me. I'd get in trouble." Ahh, the root of my anxiety - GETTING IN TROUBLE. As I've said before, my biggest fear in life is GETTING IN TROUBLE. This wouldn't be so bad if I weren't convinced that I could get in trouble with any authority figure - and most everyone in my world is an authority figure - parents, teachers, policemen, the vet, doctors, repairmen, truck drivers, drive-thru window order takers, anyone who works at a register in any capacity, motorcyclists, lawyers, park rangers, adults, soldiers, rent-a-cops, waitresses, some children. Did I forget anyone? If I did, you could probably safely put them on the list, too. More than likely, I consider YOU an authority figure in some capacity. Go get yourself a gold star badge and wear it proudly.

Husband has tried repeatedly to tell me that people won't, in fact, yell at me, and, more than likely, they won't even say anything, even on the very rare chance that I WOULD ever be late to anything. But that's just not a risk I'm willing to take.

"Also, the dogs are late on their shots. They're going to yell at me that they're overdue."

He again tries to explain that they won't yell at me. "And if they DO, just leave. You're the customer; they want YOUR money." Besides that fact that most vets would just be glad you're finally taking pet-ownership responsibility and bringing the dogs in, instead of letting them go even longer without getting their shots.

About 30 minutes before I have to leave to get somewhere on time, the real anxiety starts. I can usually put it off for hours or even days beforehand, but at the 30 minute mark, things usually start to get bad. I have to pee every 3 minutes. I can't sit still or concentrate on anything. I start nervously twitching and pacing around the house, checking the clock, literally, every minute to see if it's time to go yet. Sometimes I have to throw up. Unfortunately, I'm not exaggerating for hilarity's sake. I imagine I spend a lot more time throwing up than the average person (with the exception of people with certain eating disorders and most college freshman).

I'm literally nervous about EVERYTHING. Walking makes me nervous. Especially if there are curbs or other objects involved. I have to think ahead and plan my footsteps to make sure I can step up on the curb at the right time and not trip or look otherwise uncoordinated (the irony there is that I'm also a very clumsy person). Calling to order a pizza makes me incredibly nervous. I'll do it if I can't make anyone else around me do it, but if I'm alone, I'd rather go without than make the phone call (I love online ordering, by the way!). My dogs barking makes me nervous. I'm terrified they're going to bother someone else and I'll get in trouble with a neighbor. Going to classes makes me nervous. Not just the first day, or the first week, or for some normal grace period. But every single class, every single time. I'm nervous about getting there on time, remembering which classroom, remembering to have done my homework. Out of four years of college classes, I never once forgot to do my homework, I never once forgot which classroom it was, and I was never late.

And pretty much every other thing you could imagine makes me nervous.

If I gave in to my anxieties, I would have died a long time ago, because I wouldn't have been able to go to the store and get more food, much less work to earn money to get food.

Husband asks me all the time why I can't just get over some of it. Like the college classes. If repetition has taught me anything, it's that I will make it to class on time and be prepared. So why should I continue to be terrified of it?

And that's why it's called an anxiety disorder. If logic could make it go away, it wouldn't be much of a disorder.

I've always been nervous, as long as I can remember. My mom used to joke that I came out of the womb neurotic, because my first baby picture is me with terrible red scratches on my face, one hand digging my nails into my cheeks, the other hand coming into the bottom frame of the picture, ready to scratch the corresponding cheek. I was nervous about being alive.

My mom, who also has an anxiety disorder, though not as bad as mine, recognized this in me from a very young age. And she wanted to discourage it so that I could grow up having a peaceful, normal, not-vomit-filled life.

In first grade, we started weekly class trips to the school library. We'd get to check out a book, take it home for a week, and bring it back the following Wednesday. Things went smoothly for several months, until one dreaded Wednesday morning on the drive to school, while I was checking and re-checking my backpack to make sure I had everything I needed for the day, I realized I had forgotten my library book.

Thrust into a state of absolute, inconsolable panic, I alerted my mom to the situation.


She rationally explained that we couldn't go back to get it, or I'd be late for school.

Oh. Dear. Lord. Two giant rivals - forgetting the library book vs being late. Both would get me in trouble. But which would be worse??

"WEHAVETOWEHAVETOWEHAVETO!!!" I could handle being late. Other people had been late before. Plus, that's really more my mom's fault, anyway. But I'd never seen anyone forget a library book before (in retrospect, I'm sure they had, it was just not a big enough deal for anyone else to have taken notice).

My anxiety-stricken mom saw this as the perfect situation in which to teach me a lesson early in life so I could avoid a similar fate to her own. If she forced me to go to school without my library book, surely I would see that it really wasn't that big of a deal, and I would be able to lose some of the anxiety.


She calmly explained to me that I forgot it, and I would see that it wasn't a big deal. The librarian might tell me I need to be more responsible and remember it next week, but nothing bad would happen. I could simply bring it back next week.

I could see my mom's point, and as I opened my mouth to agree (or protest, it really doesn't matter which), I suddenly realized words were not what was about to escape past my lips.


And thus began the vomiting-from-nervousness. The librarian did, in fact, tell me I needed to be more responsible (why, God, why?? I try so hard! How could I have screwed up on such a massive level?!), and that I could simply bring my library book in next week.

Instead of learning my mom's lesson that it really wasn't a big deal, and I wouldn't get in trouble (but to me, it felt like I did get in trouble - disappointment is a form of trouble), I chose the other path - and I never again forgot a library book on library day. To this day, I can't even handle returning movies late. I love Netflix.

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