I've lived with anxiety all my life, though it's only in recent years that the malady has been given a name. Some of my earliest memories are of me quaking in fear at the slightest change in my physical condition. I grew up petrified of illness, injury and death. And as far as I know, I was born that way. There was no trauma in my early life, that I can recall, that brought this on. I've always wondered if I had met such a catastrophic demise in my last life that the psychic impression carried over to this one. That's the best explanation I've come up with, so far.
But only those closest to me have any inkling of this...THING...that's such a huge part of my life inside my head. Because I learned early on to bury it deep, deep inside. It only takes a couple of instances of family members, friends, and even health professionals looking down their noses at you and telling you to calm down and quit being such an idiot, to make you realize this kind of anxiety is not a thing you share with others. Or inflict upon others.
So you go through life only betraying your "insanity" at its worst moments...like when you wake up in the middle of the night, so convinced you're having a heart attack that you forget to slip quietly out of bed before the panic overtakes you, and you wake your partner. And then the shame and embarrassment combine with the panic... You'd pretty much do anything not to go through that very often. So you swallow it. You stuff it. You adopt the appearance of the duck sailing smoothly across the surface of the pond; beneath the surface, your feet are paddling like crazy.
People who know me DO know, however, that I'm not very good at sitting still. At doing nothing. At just being...zen. Sitting quietly is no good for me. And, as time goes on, it becomes a greater and greater enemy. Only by keeping my body moving, my hands occupied, my brain focused, can I keep that crippling anxiety at bay. Too many hours of nothing in particular to do, and it grabs my feet and pulls me under. "Busy-ness" has been my defense mechanism, all these years. Unfortunately, the past few months have not offered enough of that commodity to keep me sane...or at least, to give me the appearance thereof.
In years past, when I reached this point of being nearly overwhelmed by my affliction, I've been able to pour myself into some kind of project, or...get a job. And it's been very unsettling that the "job" option is no longer open to me. Let's face it: I'm a sixty-year old woman who spent forty years in a "career" that is absolutely for the young. By running my own restaurant, I probably got five more years out of it than I should have. That was, in fact, the ONLY way I was going to translate my experience into a livelihood that would provide income in my dotage; and, as we all know, that...didn't work out.
So, here I am...a senior citizen who could use an income but, more importantly NEEDS something to DO; and the line of work into which I sank my formative years has no place for me. Oh, I suppose if I looked hard enough, I could probably find some place that would pay me minimum wage to flip burgers or bake cookies... But I just find that too...insulting. All my years of experience, all the things I've learned, mean N.O.T.H.I.N.G. No one in the industry will hire anyone who has any concept of her actual worth. Plus, let's face it...I don't know if I would be capable of putting in the (minimum) fifty-hour weeks required of food service management; and, capable or not, I just don't WANT to do that anymore.
Why did I let myself be indentured into the world of food service, basically following in my mother's footsteps as a lifelong "second income," capitulating to my husband's ability to command the higher wage? There are times when I have sat and wondered...what would my life be like now, if I had actually gone to college and got that journalism degree I had coveted so many years ago?
There were all sorts of reasons, in the end, why my personality wasn't suited to the world of journalism, not the least of which was that I was too much of an introvert to get out there and get the stories, to actually talk to people, do the research. And with my high-pitched nasal voice and stunningly average looks, broadcast journalism was never on my radar. Still, I regret never shaping my god-given talent into a...LIFE. I wonder, though, would it have provided me with the busy-ness--the physical hard work--so essential to keeping my demons at bay?
I came upon an article a couple of weeks ago that gave me a tiny shred of satisfaction. It was titled "What Happens To Journalists When No One Wants To Print Their Words Anymore?" and it went into detail about how print journalists of my generation have been devastated by the shrinking of the market for their talent. Full-time jobs in print journalism have declined by 40% since 2007, with most of the jobs eliminated belonging to writers over 50. When a paper closes and the staff is turned loose, those older folks fare poorly in what is left of the job market in their field. They leave the field, become entrepreneurs, attempt late-life career changes, or reluctantly retire. It all sounds way too familiar to me.
It's somewhat of a back-assed comfort to me that, if I had followed my dream decades ago, I might just be in the same boat I'm in now. Would I be any more or less frustrated and at loose ends than I am now? Would I be looking at a rosier retirement picture? Would the demon of my anxiety be any less inclined to overwhelm me than it is now?
I don't know. But I DO know that perhaps I didn't make the worst mistake of my life when I chose the path I chose forty years ago...and that's something.