Inside my brain exists a dark, frighteningly terrible maze of paranoia, worry, and anxiety. When accessed, it keeps my eyes open at night; it makes my heart pound during car rides; it causes my tongue to swell (I'm not sure why); it literally makes me shake and get cold.
Most people don't know this, because I hide it pretty well behind my vocalized intolerance of phobias and habits. I once dated a man who convinced me that habits are a sign of weakness, and I somehow transferred that sentiment to phobias (only mine and my kids'--so if you have one, don't worry, I'm not judging you), and then practiced getting rid of any idiosyncrasies I might be harboring.
But really, it's just the supreme act of total avoidance. I am Queen of Avoidance, after all. (To prove my point: currently, there are 11 messages on my voicemail that I am passively resisting listening to.) But I have discovered that avoidance can actually pay off in some parts of life. It is only a matter of conjuring up the part of the brain that defies making a difficult phone call or doing grocery shopping. For example, whenever my two girls get into a car that they are driving, I want to throw myself down behind the wheels and scream so that they cannot back up and leave the driveway. Instead, I avoid the thought--I live in complete denial that they even have their licenses. Tonight my son went to a sleepover and left before I had a chance to say goodbye, and I anticipated all the awful things that could happen to him--poisonous spiders, child molesters, kidnapping, choking on a hot dog--and how awful it will be when I have to come to terms that my last words to him were, "You really don't want to use a backpack? That's annoying." Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and lie staring at the black ceiling, trying to figure out how I would get everybody out of the house in case there is a chimney fire. Do all the kids know where the emergency ladder is? Do they know how to use it? Why did I not demonstrate? Could we throw mattresses out the window? Do you think if the boy jumped, he would snap his neck or just break a leg? Should we show him how to protect his neck when taking this kind of jump? Could we try to catch him? Would he panic and worry about the dog? Could we get the dog to jump? What would happen if we threw the cat out the window?
You can see how quickly that could grow to be exhausting, and I just don't have the stamina to wrestle with such intense internal dialogue. It is much easier to engage the part of my brain that stifles my amygdala (my husband said he doesn't know what the amygdala is, so I'll define it here: the part of your brain that creates anxiety) and avoid any kind of stressful thoughts. One night, in the middle of bedtime reading, my then-nine-year-old son unexpectedly laid out his entire custody arrangement for me, including pet situations, in case my husband and I were to ever get divorced. "Honey," I soothed him, while rubbing his back. "We're not getting a divorce. Gosh, we're not even fighting. What is making you think about this?" "I just want to be prepared in case it happens," he said nonchalantly before going back to his book. He looked up one more time at me. "You can't predict the future, Mom, so you might as well be prepared for anything."
Some mothers might be nervous about this, analyze their marriage, or wonder if their child needs to go to therapy. But no, I totally get it, because I've already mapped out what should happen if one of us were to die or lose our job or become physically handicapped. I mean, why wouldn't he contemplate divorce?
I have masked my fears so well, that many believe me to be a relaxed, easy-going, carefree kind of gal. I don't make definitive plans or use antibiotics. I pay our bills late and eat food that sat out on the stove overnight because I was too lazy to pack it up. I don't know my cholesterol numbers and I haven't had a physical examination since 2007. I eat food cooked in trailers at the fair after petting cows. I don't set curfews for my kids. I use the same password for everything. It appears to be a life of abandonment, but really it is simply denial.
A self-help-schmoopy-kind-of website (you know the kind, because you too have used these) says that "Avoidance is a simple way of coping by not having to cope. When feelings of discomfort appear, we find ways of not experiencing them." The entire tone is negative. It implies that those who avoid need guidance. But I would tend to disagree. There is a big difference between avoiding marital discord, financial woes, domestic violence, or any kind of real, tangible problem. But what every self-help book and website fails to address is: What if you are your own problem?
I'm not trying to make light of full-blown, diagnosed cases of anxiety and depression that paralyze people for real, often landing them in the hospital with scary symptoms (and anybody who knows me and my background knows that any kind of mental illness is not up for laughs in my family). I'm simply saying that for minor freaks like me whose brains are our own worst enemy, denial and avoidance are simply the easiest and fastest ways out.
It would take little convincing to hermetically seal my house and forbid my children to encounter any strangers or eat anything from China, but I don't want them to grow up to be as much of a freak as I am. They don't know that I have spent sleepless nights plotting out action plans for rape, teenage pregnancy, cancer, paralyzation, and brain hemorrhages. Yet, when I finally confided this to my husband, he didn't look too surprised. "Is this why you're prepared for anything?" he asked. "Is it why you are so calm when we get bad news?"
Aaaah. Yes, my dear. Because as our son has already taught us, "You can't predict the future, so you might as well be prepared for anything."
In the meantime, though, deny everything.