When I was a small child, I was no less full of anxiety than I am now, but I didn’t know how to put words around it. I just moved through the world as if I were a cat burglar trying to avoid one of those laser beam alarm systems like in Mission Impossible – which is to say, cautiously and with much contortion. Life was scary and confusing.
My mother, who I now realize had her own anxiety struggles – she saw the doctor for mysterious chest pains and often suffered from insomnia, coped by over-preparing. For example, when I went off to school, she would pack my tin Superfriends lunchbox full of food, more than I could possibly eat. She and my father worked long days, which meant my sister and I were dropped off at school in the early morning, well before the first bell, so they could get to work on time. And then we went to afterschool care until evening. That’s a long time for chronically-worried mother to be away from her babes, but that was life.
She surrounded us with love in the tangible form of plastic baggies of Oreo cookies and cellophane-wrapped cheese kisses (does anyone remember those?). Since those were the days before state-of-the-art insulated thermoses and we lived in Hawaii where the temperature often hovered in the high 80s to low 90s, she would freeze cans of juice and wrap them in layers of paper towels and aluminum foil so that we’d have cold drinks. In kindergarten, I have the distinct memory of finding a clean pair of extra panties nestled amid the dried apples and trail mix, in case I had an accident. It was mortifying then, but now, as an adult and a mother myself, I get it. She was trying to take care of me. It was all she knew to do.
I think about that now when I’m trying to care for myself. Those lunchboxes. Except now I have to stock my own emotional supplies. Do I have enough to keep myself full? Will there be any to share? What if I have a mishap? Can I get through the day?
How do you take care of yourself? What do you need to help you cope? There’s no way to predict what fuckery might befall you in your travels, but we all have our staples. My daughter, who also deals with anxiety (oh, epigenetics, you saucy bitch), came home from therapy one day with a list of “what ifs” and what to do in case they became “now whats.” Things to say, ways to support herself, people to rely on. I’m in her lunchbox. And she’s in mine, next to “perspective” and “gratitude.”
Life is still scary and confusing, and scared, empty people can end up doing damage to themselves and others. The world is better when we’re full. How can you help yourself to feel safer, heard, sufficient? What do you need to pack?
I recommend making lists and plans. Revise and revisit as necessary. If you’re me, you like to physically write things down on scraps of paper in brightly colored ink and then carry those ideas with you in your pocket, because I’m a huge fan of therapeutic trips to office supply stores. But whatever works for you. Oreos and cheese kisses are not out of the question, either.