We all have our deep-seated fears, and the ones that are buried the deepest are almost always irrational ones. They may have a basis in reality, in fact they almost always do. That’s how they got into our consciousness to begin with. But then our subconscious does something weird to them. It turns them and twists them and bends them all out of shape so that sometimes we cannot even recognize the kernel of reality that brought us to this place of unreasoning fear.
These places that we go where our rational mind can recognize that our intense fears are almost groundless but our anxieties refuse to recognize logic, are scary places. Perhaps that is a statement of the obvious. But especially for those of us with anxiety disorders, these places can feel like wastelands where we can find neither our way out nor even directions.
These anxieties loom large and feel uncontrollable. Which is, in laymen’s terms, probably as good a definition of an anxiety disorder as any. I have recently decided to call these anxieties monsters. I picture a monster drawn similarly to ones in children’s picture books, and that makes them a little less scary for me.
For me one of my most deep-seated fears involves money. I mean deepest. It goes way down into places that are difficult to reach. My older daughter sometimes says,
“Mommy, you are far more worried about ending up homeless and living on the street than I am.” And she’s completely right. My therapist asked me recently how many times in the last 10 quarters had I not been able to pay my bills.” I looked at him with a horrified expression. “Never!” was my response. “Exactly.” was his. He went on, “Hannah, even during the years when money was scarce, you always managed to put food on the table and a roof over your head. So this fear is irrational.” He was right.
So why my abject terror? And the answer is, of course, that it’s one of my monsters. Which is why the money issue with this medical leave has been so scary. Even with disability insurance payments (thank god I’ve been paying those premiums my whole career), my income is not as high as my regular paychecks. And which is why, especially at the beginning of this medical leave, I worried a lot.
I would lie awake at night and worry if we would be able to pay the bills. What if we couldn’t feed ourselves? What if we couldn’t pay the mortgage? What if we ended up homeless and out on the street?
And poof. There is the monster. He is out from under the bed again. All big and hairy with purple spots and horns. “The world’s gonna end and we’re all going to diiie!” he screams. And I believe him. At least for awhile. But I struggle to have some compassion for this brain of mine that is wired so that within a nanosecond it writes the most horrific ending to a situation it can think of. So I stop and think. And breathe. I ask the monster what the heck he thinks he’s doing, why he is trying to wreak such havoc in my life. “Because that’s my job,” the monster says petulantly. “To make you afraid.” And when he says that, he shrinks down to size. He’s still hairy with purple spots and horns. But he doesn’t fill the room anymore. He stands on my night table, smaller than the lamp. And then I can see him for what he is. An embodiment of my fears, sometimes blown larger than life. But now, for the moment, he is night table size. And kind of cute. And a little funny. And I can talk to him, which is perhaps the point. And instead of telling him to go away, which I know he never completely will, I tell him to make himself comfortable. I tell him that he doesn’t need to sleep under the bed, that the night table is actually quite a comfortable place, and I tell him to spend the night. Out in the open, where I can see him. And I think that perhaps that way, he and I can learn to live together. After all, he is a cute monster. And a little funny.