The luxury of sitting with one’s thoughts, examining them minutely as if they were a diamond in your hand, is an undeniable privilege. Just as there are no atheists in foxholes, the number of people in Syria fretting over the tax deadline is likely a single digit. I’m here today to say, however, that I would like my thoughts to please take a seat and shut the fuck up.
I am very grateful I am not being gassed by my own government (yet). I am glad the universe didn’t choose North Korea as my place of birth. I’m lucky I wasn’t born poor. I’m a woman, yeah, but I’m white and straight. Really, the lottery of life has rewarded me well, all things considered.
But everything is relative, right? Whenever I’ve couched my own pain and sorrow about something in the past, a friend of mine would stop me with that statement. Yes, you have a lot of good in your life, but that doesn’t make the bad shit hurt any less. Everything is relative. It is an absolutely correct statement that I am happy my home isn’t being bombed (yet), but that fact offers no comfort when pitted against unrelated woes like debt, loneliness, and why Graceless isn’t yet the most popular site on the internet.
I was raised to be a worrier by one of the best there is. I grew up consumed by a nauseating combination of worries my mother bestowed on me mixed with worries about lies I’d told her to keep her from worrying and harassing me. If you think that sentence is confusing, imagine walking around with that inside of you. This tells you everything you need to know: I distinctly remember thinking, multiple times during childhood, “What do I need to be worrying about?”
That makes me so sad to think back on. When Elon Musk invents time travel, the first place I’m going is my childhood to give her the giant-est hug and tell her she’s going to make it out of there just fine.
Anyway, back to where I was going. The stuff I worried about as a kid was mostly trivial. Some of it was self-preservation in an abusive situation and therefore pretty important at the time, but it generally revolved around curfews, who I was hanging out with, and what my grades were. In college, I stewed over having enough money for beer, avoiding STDs, and graduating (all of which happened, but barely). And up until last year, my adult anxieties were pretty standard too: keeping my kids safe and healthy, paying bills, maintaining a running vehicle, what color to dye my hair, etc.
The past few months, though, my anxiety has been… I don’t even have a word for it. My brain seems to be losing the capacity to process worries. Easily solvable problems not only seem insurmountable, but impossible to even think through. Worry has always given me an odd sense of control. It no longer feels that way.
In worrying about my new form of worry (I know.), I have bandied about several possible reasons for why this is happening. Because, you see, it couldn’t just be as simple as, “there’s a lot of shit going down and you maybe need some new coping mechanisms besides whiskey and Netflix.” Some of the choice ones I came up with included early-onset dementia, bipolar disorder, and “you’re just going crazy.”
The most obvious reason is, of course, the general state of the world. It’s an upsetting time to be a human in general and most especially an American. Our country is falling apart, and we’re being told daily that if you’re not worrying about that fact and acting on it, the bad guys are going to win. They’re going to round up everyone who isn’t a rich white Christian male and herd us into camps for forced fertilization and consumption of Trump Steaks.
Our current world is so screwed up that it’s no longer enough to worry about being a functioning, productive adult; you also need to be anxious about how to run an effective government, which direction to run in an active shooter situation, and whether or not you should pick up the box on your front porch. And those are my worries as a middle-class white woman. Imagine being a black man driving a car (or really, a black man doing anything, but that’s a post I can’t write). The compounding effect of adding such huge, existential crises to our psyches has derailed our brains—or at least it has mine. When mail delivery no longer seems safe, things like how to market a website can spark short circuits.
We’re being bullied into adding an endless list of items to our worry bucket. We’re all doing it to each other, but the enabler of that bullying is, of course, the internet. And it’s emailing, texting, notifying, and messaging us on a near-constant basis, reminding us to come back. Come back to the borg and remind yourself of why you were panicking. Remind yourself to worry. Tired of worrying about the same old stuff? Don’t worry, we have plenty new to offer you. The dings and pings and bells are the modern equivalent of my childhood question: what do we need to be worrying about?
Existence no longer offers an unplug option. We’ve been absorbed into a machine that isn’t going anywhere. Now that I’ve sat with it, I see it—*that* is the worry that has mucked up my brain for months. We can walk away intermittently; wander into the woods for a weekend, delete Facebook and Twitter accounts, turn our phones off and put them in a drawer. But to remain a functioning human, to work and interact and advocate for what’s right—there’s no alternate route. We’re stuck here, in a place that doesn’t respect us very much. And most definitely has no concern for our mental health.
My friend Sera said to me earlier, “It’s okay to admit we have a problem with these devices we’re now required to be on.” We have a big problem, and we need to turn this ship around. I’m tired of these machines bullying me into anxiety. What do we do to fix it?
No, I’m really asking. We got ourselves into this mess together, so let’s see if we can get out of it the same way. How can online communities and conversations become better for our mental health? What can we do to make technology work toward a greater good? Tell me what you think here.