The stuff I worry about!

by Radio Somewhere

I had a neuropsychological assessment around ten years ago. The assessment consisted of two tests, each with hundreds of what I call ink-blot questions, such as: “if you could sneak into the movies without paying and not get caught, would you do it?” My answer was no. “Do you ever find yourself counting the number of lightbulbs in an illuminated sign?” My answer was yes.

The tests were great fun to take — at least I thought so. But the psychologist wasn’t interested in my impressions of the tests. It would have been a good final question, I think: “On a scale of 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest), how much fun did you have taking the test?” A score of 10 would surely say something!

The psychologist also considered that my results were “nothing to write home about.” There was no sign of psychosis and I had a firm grasp on reality. Damn. There was no reason for me to not go back to work. Double damn. (I’m kidding. It felt great to get back to work shortly afterwards — but the double damn sounds good.) However, he had to tell me that I scored exceptionally high on two factors: honesty and anxiety.

He said that my honesty score was at a level typically only seen amongst clergy and law-enforcement officers. Well, my father was a cop, so that was not so surprising, and I was told it was nothing to concern myself with anyway — unlike the anxiety — which would eventually make me ill if I did not do something about it.

Honesty and anxiety are uneasy companions. About a year ago, there was a major theft where I work. I had only been there a few weeks, so it was a very difficult situation for me. I knew nothing about it, and to this day, I have yet to discover what was actually stolen — but even though I told the truth, I worried that I was not believed. I sometimes worry that my anxiety could cause me to fail a lie detector test even when I’m telling the truth!

I wouldn’t say anxiety has made me chronically ill, although I have experienced anxious spells bad enough to bring on nausea, especially first thing in the morning. I’ve never had a full-blown ulcer, but six years ago, I did have gastritis exacerbated by excessive wine consumption — which was one way I dealt with anxiety (it works and it doesn’t require a prescription.)

Over recent years, the wine habit has given way to a coffee habit — and surprisingly, coffee has not affected anxiety one way or another. So my anxiety continues to find an outlet in worrying about anything and everything that comes my way.

This morning, I rode into town on the bus with my neighbor. I told her about some recent workplace frustrations. Now, my boss IS going through a tough time right now, so as the day progressed I began to feel I’d been a bit unfair. By the time I left work, I could imagine that the one person on the bus not wearing earbuds: a) had heard every word I was saying; b) recognized the workplace context; c) knows my boss, or an influential coworker; and d) will pass along the content of the conversation, word for word. And for complete measure, I worried that I had offended my neighbor also!

My first stop after getting off the bus is a coffee shop. My double Americano is $1.98 after tax and personal cup discount. I hope the staff do not think I just put a 2-penny tip in the jar. Then I go to a volunteer gig at a nonprofit for a couple of hours — and worry about whether I’m too aloof or too friendly with the regular staff. When it’s time to go to my real job, I have an easy bus ride from a nearby stop on Third Avenue. Buses are coming by every few minutes and there are plenty of connections to where I am going. But even though I give myself plenty of time, I worry about being late, and find myself running for buses that I really don’t need to catch. Once on the bus, I worry whether I should have touched base with the program supervisor before leaving in case she won’t be in tomorrow; then I wonder with I should send an email from my phone. All this worry — and I haven’t even got to work yet!

The nature of my job is that I either have too much to do or not enough to do — and I worry about both. There are lots of details too, especially when I get around to the shipping in the afternoon. Packages need to go to the right place from the right company (when it’s a drop ship) by the right mode (Next Day Air, Ground etc.) billed to the right party and with email notifications sent to the right people — plenty of possible mistakes to give one nagging thoughts over a weekend — although in recent months I have made great progress at learning to let these worries go, at least on Friday. The bus ride home is more about being indecisive as opposed to being worried — but by the time I get home I have usually identified some shortcoming of mine that day to keep me worried until the next morning, or the next week — imagining the worst!

I have many of the common OCD worries: leaving home to be gone all day having forgotten to turn off a space heater or stove burner that will surely set my building on fire; leaving windows wide open, inviting burglary; leaving the front door unlocked (ditto); leaving the cat with no water; losing my wallet, phone or keys; leaving home without my wallet, phone or keys; leaving work without my wallet, phone or keys; being the last one to leave work and forgetting to lock the door. And I have plenty of legitimate worries: my rent check or other bills getting lost in the mail; all my passwords being hacked; identify theft; having an accident that makes me unable to walk, even temporarily; and, ending up homeless. I am struck by some, if not all, of these worries every day. (If you wonder why none of my worries involve loved ones…yes that looks bad, but please don’t judge me — I worry about that too!)

On the other hand, though, I never, ever worry about what I eat:)

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