30 Jan Anxiety in the time of pandemic
All of my life, I excelled in academics. I was a straight A student, a National Merit Scholar, and in the top 5% of my high school graduating class. In college, I was a successful member of our debate team, played bass guitar in a band, and, but for excess partying in my last semester, would have graduated cum laude. I was accepted into the prestigious University of Texas School of Law based mostly on my recommendations from professions who knew me well.
In 1999, I graduated with a shiny new juris doctorate degree. A few long (like pandemic long) months later, I passed the bar examine and received my license to practice law. The job market was fairly rough at that time, but I was able to secure a position at a small firm earning a pittance. Yet, I could pay all of own my bills (well, most of them) and from all outward appearances lived a comfortable life. I was a “Big City” lawyer according to my mom, and I had made it. I was smart, quick on my feet, and had spent my entire college career debating other smart, quick on their feet soon-to-be-lawyers. I knew what I was doing and was good at it. I projected an air of confidence, one might even say arrogance. And by “one,” I mean everyone, except me, of course.
I worked for years as a litigation associate at a practice I hated. I was doing well in my career. But, on the inside, I was a terrified child. I still remember the days when I was asked to pick up the phone and call a client or opposing counsel. I was petrified. I would make up excuses not to do it. I would pass the work off to my assistant. I would lie and say I called but could not reach the other person. A. Simple. Freaking. Phone. Call. What was my avoidance all about? In short, the Impostor Syndrome. What if others found out what I knew… I was a fraud!
This, folks, is what high functioning anxiety looks like. We are highly successful in our endeavors. We push ourselves to the pinnacle, or in my case, mostly coast there on my natural abilities. We appear to have all of our shit together, but emotionally, we are train wrecks. Some of us internalize the anxiety and end up breaking down mentally. Others, like me, turn to food (or alcohol or drugs or sex or so on and so on) to alleviate the anxiety. Despite our intelligence, we have irrational fears. For me, I had recurring thoughts I would come home to a dead dog, never mind that she was a young, healthy mutt who would live to 15. If I saw a flyer on the front door, I was terrified my neighbor was scolding me for not mowing the lawn or something similar. Ninety-nine times out of 100 it was a Shen Yun advertisement. The other one time it was for Dominoes or Pizza Hut.
We have nervous habits, like smoking or biting our nails. The single easiest way to determine if an individual suffers from anxiety is to watch them in a seated position and look at what they are doing with their legs. Bounce. Bounce. Bounce. I’m doing it right now as I write this blog. You know what else we do? Pee all the time. Like, literally, all the time. When I was waiting for hours to get my first round of the COVID-19 vaccination and we didn’t have ready access to a restroom, one of the old men there joked about wearing a Depends undergarment. Except, I actually thought it would be a good idea. Yes, I know what you are thinking, we talked about the astronaut lady who drove across country to confront her lover’s sidepiece. I understand where she was coming from. Excuse me, I have to go to the bathroom now.
Ok, I am back… Here’s the real kicker to this level of anxiety. When we climb the ladder, we surround ourselves with others who are close to, if not equally as capable, smart, good looking (really ridiculously good looking), whatever. When that happens, we no longer stand out. The defense mechanism we created by excelling or being at the top of the game no longer works. What do you do when the lawyer down the hall wants to work 12 hours and you would much rather go have a beer (or 20) with your friends? The lack of specialness only compounds our anxiety, and we have no place to turn. Usually, something happens to kick us down to rock bottom. But, since we are so high functioning, it takes a really long time (like a COVID-19 pandemic long time).
I’m writing this entry because my anxiety has increased over the pandemic, but mostly because I see others around me suffering from the same affliction. We don’t really want to talk about our shortcomings with others. After all, we can fix anything because we are so damn smart. So, we struggle along, struggle again, and struggle some more, ad infinitum. If you resemble these remarks, I see you. Anxiety is no joke. We learn to cope with it, but it never goes away, kinda like herpes (so I hear). I see it every day in my Buddha belly. I feel it every day in the tension in my neck and back, in the griding of my teeth. I suspect you may see it, feel it, taste it and hear it as well. My advice? Talk to someone who understands. Get a therapist. Ask your doctor about medication. Anxiety doesn’t always have to win the day, you can buy some GameStop stock for that (more on this topic later).