Friend, I am a highly anxious, introverted lady that has an Anxiety Monster living in her head. Recently, I’ve gotten to know him a bit more and realized that he makes his living by convincing me that I need to feel all the feelings. Overdramatic by nature, these feelings persuade me that my worst-case scenario in any situation is already happening. This is more than likely the reason why my go-to defense mechanism, when trying anything new, is peppering myself with what the worst-case scenario outcome would be. If I can handle the worst-case scenario, then I go for it. If I can’t handle the worst-case? More often than not, I don’t even attempt to shoot the shot.
Granted, the Anxiety Monster has led me very well so far in my life. He hasn’t limited me from achieving, necessarily. More than anything, he just makes sure I am acutely aware of the risk that achieving would more than likely bring.
One quick example of this, to illustrate, was the phone conversation I had with my mother after I purchased my first-ever brand-new vehicle.
“Mom, what happens if I can’t make the payments?” I asked while peppering a raw chicken breast (tomorrow’s soon-to-be lunch).
“Do you think you aren’t going to be able to make the payments?” Her voice responded, trying to mask her concern.
“No,” I continued, unfazed. “I definitely will. But just like the worst-case scenario. I can’t make a payment. What happens?”
“Taylor, if you ever needed help, you know me and your dad would help you-” She started.
“Mom! I know! I know, but just humor me. What happens to people who can’t make their payments?”
“Well, their car gets repossessed after a while. If they just completely stop making payments for months and months.”
“Okay, but they don’t go to jail or anything?” I questioned.
“No, Taylor. You don’t go to jail for not making your payments. Do you think you’re not going to be able to make your payments?” My mother’s exasperation was plain.
“I’ll make my payments. I just needed to hear you say what happened if I didn’t.” Content with knowing that jail wasn’t on the table, I continued my meal prepping with a lighter spirit.
Nevertheless, the Anxiety Monster isn’t always quite as kind.
Today, for example. I attempted a Very Grown-Up Thing for the first time: changing a home air filter. I am, when writing this, twenty-seven years old and have never changed an air filter up until this point.
Side note: Is it common knowledge that those things needed changing every couple of months?
If so, I totally missed that Life Lesson 101.
Anyway, to the store at hand: I did everything correctly, at first. I took a picture of the dimensions, went to the store, located the correctly labeled size section, paid for my filter, and left to go home to do the Very Grown-Up Thing.
This is where the plan went awry.
Taking the vent off the top of the duct, I realized that my two cats were very intrigued as to what this perceived hidden tunnel in the bottom of the house was. What is this tunnel? Where does it go to? Are there any t-r-e-a-t-s at the bottom? I saw the questions behind their dilated eyes.
Quickly, I ripped open the new filter and, hurriedly, pried the old filter off.
With a flurry of dust particles hitting my face, I simultaneously sneezed and coughed. That thing was DISGUSTING! I have two very lovely, very clean cats that must have somehow shed all of their fur into this filter then replaced themselves with brand new coats overnight. Or so it seemed. The filter change was long overdue.
How do I live like this?
No wonder my allergies are so haywire.
I need my adult card revoked
Why in God’s….
In the process of lamenting my own adult wrongdoings, the new filter’s label got sucked into the air vent. I could barely even think to lunge for it before the label disappeared. Like a game of Hungry Hungry Hippo, the vent clutched at the label so quickly that it was like its presence never even existed.
Hurriedly, I tried to put the new filter on before calling my father to see if the label would cause the house to burn down. Then, I realized my prelude mistake. I picked up the wrong size filter, despite my methodical noting of the correct size before this journey.
So, to recap. Wrong size air filter. Label sucked down into the dark abyss of the house. And, cats are mesmerized by the dark abyss that this black hole sucker of an air duct holds.
The Anxiety Monster was having a field day! Not just one, but two! Two worst-case scenarios I could not handle: the house burning down or the cats managing to plummet through the air duct.
I called my Dad and, at twenty-seven years old, let him assure me that the house was not going to burn down due to my error.
That was fine. Right?
Nope. The anxiety was overtaking me at that point. I started today with a couple of goals and this was the one I was currently working on. Changing the air filter without burning the house down or losing the cats into the air filter system? A wrench was thrown in my plan.
Speedily, I double-checked the air vent to ensure it was closed back (with the old disgusting filter back on there) and went to Dollar General to purchase another filter, this time appropriately sized. My eyebrows were furrowed and I was aggravated; this Very Grown-Up Thing was scheduled to take five minutes. Tallying up in my mind, I ran through the list of things I needed to do today still: laundry, prepare lunch, enjoy a relaxing bath, put together a cat condo for the cats.
The Anxiety Monster’s plans to terrorize me with images of the house burning down were foiled, but I could feel him gaining speed on this one.
“Are you sure you put the vent back on? I bet you didn’t. I bet the cats are getting sucked down there right now.” He growled.
I remember putting the vent back on.
I remember putting the vent back on.
I double-checked putting the vent back on.
“Are you sure?” The voice poked again.
Driving down the road, I could feel my skin start to prickle. Panic flooded my body and the image of Bingley and Darcy meowing to get out of the air duct was all that I could see.
Taylor, you are being irrational.
Taylor, you are being irrational.
Taylor, you are being irrational.
“Are you sure?” The familiar response rose up.
I absolutely knew what I was going to see when I came home: the vent in the correct place and two cats resting happily on my bed.
And yet, that twinge… that doubting “are you sure” voice could crumble what I knew to be true in a second. Bringing with it sheer distress and tension and jaw-clenching worry in its wake.
Last year, I would have turned the car around. I would have given in to the “are you sure” Anxiety Monster, who created doubt in my mind like poison. This was a worst-case scenario I could not escape, so I would play by the Anxiety Monster and turn around, check the house, then continue with my day. It happened often the first time I moved out of my childhood home; about three times a week I would leave my apartment only to head right back there because my Anxiety Monster had convinced me I had left the oven on. Touching the inside of the oven and noting it was cool was the only way to stop the Anxiety Monster from pushing the panic into me.
But, this wasn’t last year. I knew I didn’t want to dance with this feeling of panic any longer.
So, I noticed. I noticed the panic that I was feeling. It felt like my chest was compressed by the air, which was prickly to my skin. What was it trying to tell me? It was trying to tell me that there was danger. That, along with my mistake in the size of the air filter, I made a mistake by not placing the vent correctly. It was my fault and two things that I loved the most were going to get hurt in the process.
Is that true?
Then release it.
I took a deep breath and I let it out. I was at the store. Confident in my release, I bought a new filter. I went home.
Opening the door, I scanned. Everything was in its place, including a secure air vent and two lazy cats.
For a long time, I hated the Anxiety Monster that lived in me. I didn’t think that it was fair that I had to have these feelings. The theatrics, the panic, the sickening adrenaline over the smallest thing that might inconvenience a plan. People I love have labeled me as “overdramatic” a lot because of it. And, I definitely understand. It isn’t fun witnessing me when I go into that swirl, and it’s even worse going through it.
Giving the monster some credit, there has been some benefit to his presence for sure. In my job, for example, I have been very successful by being able to think of a back-up plan. Back-up plans, naturally, are the remedy to worst-case scenarios. Being gifted (cursed?) with the ability to look at any situation and see the worst outcome and ways to remedy that enables one to move quickly and put out fires before they’re full blaze.
That lovely, pure womb-soul voice in my head still challenges, though: what would it be like to live without that?
What I’ve learned so far is that the key when dealing with something like the Anxiety Monster is to release him, not talk to yourself. Repeatedly telling myself that I’m being irrational is like adding gas to the fire because it is acknowledging the underlying mission of the Anxiety Monster: I shouldn’t trust myself. Calling myself irrational operates from the same place that the Anxiety Monster lives- in the world of self-doubt and uncertainty.
Uncertainty does not benefit me.
Self-doubt does not light me up.
And mistrust in my own being does not line up with what I know to be true about the core of my essence.
I am sure people are reading this thinking I’m crazy-bananas for having a panic attack over a damn air filter.
And, to the people that aren’t: know that I see you. I see you triple-check the oven and make sure the dryer is off before you leave the house. Text your child hourly when they’re out of your sight. Dial every family member’s number when an ambulance passes by and heads in the direction of home.
I see you.
And, I know there’s more. There’s a release inside you, a breath, and a proclamation of the trust you have in yourself, regardless of the worst-case scenario. For all the beauty and greatness and unwavering ability inside you, friend, tell your Anxiety Monster to go fuck himself. And, when you do it, share below. I want to hear how you trust yourself above all things else and how you beat your Anxiety Monster. ❤