I recall sitting in the counseling center office on my college campus a few years back, emaciated and battling anorexia, nervous about, well, everything. The counselor made the profoundly obvious and wildly understated remark that I appeared to have some anxiety. As I discussed the what-if tune that is often on repeat in my mind, she said to me, "Have you ever just said to yourself, 'so what if'?"
So what if? My first thought was that this woman clearly had no grasp of the seriousness of my concerns. I was not your typical college student, with my most pressing worry being my roommate or whether I was going to get an A or a B on the mid-term. I was married, living off-campus, trapped somewhere between college life, full-on adult life and a nervous breakdown. I had an ocean of issues from my past, none of which had ever been properly addressed or dealt with - and they were swallowing me whole. My mere presence on campus was triggering, and the PTSD was the catalyst for the severe anorexia which had brought me to the office in the first place. My problems were beyond the scope of this hippie, feel-good, tree-hugging woman in the college counseling office, and her statement proved it. I felt...hopeless.
Fast forward a decade to present day. A divorce, re-marriage, children and a whole host of new issues later, and I have a relapse of my holyshitIfeelhelpess need for control. This time, it manifests in fear of contamination. And oh boy, did it manifest. It seems that, when I do something, I don't do it small. This need for control, turned fear, turned disorder has swallowed my whole life much like the anorexia did. Oddly enough, that gives me hope; I recovered from the eating disorders. And let me tell you, I was obsessed to the most infinite degree you can imagine. Weigh, measure, exercise, eat, purge, weigh, measure...repeat. If my mind can switch off of that, it can do the same with this, I'm sure of it.
It frustrates me that anything has a grip like this on me. For all my fear of contamination, my excessive handwashing led to a fungal nail infection. And with that, a member of my household ended up with a tiny patch of ringworm, probably from my doing the laundry with still-damp fingernails before I treated the nail infection. Nothing a little Lotrimin can't handle. The funny thing about that is that, had I just been doing things normally, a typical daily routine would not have been as likely to result in my spreading a fungus among us. So ironic. Good thing fungus doesn't totally trip me out. Interestingly, it used to.
Tonight I was reading some blogs. A woman casually mentioned that her child had caught something I fear. She mentioned it as something annoying, something to be dealt with and moved on from like so many difficult days. I think I would have totally lost my shit. But that's when I realized something - shit happens. To all of us. Even when we live in a bubble of disinfection and washing until our hands bleed, perfectly sterile is just not possible. No wonder we drive ourselves to the brink of insanity (or worse) trying.
My mother tried. My grandmother used to always say to her, "You can't put pillows around them forever," and she was so right. You end up focusing so much on the pillows that your kid ends up getting hurt because of the pillows, metaphorically speaking. Maybe not physically, but most definitely psychologically. I never once witnessed my mother taking a "meh" attitude toward anything; everything we encountered, from tonsillitis to injuries, always resulted in a massive overreaction. We lived in emergency rooms, she totally abused the healthcare system and I have taken so many antibiotics in my lifetime that I had developed sensitivity reactions to most of them by the time I was in my early 20s. Overkill is not a good idea, clearly, but I never learned otherwise.
Time is teaching me, though. Tonight I was thinking about one of my fears. For the second time in recent weeks, I thought to myself...okay, so what? Is it really as bad as what I have been doing to myself? And it makes me tense just typing that, but increasingly often I am beginning to truly feel that way. I could fear anything. Anything. You could fear anything. Is there a little bit of truth to some of it, like contamination fears? Sure. But is it worth un-lived lives, lost hope, bleeding hands, missing out on everything we once enjoyed?
CERTAINTY IS NOT AN OPTION.