I’m no good at goodbyes.
I originally pitched Dread Journal as a series of anecdotes about living the anxious life, thinking that at the very least my funny stories might be relatable. While I sometimes didn’t actually hit the funny mark and instead focused on the less hilarious aspects of anxiety, writing Dread Journal was always a way for me to put my anxiety into perspective where I could distance myself, be self deprecating, and honest. It’s really the only way I’ve ever known how to deal with my anxiety, which can be completely overwhelming and all consuming. Making fun of it stops the obsessive cycles, at least for a minute.
I was about five years old and sitting in the backseat of my friend’s mom’s car, on our way to ballet or some similar childhood activity. Being curious kids who were just learning about the markers we use to identify ourselves, she asked me what religion I was and I repeated a joke I’d heard my parents make before without really understanding the implications. “I’m anxious!” My friend’s mom roared with laughter from the front seat of the car while my friend looked at me blankly, and without even knowing it, I’d made my first anxiety joke. I was hooked.
My mom never understands why I wrote this column, or why I feel compelled to make the jokes that I make about mental illness. I have to–I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t get a validating laugh or two out of it. I have to talk about anxiety, eating disorders, depression, and even suicide in a joke-y way. It helps me process and make sense of the world in the only way I know how. I have to look back on my worst moments and see them as funny anecdotes, or else the world would collapse in on me and I’d never leave the house for fear that I’d repeat a past humiliation or manufactured near death experience. If being crippled by made up monsters under the bed as an adult isn’t hilarious, what is?
The thing about anxiety is that the monsters under my bed are in fact me, but joking about it makes me feel like less of a monster, or at least a friendly one. Writing about it gives my anxiety less power. I’m not saying anything revelatory here–every comedian ever has made their career based on acute anxiety, and do so much more eloquently than I do. But at the core, humor is the best coping tool I have to deal with anxiety and all of its comorbidities, much to the chagrin of my friends who just want to hang while I crack joke after joke without any regard to anyone wanting to hear stupid jokes that aren’t particularly funny.
And so while this column was an excellent opportunity to deal with my anxiety in a constructive way, it’s time to move on. Now before anyone gets nervous, this is not one of those things where writing the column helped me conquer my anxiety and emerge a triumphant calm person. I’m by no means any calmer than I used to be, although perhaps more aware of my anxiety in an analytical way. Rest assured, I’m still a basket case like you.
Without sounding humiliatingly egotistical, I just want to briefly say that the comments you’ve left over the past six months have meant more to me than you can possibly know. Part of my anxiety means that despite being surrounded by people, I frequently feel very much alone, trapped in my own head by my own obsessive and repetitive thoughts. Reading what you had to say helped–hearing from total strangers who get it stops my cycling, snowballing thoughts for a second. Most medication can’t do that–thank you.
This won’t be the last you’ll hear from me, and drop me an email if you ever want to talk anxiety, mortification, or any number of nerve wracking moments that I live to discuss. At this very moment I’m feeling quite anxious (as I always do around goodbyes of any kind), so something hilarious, humiliating, or nauseating is bound to happen. I’ve still got stories to tell.
Photo: The Office, NBC