Anxiety and Never-Not

8 Jun

I have never not been a worrier.

I can’t remember a time when the unappeasable spectre of What If wasn’t buried somewhere deep in my brain. It’s been there since before I can remember; certainly before I had any real names for it. Before I had words like anxiety or apprehension or intrusive thoughts, it was there, shivering and electric.

I say never not instead of always, because the former implies the possibility of an absence.

As a kid, I was obsessed with the binary of good/bad. There were good kids, like Heather, who smiled and ate everything on her plate and did whatever she told and never seemed to feel squinched up and mean inside. Then there were kids like Jay, who used art time exclusively to draw pictures of penises urinating some kind of black tar-like substance. It seemed pretty clear to me early on which side of the line I was on: I struggled to behave and do what was expected of me, and also I thought Jay’s dick pics were hilarious. I didn’t want to be a bad kid, but it seemed like I didn’t have a choice; it was a sort of malignancy that grew and grew in me, no matter what I did. I tried not to talk too much or interrupt or fidget, but my efforts lasted an hour or two at most. And meanwhile Heather smiled serenely, secure in the knowledge that she would never feel the impulse to scrawl a pair of hairy testicles across a pink sheet of construction paper.

I wish I could say I accepted my badness with glee, but I didn’t. Instead, I thought about how all of my teachers must hate me. Sometimes it was all I could think about, although that didn’t stop me from doing bad things.

I stopped sleeping the summer I turned seven, because I was sure that I would die in my sleep. I became obsessed with the idea that I might stop breathing and, if I wasn’t awake, wouldn’t be able to think myself into taking a breath again. How was I supposed to trust my fluttering, fragile body to take care of itself through the long, black hours of sleep? I remember the nights stretching out lonely and miserable in front of me and wishing so hard that I could just be unconscious. I didn’t want to play. I didn’t want to read. I didn’t even want to watch TV. I just wanted to not think about dying every time I closed my eyes. I thought up funny ways to try to alleviate my anxiety – like holding my breath until I passed out (which didn’t work), or sleeping in the hallway so that if I did stop breathing one of my parents could find me and quickly resuscitate me (this just meant that I got tripped over a lot). Nothing worked.

And then one day the fear went away as easily as it had come.

I used to love the high that worrying gave me – the hours before a test or a recital when I would ride the wave of glittering panic, my fingers and toes tingling with anticipating. Then I would feel the heavy needle of my anxiety shift into its groove as I sat down at my desk or stepped out onto the stage, and with my adrenaline-flushed cheeks I would outshine everyone else. Worrying made me a superbly good performer. Afterwards I would crash, hard. There was never a moment of triumph, no feeling of success – only a weepy, high-strung post-performance haze.

When I was older, I started making up rituals – they were for “good luck” I said, although what I really meant was that if I didn’t do them I would have bad luck. One of them involved spelling out a series of words in sign language; I would do this either behind my back or next to my thigh whenever I thought about it, which was often. Another had something to do with running from the fridge to the dining room table and back again before the fridge door closed – if I was able to do this even just once while setting the table, then none of the things I worried about would happen. I fully gave myself over to magical thinking, because even thought I knew logically that doing these things wouldn’t change my luck, I couldn’t stop the What If machine in my head. I still can’t stop it – it’s whirring and buzzing in my head as I type this, speeding up my clunking thoughts just as I should be settling down for the night.

I wish I could tell you that there’s an end to anxiety. I wish I could say that I took a pill or discovered the healing power of long walks or learned transcendental meditation, but none of that would be true. Every day this awful beast scoops me up in its huge maw and shakes me until my bones clink together. Some days I can outrun him for longer than others, but there’s never a time when he doesn’t catch me.

I am still an excellent performer, and I still crash and cry afterwards. I jitter and skitter through my days, gritting my teeth through the intrusive thoughts until I can drug myself to sleep at night. By now, this is the only way I know how to manage things; it’s a system of sorts. although it doesn’t offer much relief.

I can’t say what my life would look like without anxiety, but I know that even with it, I’ve managed to create something good. That might sound absurdly hopeful, but I can’t help it. The only way to live with it is to be absurd about it, even in the face of all the known facts. So I pace and cry and don’t sleep and drag myself to therapy and take my pills and believe so hard in never-not instead of always. The idea that this jolting misery could be here forever is unbearable, so I stick with never not when I can.

I have never not lived like this.

But I could someday.



47 Responses to “Anxiety and Never-Not”

  1. deadcatcomesback June 8, 2015 at 3:02 am #

    “Every day this awful beast scoops me up in its huge maw and shakes me until my bones clink together.”– great description.

  2. Amanda Martin June 8, 2015 at 6:53 am #

    Liking this post doesn’t seem right, but I like never-not xxx

  3. colinandray June 8, 2015 at 7:09 am #

    Maybe you could live without stress. Maybe we all could, but would we be so driven? If we backed away from every stressful situation, would we confront anything? Would we give “that relationship” a chance? Would we even drive after all, traffic accidents are a common occurrence? Would we have started Blogs and, more importantly, would we have exposed ourselves in them for the world to see? It could be argued that less stress would be nice but then, how are you going to measure it …….. and isn’t that adrenalin boost of stress origin?
    Perhaps I have missed your point but, it seems to me that, if you look at the high achievers of our world….. the musicians, the athletes, the motivational speakers, public figures in general etc., then you are in good company. They too have their own ways (sometimes quirky) of dealing with stress and, like you, present an apparent flawless performance. Doesn’t that make you ………. pretty normal! 🙂

  4. loladashuri June 8, 2015 at 8:29 am #

    Reblogged this on This is SO going on my blog… and commented:
    Really interesting and honest look at childhood anxiety

  5. ItalianHurricane June 8, 2015 at 9:11 am #

    I have different kind of rituals, but I have them too! Even though it feels impossible right now, I still hope it might get better in the future. My therapist says so, and I like to trust her on this one, as hard as it can be! 🙂

  6. heartofthems June 8, 2015 at 11:09 am #

    Could have written this myself! (Though not nearly as well.) I love your thoughts! I’m a chronic worrier, and as much as I wish I could change, almost thirty-five years has told me I probably won’t.

    Also totally understand the good vs. bad. I wanted to be “good” sooo bad…it’s just impossible. And I’ve finally given up and feel free!!!

  7. Jamie June 8, 2015 at 11:30 am #

    This was absolutely gorgeous writing. Your style fascinates me. I completely was entranced by this post. Beautiful. Painful. Sincere. And so easy to relate to. Every word.

  8. morgan12815 June 8, 2015 at 12:15 pm #

    Wow. This is amazingly written and so true of so many of us. The creepiest thing about the way your post resonated me was in your rituals. I used to do the sign language thing too! I would spell the words out letter by letter because I literally knew no words in sign language. These sentences could be lengthy too– but that didn’t stop me. I could be standing among a whole crowd of people– but that couldn’t stop me.

    The hardest part for me is people’s lack of understanding. One day there was another car parked in the parking lot of the gym me and my boyfriend would regularly go to— it was usually empty. Anxiety paralyzed me and I was drowning in tears. I didn’t want a stranger in my gym– I didn’t want them staring at me– judging me– God forbid, they might strike up conversation with me. I will never forget the way my boyfriend looked at me… like he was watching someone in a mental institution who had lost any hope of recovery….. Yet somehow, I found myself in one yet.

    The fact that you feel this way too, makes me feel that maybe I’m not crazy– We’re just another breed. “Never not” I LOVE THAT. Thank you so much.

  9. sunshineandseersucker June 8, 2015 at 2:23 pm #

    You are a beautiful writer, thank you for sharing.

  10. laughinglife June 8, 2015 at 2:25 pm #

    I used to have that same race against the fridge door too! Really inspiring post, the Never-Not is such a great way to understand and approach the issue and I wish you all the best.

  11. ainsobriety June 8, 2015 at 3:10 pm #

    I have moved towards less anxiety. After a lifetime pretending I was ok.
    Quitting drinking, my anxiety crutch that has turned on me badly, yoga, medication, therapy.

    Most days I no longer worry. I let what is just be.

    Some days it sneaks in and surprises me. Those paralyzingly fears. Sudden and incapacitating.

    But they go away again.

    The freedom I find in a quiet mine is unbelievable. And precious.

    I like the quote worrying is praying for what you don’t want. Remembering that helps me.

    Thank you for your beautiful post. It stokes so close to my heart.


  12. neighsayer June 8, 2015 at 4:15 pm #

    in the middle of something, I’ll be back to read this ASAP, but I just wanna say, I recently had an insight into the fact that I have been stressed out forever, and stupider because of it, and have only in the last few years actually relaxed a couple of times for a week or three – and now I know I need to.
    K, read ya later…

  13. Lauren June 8, 2015 at 4:46 pm #

    “When I was older, I started making up rituals – they were for “good luck” I said, although what I really meant was that if I didn’t do them I would have bad luck…..”
    Finally I feel not alone or crazy with this! Mine started in my early teens and still controls me over 10 years later! Medication doesn’t do much in terms of rituals for me , just takes the edge off the constantly sickly feeling.
    You should be proud of yourself for writing this! Thank you

  14. Nikole June 8, 2015 at 6:11 pm #

    What a beautifully written post. I am in the never not club as well. I would love to relinquish my membership. Maybe someday. Maybe. Thank you for your words.

  15. andreakbeltran June 8, 2015 at 6:26 pm #

    Thank you for this.

  16. gigoid June 8, 2015 at 6:29 pm #

    Yes, You Are,

    It sounds to me as if you may have an overactive adrenal gland…. You might consider cannabinoid therapy; there are a number of cannabinoid oils which will help reduce that anxiety, without altering your psyche, or getting you “high”. They act only on those receptors in the nervous system which deal with feelings of fear and anxiety, without altering perceptions… and, it’s a natural substance which encourages the body to heal itself, with NO side effects when taken correctly… The ONLY possible side effects are some dizziness when the dose is far too strong…

    Also, learning to meditate might help as well…

    However, I also say you HAVE adjusted well, to an uncomfortable mind-set, turning it, as you say, into a positive, at least in the results, if not your comfort…

    I also congratulate you on your most excellent application of introspection, which a great many of the people alive today don’t do AT ALL, to their own detriment…. Keep that up, for sure; we must know ourselves if we are to deal with the world well….

    Good luck, and Blessed Be, little sister…

    gigoid, the dubious….


  17. Rosie June 8, 2015 at 6:37 pm #

    Thank you so much for writing this. I have done and felt so many of these things and while medication has helped, anxiety is always just a trigger away. I always thought I was just a weirdo because I was told I was just a “worrier” and no one else talked about it. While I wouldn’t wish anxiety on anyone, I don’t feel like such weirdo when I hear stories like yours. Wishing you peace. ❤

  18. Ruth June 8, 2015 at 7:36 pm #

    Great post, love it! 🙂

  19. Alex Könst June 9, 2015 at 4:14 am #

    “I can’t say what my life would look like without anxiety, but I know that even with it, I’ve managed to create something good. That might sound absurdly hopeful, but I can’t help it.” It’s the same thing for me too.

  20. gina amos June 9, 2015 at 4:52 am #

    Thanks for your posts. They’re always so insightful.

    I thought you might like to consider this: human beings are meant to worry. When our early ancestors roamed the earth co-existing with the saber-toothed tigers and hairy mammoths, they worried about finding shelter from predators and the elements, worried about where their next meal was coming from and when they would have sex so they could pass on their genes to ensure the continuation of the species. If they were to survive they needed to worry!!!

    Most of us situation don’t have the worry of day to day survival but the need to worry instinct is hard-wired. Unfortunately, some of us are more anxious than others but we all have worries, ‘will I get that pay rise I’ve been working so hard all year to get? Does my bum look big in these jeans? Can I afford to buy that apartment or go on that overseas trip? Am I good enough, attractive enough?’ And so the list goes on.

    I’m sure worrying is hereditary. My mother was a worrier, I’m a worrier, my daughter is a worrier. Maybe we should all stop worrying about worrying.

  21. Tom June 9, 2015 at 10:53 am #


    This is a really powerful piece. I know from my experience that there are too many children suffering with anxiety, and not getting enough help.


  22. sailingthetethys June 9, 2015 at 11:34 am #

    You captured so much of the story of my own life in this. Although I hate the thought of others feeling this, it’s nice to feel there’s others to whom I can relate on this level. Thank you

  23. saymber June 9, 2015 at 1:17 pm #

    If you haven’t read A Man for Himself by Erich Fromm you might pick it up – it might help you understand the origin of your anxiety, worry habit. I too had this habit – thought about death a lot very young – mainly because my Mother committed suicide before I was a year old – only 26. I was certain I wouldn’t live past 26…but I have….47 now! The first step to recovery/acceptance is acknowledgement “-P

  24. Lauren June 9, 2015 at 1:24 pm #

    Good post.

    I too had a childhood full of anxiety. I consider it to have stemmed from not being good enough in some way, to someone, everywhere I went. And the opposite of good is…? I think that the ‘not good enough’ came from not fitting societal expectations of what a ‘little girl’ or ‘young lady’ should be. Instead of praise for my talents, all I experienced was reprimand for my failings. This is essentially, lack of support. Topped up with sexual abuse and its associated blackmail, and unwelcome attention from other male relatives, I snapped, took an overdose, ended up in the child psychiatric system aged 13, and have lived with crippling anxiety all my adult life.

    I remember comments such as ‘Why can’t you act like a young lady?’ And it is an act. Makes me think of the quotation ‘A women is made, not born.’ Who said that?

    I don’t think chronic anxiety is normal. I think this state of mind is entirely avoidable, if care and support are shown in the formative years. To allow a person to be themselves is perhaps the greatest gift from a parent. And it could be the serene Heather was just playing a role to fit into what her parent’s requirements were, for her to be loveable to them.

    I’ve found Arthur Janov’s writing to be very good on this subject. Also, R D Laing, Dorothy Rowe, Alice Miller.

  25. shakesperoine June 9, 2015 at 4:03 pm #

    Reblogged this on Why I'm Not Perfect and commented:
    I really related to this. Thank you for posting!

  26. SeriousRachel June 9, 2015 at 8:46 pm #

    Wow, did this resonate. Especially the bits about magical thinking. Never thought about those types of rituals in terms of anxiety, but it certainly makes sense.

    I’m glad you have found ways to channel your anxiety into something productive, even as you continue to try to outrun it. You can do this. You are doing this. “This” is whatever you make it.

    Thank you, as always, for sharing your experiences and insights.

  27. jodiethalegend June 10, 2015 at 10:52 am #

    Oh, I am feeling this at the moment. It doesn’t help that my partner seems to think I can just choose to turn it off like a switch and the fact that I don’t do that means I must enjoy feeling like I can’t move or do anything and all I can do is cry. Mine leaves me alone for days on end and then turns up out of nowhere to cripple me for no reason I can fathom. I have heart problems, but I consider that my anxiety and depression are more likely to kill me than my dodgy heart. If there was an operation or drug that would make them go away for good I would be all over it.

  28. georgefinnegan June 10, 2015 at 2:19 pm #

    I have gotten anxiety attacks for a variety of reasons throughout my life. There’s a running joke at family reunions about how they are firmly etched into our family’s genes. However, recently I learned a way to deal with them that is taught in Zen practice and that seems to work well, for me, at least. They usually come in the middle of the night, after I have awakened. The idea is to lay back, momentarily stop the thoughts that accompany the attack, and just see what is there. I noticed massive swirls of color before my ‘eyes’ (or, in my mind). I get a sense of a huge amount of energy in my mind. Then, I envision myself stepping into it – letting ‘myself’ dissolve into the energy. It feels amazing! It’s incredible how enjoyable anxiety attacks are when you can put down the thoughts that go with them! There’s a huge amount of mental energy that goes with them, and, without the fear they usually create, they really do feel good. At that point, I fall asleep. When I waken the next day, I feel more confident about the situation that caused the attack and the bulk of the anxiety is gone. Now, I wished I could have an anxiety attack. The thing about that is, once the mind gets to a point where it is actually looking forward to something like that, it just won’t happen. So, for now, I just live my life. But, when it happens again, I’ll gladly play with it.

  29. Living,Observing and Writing June 10, 2015 at 5:47 pm #

    You’re stress and anxiety seems like a blessing in disguise, its you’re secret power that, unbeknownst to it, gives you direction, since you’re a driven women, you let it drive you. I really enjoyed the descriptive language, very well written.

  30. zacharykmiller June 11, 2015 at 2:53 am #

    I really enjoyed this article… I myself am riddled with anxiety and a performer…Like you I am always worried about every little thing, but then I think that if I did not have “what if” buried in my head…I wouldn’t be in the same place I am now. I wouldn’t have taken every precaution to further and protect my career..

    Thanks for writing this!

  31. laughinglife June 11, 2015 at 4:14 pm #

    I couldn’t stop thinking about this after I read it so I posted my own little speculative response and gave you a mention: – have a read and let me know what you think! Thank for your intriguing thoughts.

  32. Penny June 14, 2015 at 9:55 am #

    I found I got a lot less anxious and worried about things when I got pregnant…I realised that the biology of being pregnant meant that the fetus development happened at its own pace and no need to interfere or worry, you can’t hurry things along…(made sure that I ate properly and rested needless to say)….and just learned to let time take its own course….this helped me a lot to realise that you can only control so much anyway..and I found after the birth that I did worry less and took matters more in stride…same with my child’s growing up development…you can’t hurry and make them sit up, crawl, stand, walk faster, than they ready to do…I got a bigger and better understanding of time…this helped me worry less and be less anxious. I hope other parents have found this too. Having children can be very beneficial in many different ways.

  33. sarahthesailor June 15, 2015 at 1:25 am #

    I love this a lot. As a fellow blogger who writes about anxiety, I can totally relate to your struggles. You have made something beautiful out of your anxiety and I hope to do the same.

  34. danni143 June 17, 2015 at 12:16 am #

    Reblogged this on FormulaicMadness.

  35. swatikansal June 22, 2015 at 6:45 pm #

    Reblogged this on The Minute Muse.

  36. Ben June 23, 2015 at 4:53 am #

    I relate to this so much; thank you.

  37. johnberk June 30, 2015 at 3:01 pm #

    Very accurate description, not just of some of my own feelings during the childhood, but also now in my adulthood. The bad guys are always the ones that are more charismatic, and I appreciate their ability to pretend not to care. That’s something that makes them special. Good people are caring, and are stressed in the end. Even the contractor you hire can be bad, but in a way that you don’t want him to be. So it seems that we are facing an eternal dilemma on which side to put ourselves.

  38. Ysabel Andrea July 2, 2015 at 4:28 pm #

    I might tattoo never-not somewhere on my body. But I know what you mean by never not being a worrier. Because I am one. 🙂

  39. lizzd13 July 3, 2015 at 10:48 pm #

    Reblogged this on feelingsfanatic.

  40. newagemaiden July 12, 2015 at 5:49 pm #

    Hi there, after reading your post I have nominated you for the ‘Once a Victim Now a Survivor Award’. You are not obligated to accept, but if you would like to you can find the details on this link:
    The reason I have chosen your site is due to your attitude towards anxiety, I think it is amazing. The fact that you are so honest and straight shooting allows people to see that it isn’t something to be ashamed of or hide away. Great writing 🙂
    New Age Maiden xx

  41. WalkWithPeace August 20, 2015 at 5:01 pm #

    Powerful sharing. Thank you.

  42. jesvalentine December 7, 2015 at 5:45 am #

    Holy shit! I could write every word of this from an autobiographical standpoint and keep almost every word! As a child, I would compulsively spell words that got “stuck” in my head. I’d have to spell them four times or the “bad luck” monster would be unleashed. If I accidentally touched one of my fingertips to my thumb, I’d have to touch all of my fingertips to my thumb on both hands, simultaneously, forward then backward four times lest the demons be unleashed. I still have to drug myself to sleep every night or I will not sleep…AT ALL. Now, it’s as if my mind is a boxfan, stuck on the highest setting, and the horrors of my catestrophic imagination are stuck in the blades…like playing cards in the spokes of a child’s bike wheel…endlessly spinning…”what if” this…”what if” that…”when will” this…or “oh my God THAT!!!” No wonder I’m so chronically exhausted!!! LOL

  43. Ebenezer Scrooge December 8, 2015 at 6:23 pm #

    This world will usually treat people with depression with pills and counseling, but I had an experience where a guy at church picked me up and ever since–I’ve been able to lift my eyes and get back onto my feet out of 10+ years of depression. I still have to take meds for other features (now they have newer stuff other than the older SSRI’s), and I still like to think I am put on these meds to understand what happened to another family out there in Ohio for the past 15 years after the pastor blasted my head on purpose…but I am doing a lot better now, more alert, etc etc. So if this guy has the Holy Spirit in him, I believe that God can heal.

  44. artisanne101 June 23, 2016 at 2:20 pm #

    Reblogged this on LISA ECHEBIRI'S BLOG and commented:
    This is a post by Anne Thériault, my favourite blogger in the whole world. Long story short, read it, if like me, and like so many people, you’re a worrier on the road to becoming a warrior.


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