How I Found Out I’m Not Anxious – Just Self-Obsessed

a dangerous method

thank God therapy has come a long way.

I’M SEVEN MINUTES LATE to my therapy appointment. Again.

This makes it the second time in a row that I’ve been late, and I spend every second of my tardiness trying to figure it out why I can’t be on time for this appointment — arguably the most positive and beneficial thing I do for myself — when I’m on time for everything else. Really! I always say that I’m the type to show up early to my own surprise party.

So I start getting upset at myself when I break down the math of every minute I’m paying for, and what it costs me to be late. I go to a dark place: “I might as well light 9 bucks on fire as this money wasted is not just wasted on thin air but the those precious seven minutes lost could be the extra seven minutes that give me that extra lift to carry me through the next two weeks until I see him again.” I zip through the parking lot, which is surprisingly full, but I guess that’s the difference between my usual 8am appointment compared to today’s 10am, and I think: “F**k, how many minutes am I wasting now that I have to look for a spot?” I finally get out of the car and realize my five minute estimation of being late is actually going to be 7.

Wrong again.

I think about what I could have done differently: left earlier, used Waze, parked elsewhere, put my heavy bag in my trunk instead of carrying it with me to keep it from slowing me down. I hustle through the parking lot, my legs like the Roadrunner, into the building lobby, just to arrive at the elevator and have to wait for it to arrive for the first time ever: “Really? Of course. Should have thought of that too.” I finally arrive in the waiting room after what I’m sure seemed like a small storm pushing through the office hallway. I immediately reach for the light switch associated with my therapist’s name (does everyone’s therapist have that?) like I’m running through the tape at finish line. I exhale deeply. As I stop for that first half-second, I am immediately struck with the instant serenity of this place and how noisy my thoughts are in stark contrast. There’s a little fountain with water trickling, not a single magazine features a Kardashian on the cover, and, more importantly, I’m totally alone.

It’s then that I start to wonder how, even though I haven’t said a single word out loud, I feel like I’m screaming. And for what? I’m here. I’m alive. I’m going to sit down with Therp — that’s what I call my therapist to make a joke out of the whole thing. It’s called a defensive mechanism, OK? — and I’ll talk non- stop for an hour (well, 53 minutes, but it’s fine). I realize: I did all that. I created that. That was all me. And that’s why I am here.

I didn’t used to be anxious. I’ve always been ambitious, but I haven’t always been anxious. The two qualities are more alike than they are different. They are really the upside and the rub of each other, and I am pretty sure they are not mutually exclusive. At some point in the last couple of years, anxiety has made my ambition feel like a burden. A recent New York Magazine article titled “Women Twice As Likely As Men to Have Anxiety Because They Have Twice As Much to Be Anxious About” claimed that men under 35 are less likely to suffer from and report anxiety because of how gender roles play out in society. Women make less than men, yet inevitably have to reach a certain place in our careers before we have kids. This takes us off the ladder for a couple of years because we have to take care of our babies and our society is not structured to encourage the healthy nourishment of a family life. Moreover, we have more analytical brains which require more sleep, but we can’t sleep because our over-analytical brains keep us up at night thinking about managing our careers, family, and figuring out how to pay for it all when we work twice as hard and make less than our male counterparts.

This is real. I can see it when I look at the people I love, like my sisters who have young children and are also trying to keep their careers moving. But I’m reminded that as a single woman with no children — just a super-awesome, talented, and smart boyfriend — I have a pretty “gentle” life. That’s what Therp tells me, at least. And it’s true. I mean, no, I don’t make enough money, but I’m close, and actually, in my heart of hearts, the one thing I don’t have anxiety about is my career. I know I’ll get there eventually — I just don’t know when. But when did I start getting anxious about the when? When did my ambition become my anxiety? When did I start putting so many timelines on things? “This needs to happen by this time or I’m a failure” is a thought I have consciously or unconsciously probably thirty times a day, no exaggeration.

These are all questions I ask Therp when I sit down on the couch. (Yes, he has a couch, and no, I don’t lie down on it.) And that’s when he tells it to me straight: “Your anxiety is a self-invented story for yourself that is really just driven by your own ego and self-centeredness.”

Mic drop.

Wow. Yup. That’s me.

This gnawing anxiety I create for myself is the self-fulfilling prophecy behind my analytical episode on my journey over here. And this episode is just a microcosm of my obsessive need to know: “Am I there yet?” My ambition has spun me up so much that it made me turn the world inside and make it all about me, and the energy and time I have spent thinking about myself and only myself has literally made me sick of myself. Anxious of myself. I am not writing this claiming that’s what anxiety is for everybody, but it’s definitely what it is for me. What a rude awakening. I had to pay a lot of my hard-earned money for someone to tell me I have an unhealthy obsession with myself. The pendulum has swung so far in the other direction that I’m not balanced.

With that information, I look back on the last couple of years and, even more specifically, at the last few months, and I realize how I got here: it’s the learning curve of adulting through my 20s. In the first half of my 20s, I spent so much time taking care of other people and their feelings, and doing what people wanted me to do, or behaving a way people wanted me to behave. That took so much energy out of me, forcing me to learn a very hard way to put myself first, while getting comfortable with who I am and not caring what other people think.

Now, I am working to find that balance. I am spending time helping my friends get jobs and supporting them when they don’t, instead of being so focused on mine. I’m getting back in tune with my empathy, which I used to think I was pretty good at. There’s still a good amount of growing to do, but rumor has it everything gets better after 30. Hopefully I get there early.

Or at least on time.