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Michelle Motoyoshi

Michelle Motoyoshi
March 22
I don't know anything about this blogger business. I'm just a concerned nobody with something to say and access to the internet -- What? That's what a blogger is? Oh...


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AUGUST 31, 2009 9:54PM

The Upside of Anxiety

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   The day before my outpatient shoulder surgery, in anticipating how things would go, I was offered the opportunity to do something I hadn’t done in a while.   Have an anxiety attack.
    I was still good at it.  It was like riding a bike.  I hopped right back on the anxiety cycle and weeeee!  Off I went.  Before I knew it I had bequeathed my belongings to my loved ones, lamented that I would never see my daughter marry, said “I love you” to everyone I ever cared about, and left instructions on where to disperse my ashes.  That night as I lay in bed, a parade of morbid thoughts agitated my mind into a wakefulness not even desperate fatigue could knock out.  What if this is my last day on earth?  Have I any regrets? Will anyone miss me? Is there an afterlife? Will my husband remember to put the trash out without me to remind him?
    Of course, the surgery came and went without a single glitch.  All went as expected, and I woke up in recovery, groggy but very much alive.  It seems my worry was all for naught, just like my husband said when he yelled at me at 3am the night before, after I had poked him awake to tell him I didn’t want his new wife to wear any of my jewelry. 
    Convalescing at home after the surgery, I wondered if my anxiety truly was a complete and utter waste of my mental resources.  Or was there some underlying benefit, some enriching purpose it served?
    I began to think about the other attacks of anxiety I had experienced in recent memory.  Like the time my husband took my 4 ½ year old daughter on the tilt-a-whirl, and I had to sit on a bench, my head between my knees, so I wouldn’t pass out and be unable to strangle my husband for endangering my child on that catastrophe of nuts and bolts.  Or the time I went on my scuba certification dives, and upon noting the unrelenting murkiness of the water, announced that scuba diving is for sanity-challenged danger junkies with a death wish, and I was far too normal to do it.  Or the one and only time I went skiing.  Or every time I’ve gotten on a plane.  Or on a boat.  Or in any vehicle I didn’t happen to be driving.  Or out of bed… 
    Okay, so my husband had a point.  On a very obvious level one could consider anxiety a fruitless expenditure of mental resources.  It didn’t help me enjoy or appreciate any of these activities.  Truth be told, it sucked the fun right out of them.  Anxiety chained me to my comfort zone, preventing me from taking risks and experiencing something new, and for my clever evasion of trouble all I got were sweaty palms, a dry mouth and a room-clearing case of gas.  Worse, it didn’t change anything.  The tilt-a-whirl still tilted and whirled, planes still flew, divers dove.  My worry didn’t render the world any more or less safe.  Life went on regardless.
    Like all good wives, however, I would not concede totally to my husband, and thus decided to scour my experiences to find evidence that would prove him wrong, or at least less right.  My ruminations convinced me that anxiety does indeed have a few benefits.  For one thing, anxiety instantly reminds you that your heart is still beating.  This is always good to know in that instant right before your shortness of breath causes you to pass out.  Then for those of us who don’t exercise regularly, anxiety may be our heart’s only aerobic workout.  One hundred and twenty beats per minute? Ha! We panickers can top 200, and we can sustain it for a distressingly long time, or collapse trying.  Additionally, anxiety warns us that danger may be near.  Granted, it’s like setting off an air raid siren when a gentle beep would do.  But being reminded to exercise a measure of caution in challenging or even threatening circumstances can often prove prudent.  Indeed, that is the very reason we have the capacity to feel anxious in the first place.  We wouldn’t have survived long with out it.
      The most important and consistently overlooked benefit of anxiety is it lets you know where you stand on existing.  If you don’t care about your well-being, if you feel ready to relinquish this world for the next, you have no need for anxiety. If scuba diving carried no risk of harm or death, would I have panicked?  No.  If surgery never went wrong, would anxiety have seized me?  No.  It’s only when the possibility – however remote – of injury or death exists that anxiety can take hold. Simply put, anxiety is your psyche shouting, “I want to live!”   So no matter how sorry or boring or screwed up your life may seem, if you panic, rest assured you are not ready to pack it up.  You love life, and you want to keep living it.  Which means somewhere inside you, you have the desire and the potential to work past your anxiety and put it in its proper place.  
      Recognizing this advantage of anxiety, I realized I didn’t have to hate myself for panicking, nor did I have to exorcise the demon completely from my being.  A degree of anxiety was normal, perhaps at times, healthy. I wasn’t a freak of nature who should be completely overhauled; I just needed some work in the trusting-myself-and-the-world department.  I could work on that. 
      Several months after my surgery, my husband and I got the opportunity to go river rafting.  The familiar pangs of anxiety threatened to overwhelm me once again.  This time I recognized what they were all about, and that took my anxiety down a notch.  I told my husband I’d be happy to go.  Right after I notified my next of kin.

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comedy, health, anxiety, humor, psychology

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