Confessing My Anxieties

by James Wallace Harris, Friday, April 14, 2017

There’s nothing that sets off my anxiety more than having an event in the future to worry about. Next week I’m scheduled for jury duty and I’m worried I’ll be sequestered. I have no idea how many people are like me. We never know how other people think, do we? So I thought I’d just tell you about my quirky anxieties and figured you might tell me about yours.

the future 

The tendency is to believe everyone thinks in the same way, but I don’t know if that’s true. First, we can divide the world up into the anxious and the anxiety free. Of the people I know who confess their anxieties, it appears our symptoms come in all varieties, with many variations of physical and mental properties.

I have no idea how common my type of anxieties are among other people. If I studied psychology I could analyze the data and statistics, but I think I’ll take different path. I’m just going to confess my anxieties and ask my friends to confess theirs. Confession is great for the soul, or so they say.

I’m not sure how honest I should be. I don’t want to come across as psychically naked. But on the other hand, this experiment is based on revealing what’s behind my barriers. The act of writing down my problems is therapeutic. That implies a certain degree of honesty is required for effective results.

My main source of anxiety comes from thinking about the future. That can be planning my grocery shopping trip or worrying about climate change in the year 2100. I’ve always thought this was a particularly good trait for someone who wants to writes science fiction – an ambition I’ve had since age 12. Unfortunately, even though I imagine hundreds of scenarios every day, I’ve yet to learn how to dramatize them into fiction.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve discovered this trait is a handicap. It has a number of downsides. It’s especially paralyzing for social activities. Future worry has led me to create a very comfortable now. I am my own siren. On the other hand, any disruption to my routine causes anxiety. Most of the time, it is very minor anxiety. I am happiest when I have nothing scheduled. I have friends that schedule their lives weeks in advance – what a nightmare.

My second anxiety, and I believe it’s caused by the first anxiety, is I hate to leave home. When I was young I always wondered why older folks were so homebound. Now I know. Home is security. Controlling my future is easiest done from home. Leaving the house increases the variables involved in imagining the future. When I was young I could go out and play all day, ranging over neighborhoods, countryside, and woods. It never even occurred to me to plan my future. After I retired I had nearly complete control over my time. It was only when I have to be somewhere else do I lose that control.

My agoraphobia is not extreme, but it is growing. I have not always been this way. Even after I grew up and out on my own, I could leave home with abandon, worry free. Before I got married, the longest I had lived in any one house was eighteen months. I’ve lived in my present house about ten years, and I think that long comfortable stay has affected me.

However, I believe my agoraphobia started when I developed a heart arrhythmia in my forties. My fear of having an episode in public made me want to always stay home. Even after I had surgery to fix my heart a bit of that anxiety remained. I began going out again, but never like before. Because this event was concurrent with getting older and living longer in the same house, I’m not sure which was the primary cause.

Then in my early sixties I had to have a stent put in my heart because of clogged arteries. Around the same time I developed spinal stenosis which has caused a number of physical limitations. I have a Catch-22 situation. If I exercise more to help my heart, my legs go numb, and I have back problems. If I exercise less the numbness decreases and the pain goes away, and my heart feels worse. I have to walk a razor’s edge to stay feeling reasonably well. I’ve also worked out a rather severe diet that helps both conditions. Eating out makes it very difficult to follow that diet. All of this conditions me like Palov’s dog to stay close to home.

Many of my retired friends are trying to do more outside the house, especially travel. Travel scares the crap out of me. First, I’d have to leave home. Second, I’d have to give up most control. Third, I’d have to eat at restaurants. Fourth, I wouldn’t have my custom exercise equipment. Fifth, I might have to sleep in a bed, which freezes up my back. (I’ve been sleeping in a recliner for years.)

Are my anxieties just in my head? Or has my body dictated them? If I worked hard I might discover how to eat healthy on the go, how to exercise anywhere with no equipment or portable elastic bands, how to sleep comfortably by improvising back friendly nests with available furniture at hand. Theoretically, all that’s possible, but it’s hard to imagine. To get a good night sleep I need a certain kind of recliner adapted with four kinds of pillows.

Now I know why old crotchety folks I met in my youth were so set in their ways. Aging means adapting to your bodily demands. If I eat just right, exercise just right, and sleep just right, I can avoid pain. Have my anxieties evolved through pain avoidance? Or am I just being a pussy? Should I just get over them?

My wife thinks I give in too easily. She might be right. She loves to be on the go, to travel, to be active. She has aches and pains – but just ignores them. I know a number of people our age who eat whatever they want, never exercise, and lead happy active lives. Then I know other people who are adapting their life to deal with ailments, conditions, pains, disease, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, etc.

Is anxiety mental or physical? Like I said, there many kinds of anxieties. I think some are mostly mental. I think mine are related to the physical, but I could be fooling myself. If I changed a mental condition with drugs or conditioning, is it really mental?

Most people associate anxiety with depression. As long as I can pursue my hobbies at home I’m extremely happy. I don’t feel crippled by anxiety. I guess I would if I wanted to travel. Maybe I’m happy because I accept my limitations. If I wanted more, I might be unhappy. Even this might be age related. If I was young and felt this way, I’d feel resentful, even imprisoned.

Does getting old allow us to accept what we can’t change? Or does getting old mean we stop trying to change.

Is everything I’ve written here a rationalization that allows me to avoid living life to the fullest? I have a feeling going to jury next week will teach me a lot. I’m not to try to get out of the duty, but it provokes all the fears I mention above. I’m having far more anxiety than before my heart procedures. I’ll write an update to this piece and confess what I learned after I’ve faced those fears.


14 thoughts on “Confessing My Anxieties”

  1. Ignoring aches and pains only works for a certain period of time, then they catch up with you … with a vengeance.

    I think you’ve adapted to your body’s requirements, and pushing those boundaries a bit is a good thing, but not to the point where you’re incapacitated for days afterwards. It’s not worth it.

    Naming your fears is a very brave thing to do, and working consciously with them is even braver.

    Good luck with jury duty. 🙂

  2. Wow..and here I thought you didn’t give a F.. from your previous post. But seriously, I will go over your post.

    I too have anxiety but for entirely different reasons. I lost my husband almost 4 years ago and I admit to being very emotionally dependent on him. So now I get anxiety if I’m alone too long. I get lonely for company.

    As far as jury duty, you could probably answer questions a certain way and be excused if that would relieve the anxiety. Maybe you could even get a Drs. excuse…just saying.

    I just recently took a vacation where I had to drive a distance to my friend’s home and then we both flew to our destination. I feared more the driving than the flying…reason is I could get in a car accident and be severely hurt, but not killed but on a plane that would not be that problem. I don’t mind dying at my age (70) and Ive lived a good life, but pain or a long dragged out life in a nursing home frightens me greatly. I now feel better about travel and will do more, but not alone.

    Climate change doesn’t frighten me nor WWIII because I feel we are doomed anyway and it’s just the way it is.

    I don’t mind leaving home for socializing or any other thing. I keep fairly busy to not become anxious or depressed about being alone. I do have a female roommate and we get along fine and it helps me to not live alone. We have our separate lives, which is good.

    As far as health, my attitude is moderation in all things, but I pretty much eat what I want. I just walk several days a week for exercise. I love to eat out because I hate to cook and the pleasure of good tasting food outweighs any diet concerns and I’m not overweight. I don’t gorge.

    I do think as we get older, most people get more set in their ways and a change in routine can cause anxiety. It’s just a given.

    As I write this I see my two main anxieties is being lonely and ending up in a nursing home kept alive against my will because of our archaic laws. The rest I really don’t give a F…

    1. Mary, I’m not sure I was precise in my last post. What I was trying to write about was how my drive was dwindling towards things I wanted. In other words, I was making less of an effort towards chasing my ambitions. It wasn’t that I didn’t give a f*** about my fears and worries. I don’t worry about being lonely, and I’ve yet to worry about going into a nursing home. With my heart, I figure I won’t make it that far. Normally, when I’m in control of my schedule I’m mostly anxiety free. I’ve even thought of moving to a retirement home to gain more control.

      Worry about the future for mankind is a different kind of anxiety. It’s also about control. When our leaders denying climate change, and want to change the laws to act like it doesn’t exist, that’s taking control of our future, leaving us who want to do something without control.

  3. Okay, I’m game — what a wonderful topic. Interestingly, my anxieties are almost exactly opposite of yours. It makes me anxious to have more than 1 day without any planned activities out of the house. My natural instinct is to be reclusive and I have fought it all my life to the point that it is almost gone. I am not a self-starter, however, I have to have plans. Right now, I am taking a singing lesson on Tuesday morning. The anxiety here is not the singing lesson, it is getting there. Traffic here has become impossible and being our age in traffic I believe causes anxiety for almost everyone. I am loving my retirement village. I go to the pool 3 days a week. If I don’t, that causes anxiety. I have some church activities that keep me going, joined the book group here, and also the painting group once a month. I have the Choraleers every week. I also eat meals in the dining room about 4 days a week. So, I do get out.

    Other anxieties — my children don’t care about me, don’t visit, don’t call. Actually, I am not sure if the way my kids are is normal or not. It’s not that they ignore me completely, but I seem unsatisfied, but don’t complain and the whole situation causes me angst, but that is nothing to the angst I feel in regard to my sibs who I actually almost never see or communicate with. Health issues — well, we all have problems. I have a few aches and pains, congestive heart failure, congenital blood clotting disorder which has caused me some recent problems. I am trying to eat better and exercise more (the pool thing figures heavily into this.) I drink too much, either because I am an alcoholic, because I am alone most of the time, or both. I can’t work up the energy to resolve to quit. I don’t know if it matters.

    World affairs — I feel anxious because I have children and grandchildren. I have doubts that any of it will affect me on a personal level.

    Travel — love it! Planning trips is probably my favorite of several hobbies. And I love the trips. But as the time nears, yes, I become anxious, and I have gone pretty nuts about the transportation to my trip coming up in June, due to the recent airline problem, combined with my health issues. We’ll see how it goes.

    1. Carol, you prove my theory that we’re all different. If I lived in a retirement village I think I would enjoy it. I could join activities and be social when I wanted, but go back to my room when I didn’t.

      I’m sorry that your children don’t pay more attention to you. I hear that from a number of people. I’m sure my mother said that about me, although many people have said I was plenty attentive to my mother in her old age.

      I have a friend who started drinking because he said it really helped fight loneliness. However, it didn’t work well with the drugs he took and he had to give it up. He said if it wasn’t for that he would have become an alcoholic.

      I’m impressed with your bravery to travel, but then you love it. I think I would like to travel, but my anxiety keeps me from traveling. I keep thinking if I could move once a year that would allow me to keep a sense of home and yet see the world.

  4. Anxiety is very real and very crippling. I wish you well, I believe you can still live a wonderful live with anxieties! My husband and I had started a travel blog, drop by when you have time. I hope that even if you can’t go travelling, you will feel like you are travelling with us!

    1. I read your review of the New York Pass. NYC is one place I’d love to visit. But I couldn’t make a quick trip. If I had more money I’d move there for several months. I’m trying to psyche myself up to visit someplace where I rent an apartment for a few months. If I can quickly make a place that feels like home I don’t mind visiting other places. I know this sounds very wimpy. What’s weird is I traveled a bunch before I was 25. I went to 3 1st and 7th-grade schools, 1 6th, 9th and 12th, and 2 of all the rest.

      1. I would love to be able to visit a place months at a time! Unfortunately due to work commitment I can’t. But I think that’s the best way to travel, actually live there and see what life is really like!

  5. Nice blog post.
    I am a very anxious person. But my anxiety always has to do with other people. I have what they call an anxious attachment style and am introverted. Always trying to control how I come across to other people, and what others think of me. It makes social events very tiring and relationships a struggle. It all has to do with anxiety about whether I am accepted by others, but if I feel like I should distance myself from others to recharge or protect myself, I end up hurting other people. It is a fine line to walk.

    1. I’m introverted too. I need lots of alone time, but I do socialize with people. I do need people even though I have a hermit like personality. I prefer one-on-one interactions or small groups. Don’t like parties. I don’t worry about whether people like me or not. I know they think I’m weird or eccentric, but I can accept that.

  6. As we all age, Life becomes a battle against Entropy. We all have our own physical problems (which will grow as we get older). Trying to manage health issues and personal issues and family issues generates a lot of anxiety. You, and your other commentators, discuss coping mechanisms to deal with the problems of everyday Life. Routines are important. Controlled environments are safer than unpredictable ones (who wants to be dragged off a plane!). We all have to find the combination of factors that allows us to enjoy what’s left of our lives in peace and happiness.

  7. Anxiety is both physical and mental/emotional. Having anxiety I truly understand your situation. Having a fear of the future is pretty normal I think for people who have anxieties, but for me I’ve learned the hard way, that the future events are coming whether or not I’m ready and all I can really do is ride the wave through trying to maintain some normalcy in my head. So I prepare for the unknowns at the event by choosing to ignore the thoughts that race through my mind until I absolutely have to look at them. I know everyone is different but I hope my experience helps. Good luck

    1. I think learning to ignore my thoughts is key. I feel like the future is Schroedinger’s Cat in the box and I won’t know it until I finally open the box. However, I keep speculating and speculating.

  8. I can totally relate! I don’t think that you are not willing to change I think its a direct result of anxiety. I am happiest in my own company and love the comfort of home. I am lucky as I have a good network of family and friends. I recently went on a hike with friends best thing I ever did I loved it so much I’ve hiking primarily on my own though. Its perfect for me right now as it forces me to get out there without dealing with people but challenges me in other ways.

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