Last week a woman from my mothers' group said, "You always seem so calm! You don't worry about anything!" I stared at her for a moment, speechless. Then I said, "What are you talking about? My anxiety level is off the chart. I'm, like, the least calm person ever." She could hardly believe me. Apparently I'd been giving off cool-as-a-cucumber vibes for years. I had no idea! At home I do not have a façade of serenity; at home I am myself: full to the brim with anxiety.
I'm not worried all the time, but my neuroses do often consume me. And when I'm with my immediate family I definitely don't hide my feelings; I externalise everything. I can be obsessive, miserable, panicked, annoyed, snappy and controlling. I sigh a lot, I cry occasionally, and I'm always on edge. A warning: don't sneak up on me unless you want to hear an Oscar-worthy scream.
A few weeks ago, after I'd had a particularly bad day, my husband said, "Maybe you should see a psychologist."
The things I worry about are specifically medical. Basically, I'm a classic hypochondriac. I've "had" kidney failure, a uterine prolapse, MS, a brain tumour, ovarian cancer and meningitis. I'm pretty sure I could get prostate cancer if I tried hard enough. I also project my hypochondria onto my kids. If they cough they have pneumonia. If they get a rash it must be meningococcal.
I'm not great with injuries either. Every time my son bumps his head I think: ice pack, GP, or emergency department? Which one? Is that a normal bump, or is his skull fractured? Quick, decide! And then I usually make the wrong choice ("Right, kids, we're going to the hospital!").
My husband is super-calm. He's so relaxed he has the resting heart rate of a marathon runner. When he goes to bed he's asleep before his head even hits the pillow. Here's an example of his extreme composure: One day, while doing some household maintenance, he broke his nose. It looked crazy -- all bent to one side, blood gushing out -- but instead of hyperventilating he went into the bathroom and pushed his nose right back into place (crack!). As I was too upset (and nauseous) to perform further first aid, he then had to drive himself to a medical centre.
Being married to such a frazzled person must be weird for my husband. I know I annoy him when I'm really bad, but when he suggested I get some professional help I got defensive.
"I don't need to see anyone," I said. "I deal with my anxiety just fine."
"Yeah," he replied. "By wiping surfaces constantly."
Okay, maybe I do wipe bits of the house more than is necessary. I don't use bleach or anti-bacterial spray or anything -- just a sponge and hot water -- but I HATE CRUMBS AND STICKINESS. The kitchen bench must be spotless! And the dining room table, the lip around the sink, the stovetop, the floor and the kids' hands and faces! Spotless!
"And you pack things up before we're finished with them," my husband reminded me.
All right, I admit it; I am quick to tidy. Sometimes too quick. But is anyone really going to drink the last 20ml of that coffee? Does the butter have to sit on the bench getting soft because someone might be having more toast in half an hour? And why can't I put the lid back on the bacteria-breeding hummus if everybody's had enough?
I don't think there's anything over-the-top about my behaviour. I just like to avoid food poisoning. And standing on crumbs. And I want to be in control at all times. Anyway, I've always been like this. It's how I am. It's my normal.
I know my husband meant well when he brought up the psychologist thing. It's nice that he notices how I'm feeling, cares about my mental welfare and takes me seriously. But the truth is, I'm not sure I want to be cured.
Because what if I get some counselling and the treatment is so successful that I become too relaxed and my ultra-vigilance disappears? I could dismiss a real illness; I could ignore a real emergency. What if my anxiety is actually helping to keep my family safe?
I love that my husband is concerned about me, I do. But the thought of seeing a psychologist terrifies me. I'm not ready for serenity. Plus, I'm too busy at the moment -- there are crumbs everywhere.