DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!
Oct 30 2015

Free Floating

by Dea Anne M

I am four or five. Maybe I’m six–memory, always slippery at best, becomes more so with time. We are visiting my South Georgia grandparents for the summer and in a few days we’ll be celebrating July 4th on St. Simons Island. There will be cousins to play with, a picnic dinner, the beach (which I already love passionately) and, best of all, us kids get to stay up late, past 9:00, and see fireworks! Like most kids I know, I imagine an exotic, secret world that bursts open after I am asleep–a world that only adults know about–and I have never seen fireworks before. I’m excited in that jumpy, can’t-stop-talking way so familiar to parents everywhere. Then someone, an aunt or maybe even my adored grandmother, speaks the awful words.

“There’s supposed to be a strong chance of rain that day. We need to make some other plans in case we wind up staying at home.”

In an instant, I feel overwhelmed–almost crushed–by the plain fact that it might, possibly could, rain and ruin what was promising to be one of the most thrilling and enjoyable days of my life. Normally an optimistic and happy child, I am starting to display a bent for the dramatic reaction particularly when confronted with anything perceived as “unfair.” The feeling is entirely sincere and, some of the time, embraces a wider scope than my own pleasure and concerns, but it’s a trial to my parents nonetheless and probably to anyone else within earshot. I know all of this and yet I can’t help myself. I start shedding anxiety like a skin that keeps growing itself and shedding all over again. I am verbal, highly so, about my distress. What I want, what I need, is for someone to assure me that all will be well–that it will, in fact, not rain on the Fourth of July.

Children are often prone to worries and fears, really as much so as adults. I think some adults do have an unfortunate tendency to dismiss childhood fears as silly or merely something to outgrow as quickly as possible.

“There’s a monster under your bed? Wait’ll you have a mortgage and two car payments! Now, go to sleep.”

“Olivia and Caden don’t like you? Well, just be yourself! Besides, in ten years’ time, you’ll have forgotten their names.”

alligatorOf course, that monster is as real as can be–to your young self–and ten years might as well be forever when tomorrow morning, yet again, you’ll have to face the school bus and your classroom where Caden and Olivia loom large.

The parents in Mercer Mayer’s There’s An Alligator Under My Bed don’t believe there is an alligator because they, of course, “never saw it,” so the resourceful young hero devises his own plan of action. This includes luring the creature to the garage with food, including the last piece of pie. I find the story and the illustrations charming (as I do with almost all of Mayer’s work) and I think this book will help children, especially very young ones, confront their own fears and worries.

scaredFor older children, James J. Crist’s What To Do When You’re Scared and Worried can help with all sorts of fears and concerns ranging from concrete worries about bullying, to social anxiety, and phobias.

Tools include journaling and behavior modification exercises, as well as advice to parents about when it might be time to consult an expert. Recommended.

 

I am in my late twenties, living in a shared house with roommates who hate each other, and working at a job that I am convinced is going to kill me with stress. I start waking up in the early morning hours convinced that I’m somehow not living life the way I should. I’m desperately unhappy and yet I don’t know what I need to change. Live alone? Move to San Francisco? Quit the job and just see what happens or look for something else and hope for the best? I feel trapped inside my circumstances. One morning at 4:00 a.m., I wake up with my heart racing and unable to take a full breath and nearly paralyzed by fear. 

“I have to do something,” I whisper aloud. 

I start the yoga relaxation exercises I had learned years before–until I can breathe again. Then, I get out of bed and practice yoga postures until I feel stronger. A month later, I’ve found an apartment and moved out. (Fortunately, the year lease is up and the house’s owners want to sell.) Three months later, I quit the job and I am fortunate enough to find another in a short time. 

I’ve always been a worrier and anxiety has reared its head often in my life. My partner told me recently, “You know there’s a new study that theorizes that people who worry or overthink are likely to be creative geniuses.” “Wow,” I thought to myself. “I could have formulated the Theory of Relativity or written Valley of the Dolls.” This despite the plain fact that I was born too late for either accomplishment, but well… it could have happened.

monkeyI sound flippant here and I don’t mean to be. Anxiety is no laughing matter, though DCPL carries two titles that, in part, depict the humorous aspects of extreme worry. My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind by Scott Stoessel and Daniel Smith’s Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety are both very readable, and often hilarious, memoirs through which fellow sufferers (or those who love them) may find some perspective at least.

yogaAs far as my own anxiety control is concerned, yoga remains a mainstay. Yoga Therapy For Stress and Anxiety: Create a Personalized Holistic Plan to Balance Your Life by Robert Butera, Erin Byron and Stefan Elgelid is a good place to start your exploration of the time-honored practice. The Chemistry of Calm: A Powerful, Drug-Free Plan to Quiet Your Fears and Overcome Your Anxiety by Henry Emmons is another source that emphasizes movement, nutrition and meditation to help calm the over-busy brain.

“It doesn’t matter,” he says. “In the end, it doesn’t matter at all.” Speaking is a friend of mine of many years standing and much beloved. He has survived a long battle with depression and anxiety with the help of therapy and medication and his own persistence. He’s in a slump right now but I have known him long enough to understand that this one is relatively minor, and quiet support and empathy will do more good than jokes or dismay. He has driven me nearly crazy many times through the years, but honestly, I think he’s one of the bravest people I know.

The title of this post is something of a misnomer. Generalized Anxiety Disorder is the accepted designation today for what Freud called “free-floating” anxiety. In very basic terms, it is worry or anxiety unconnected to events or a specific life situation (although it can seem to be). Very few of us enjoy lives free of care–and certainly, I think there are transitional modes of being or feeling that are part of the human condition and that can teach us a great deal if we allow it. Remorse comes immediately to mind. Generalized Anxiety Disorder, however, can be debilitating in the extreme. If that is your situation–and it has been going on awhile or threatens to become all-consuming–then I would urge you to seek out all the assistance and support that you can. Life is too fragile and precious for anything less.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Jacinta Gibbs October 31, 2015 at 6:17 PM

Dear Dea Anne,
Thank you for sharing and addressing an issue many are afraid to mention let alone address. You have helped a lot of people by writing this post!

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