Archives For Anxiety

Alone in the dark

Madame Weebles —  August 5, 2013 — 158 Comments

Over the past few weeks I experienced a particularly nasty bout of insomnia (which, fortunately, has resolved). It happens to me from time to time, for no particular reason. When it happens, I have plenty of extra time to think about all kinds of stuff. You may have seen this New Yorker cartoon:

Insomnia Jeopardy

I have played many, many games of Insomnia Jeopardy, and I’ve added a few more categories:

  • Every regret I’ve ever had
  • How much better my life would be if only X, Y, and Z
  • Why X, Y, and Z haven’t happened yet
  • All the things I meant to do that day but didn’t get around to
  • How will I die?
  • Is there anything in the house to eat that doesn’t involve preparation?

I used to get insomnia as a kid too. Even in those days I worried about a lot of things, including but not limited to:

  • Fire
  • Volcanoes
  • Spontaneous human combustion (actually, I still worry about this)
  • Sharks
  • Monsters
  • UFOs
  • Jack the Ripper

(Bear in mind that I watched a lot of In Search Of… with Leonard Nimoy.)

I’ve always had an odd relationship with the dark. I’m a night owl. I’m not afraid of the dark and I actually like it. Except if I can’t sleep, and especially if I’m the only one awake. Then I hate it. HATE IT.

When I was little, I’d lie there in the dark, afraid that I was the only person awake in the entire neighborhood. That terrified me. So I’d look out the window at the buildings across the street. If I saw a light on, or if I saw someone’s television flickering through the curtains, I felt much better. I felt less alone. If nobody’s lights were on, I’d panic. WHAT IF I’M THE ONLY ONE AWAKE??? I guess it never occurred to me that if something horrible happened, I could (and should) wake up my parents. Instead, I periodically peeked through the blinds to see if anyone had turned on a light. I’m happy to report that not once did I spontaneously combust. And nothing else horrible happened—not on my watch. No volcanic activity, UFO landings, shark attacks, monster sightings, 67-alarm fires, or murders by Jack the Ripper. I might have been only a little girl but dammit, I was vigilant.

I don’t really know why I still dread being the only one awake. I’m not afraid to be alone in general. There’s just something about being up while everyone else is sleeping that really unsettles me. During this latest bout of insomnia, I sat on the balcony every night and conducted a visual sweep of my surroundings, looking for signs of life, longing for the quiet companionship of fellow nocturnals. As usual, if I saw a light in a window or someone walking down the street, I was enormously relieved. Solidarity, friend. I’m here too. One night there were no lights on. No cars, no pedestrians, nothing. It was about 4am. That familiar panic bubbled up. Then I remembered the 24-hour deli and the hospital two blocks away. See, it’s okay. There’s always someone awake nearby.

And then I went back to bed and hoped I wouldn’t spontaneously combust.

Friday greetings and salutations to all!  (Except you. Yeah, you. No, don’t look behind you, you’re the one I’m pointing at.)

Here’s the first thing on my mind today: the expression, “I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.” Maybe I’m just a mean, vengeful bitch, but there’s nothing so bad that I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. In fact, the badder, the better. Being thrown into a volcano? Yes, I would wish that on them. Getting ripped to shreds by a pack of rabid wolves? You betcha. Being flayed and then boiled in oil? Hellz yeah. What if they were chained down, forced to watch an endless loop of Justin Bieber concert footage and given an electric shock each time they tried to close their eyes? I’m cackling gleefully just thinking about it. How about if they had to drink a poison that would kill them slowly and painfully while a throng of teenage girls stood by and viciously mocked them? Get out the popcorn because I’m watching that show.

There’s nothing too bad for my worst enemy, believe me. Even if my worst enemy were subjected to the most nasty, evil, twisted psychological and physical torment that could possibly be dished out, it STILL wouldn’t be bad enough.

This might be too good for my worst enemy.

This might be too good for my worst enemy.

I mean, I’m not talking about my frenemy, my sorta enemy, or my I-don’t-quite-hate-them-enough-to-wish-them-dead enemy. I’m talking about MY WORST ENEMY. If someone has done something vile enough to become my worst enemy, why wouldn’t I wish utter horror on them? Is it just me? It’s just me, isn’t it.

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I have some seriously good ideas for retail stores. Check it out:

  • In Philadelphia, I’d open a bookstore called Written House. (If you know Philly, you know why this is awesome. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the City of Brotherly Love, here.)
  • In Quantico, VA, I’d open a sandwich shop across the street from the FBI headquarters and I’d call it Unsub.
  • In Germany, I’d open a chain of restaurants in all the airports, and I’d call it Luftwaffle.

I can hear you all groaning from here, by the way.

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I frequently have dreams in which I’m still in school and I find out that my final exam is that morning and I haven’t been to class all semester. I know a lot of people who have similar dreams. It seems to me that this kind of anxiety dream must be a fairly modern phenomenon, because up until the 20th century a lot of people didn’t even finish high school.

So what anxiety dreams did people have in previous centuries? Maybe they weren’t school related. Did they wake up in a cold sweat thinking, “OHMYGODIFORGOTTOFEEDTHECHICKENS”? Did they dream that it was almost dark and they didn’t have any candles? Maybe they had more dire dreams, about contracting plague or smallpox? What kinds of stuff would have freaked them out? I wonder about things like this.

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Is there anyone on earth more punchable than John Mayer? Actually, never mind, I just answered my own question. Bieber. I can’t say he’s more punchable, but he’s certainly as punchable.

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Tomorrow is National Lobster Day here in the US. I’m going to celebrate the day by having a lobster for dinner. He’s a finicky eater, though, so I hope he likes what I’m serving.

Demons and ghosts

Madame Weebles —  November 16, 2012 — 169 Comments

(This is not a post about actual demons or ghosts, by the way, sorry.)

There must be something in the air/water/pixels these days.  Maybe it’s the colder weather, less daylight, the upcoming holidays, or a combination of things.  But everyone seems to be having a particularly rough time lately.  Depression, anxiety, life problems, etc.  Other bloggers have eloquently described their own struggles lately, and I wanted to be one of the cool kids so now I’m taking my turn.  I’m not writing this to elicit sympathetic comments; I’m doing it for myself, as an act of defiance, as it were.

We all carry demons and ghosts with us.  You know the ones I’m talking about.  The thoughts that cause us to doubt, fear, flee, self-destruct, etc.  The memories of awful events that cause us pain each time we recall them.  They live in our brains.  Some are louder than others, some are more powerful than others.

My demons have been with me for as long as I can remember.  Some have taunted me since I was very young, others have popped up only sporadically over the years.  The ghosts of people and experiences from my past appear over and over as if they were still real, to remind me of the awful things have happened—and could happen again.

Not long ago, I realized that these demons and ghosts, as destructive as they are, have been trying to protect me—in their own twisted way.

Don’t talk about yourself.  Distract people.  If they got to know you, they’d be disappointed.  It will only hurt you.

Don’t draw attention to yourself.  It will only make people aware of your flaws.  And they’ll end up hurting you.

If you take a risk and stick your neck out, you’ll just get your head cut off.  Don’t do it.

Everyone else is smarter, funnier, more interesting, more successful, prettier, thinner, and generally better than you are.  You need to remember this so you won’t be disappointed when you’re rejected.

This person reminds me of So-and-So for some reason.  Remember how he/she hurt you?  So stay away from this one so you don’t get hurt again.

When someone is mean to you or leaves you, it’s probably your fault somehow.  It’s not them, it’s you.  The only solution is to stay away from people so bad things don’t happen.

Remember that time?  This is just like that.  Get out of this before something bad happens again.

See what I mean?  They’re vicious.  But they’re worried about me getting hurt.  They base their information on my past experiences but they’re looking at everything through a really skewed, negative lens.  They know that telling me I’m worthless is upsetting, but they think it’s less upsetting than if I were to hear it from someone else.

I blindly obeyed them for a long, long time.  I trusted that they were keeping me safe from further pain and rejection.  It’s taken me a long time—and a lot of therapy—to look these demons and ghosts square in the eye and say, “I get what you were doing, and I think you meant well.  Thanks for trying to help me, but you have to go away now.”  They’re stubborn, though, and they don’t go quietly.  They’re also not the most rational things, these demons and ghosts.  You can’t reason with them.  The only thing you can do is forcibly evict them.

The funny thing is, if you met me in real life, chances are you wouldn’t suspect that any of this was going on in my brain.  I suspect I come across as fairly confident.  I don’t have much trouble asserting myself and I can talk to pretty much anyone.  And I really will cheerfully kick the shit out of anyone who truly deserves it.  I can do these things.  Probably because they don’t involve making myself especially vulnerable.  I guess there’s truth in the saying, “The best defense is a good offense.”

I won’t lie to you, it’s been a tough battle, exorcising these demons.  How do you assemble an arsenal to fight these little fuckers when you have “Creep” as your emotional soundtrack?  It’s not easy.  It means throwing away my entire operating system and starting from scratch, alone.  And understanding that self-protection—and self-esteem—are about building myself up and taking risks, not keeping myself down and barricading myself against things that might cause me pain.

So these days, I have to take it on faith that people aren’t scrutinizing me and cataloguing every single flaw—and if they are, then I need to tell myself that they’re the ones with the problem.  I have to remind myself that most people are basically decent and that they aren’t out to hurt me deliberately.  I have to trust that I’m okay, and that the demons are wrong.

Come to think of it, fuck you, demons.

My friends, it’s time for a deep, dark confession.

Many of you, here and on other blogs, have remarked on my kindness.  And I appreciate that very much.

I’ve looked at some of my recent posts to see how I might come across to someone reading them.  I suppose I do seem kind of kind.  And I am.  Sometimes.

But then there’s this post.  As well as this post.  And this one and this one.  Also this.

You see, dear readers, I’m really not all that nice.  I am not a people person.  I get ticked off extremely easily.  I’m one of the most impatient people I’ve ever met.  I have a temper that goes from 0 to 60 in 2.5 seconds.  I get road rage as a pedestrian.  So I think I’ve done the world a great service by choosing not to have a driver’s license.

The message on my cross-stitch pattern is not strictly tongue-in-cheek.

I have no qualms about ripping someone a new one.  There are few things more satisfying to me than taking an arrogant asshat down a few pegs or dressing down an incompetent co-worker.  I enjoy it a lot more than I should.

And then there are my interactions with tourists.  I’ve given plenty of them something to tell their friends back in East Buttfuck:  “Hey, I was cursed out by a New Yorker on the E train!”  If you congregate in front of an escalator or subway door, or if you walk aimlessly while staring at your giant maps, I’m going to make sure you get the hell out of my way.  I’ll start by being polite, but after that all bets are off.

Just the other day someone told me it’s not healthy to be so type A and that I should really slow down and chill out.  But that’s the thing—slowing down and chilling out is what annoys me.  I don’t want to slow down.  I want everything else to speed up.  I feel most Zen when I can go at the speed I want.  Richard Belzer did a great stand-up bit many, many years ago, about how someone said he talked too fast—to which Belzer replied, “No, Sparky, you just listen too slow.”  I understand this completely.

But I digress.

I wanted to share all of this with you because I actually like you guys and want you to know more about who you’re reading here.  So yeah. I’m not Mary Sunshine.  Unless Mary Sunshine is a bitchy 40-something who can be recreationally confrontational and gives basilisk stares to people who piss her off.

Now who wants cookies?

Hello.  My name is Madame Weebles and I’m a trypophobic.

I’m going to go ahead and assume that most of you haven’t heard of trypophobia.  It isn’t one of those phobias that everyone knows about, like claustrophobia or acrophobia.  But it’s real.  Peculiar, but real.  Google it.  You’ll see.

Trypophobia is basically a fear of holes.  Or, more accurately, it’s an extreme aversion to holes.  Or clusters of holes.  Or other clusters of things clumped together.  It’s hard to explain.  Things like honeycombs.  Cracked earth.  Spores.  Seed pods.  Wasp nests.  Holey cheeses.  Closeup images of pores or cells.  Clusters of alien eggs in horror and science fiction movies.  The bubbles that form on the top of pancake batter as the pancakes start to cook.

I’m not just saying that these things gross me out or that I hate looking at them. It’s waaaayyy beyond that. I’m saying that they affect me on a visceral level.  I get physically and mentally repulsed.  I get angry.  I panic and squirm.  I feel nauseated.  I desperately want to flee and wash off all the cooties.

This isn’t something that affects me on a daily basis, fortunately.  If I were a beekeeper I would have a big problem with all those honeycombs, but ordinarily I can go about my days happily, free from offending visuals.  Although every once in a while a television show will sneak in a honeycomb or cracked earth or some other nasty hole-riddled item and I have to close my eyes.  And I have to prepare myself when I watch movies because you never know when they’re going to show some sort of pods or insect sacs or vampire eggs or something.  But I can safely watch cheese commercials because I’m okay with most cheeses.  Most.

This cheese does not upset me.

Yeah, I know, it sounds strange and silly. But hey, if you’re going to have a fear/intense aversion to something, it may as well have some comedy value.

I didn’t even know it was an actual thing until a few years ago.  I assumed it was just my own personal weirdness. Then Mr. Weebles found an article about trypophobia on the Internet—he showed it to me and said, “I think this is what you have.” And sure enough, that was it.  After years of getting wigged out by all kinds of dots and holes, I finally learned that my weirdness had a name!

Nobody really knows what causes trypophobia or why these images trigger this reaction in some people.  There seems to be a genetic component to it because it tends to run in families.  My mother has it too, and I didn’t even know it until I mentioned it in passing several years ago and she said she had the same problem. There are theories that it involves genetic memory—a primitive, instinctive understanding that things with holes can indicate decay, disease, or danger, and should be avoided.  But I don’t know that this sufficiently explains such an intense revulsion.

If you want to have some fun, do an image search for “lotus seed pod” or “Surinam toad.” But be warned: they’re really disgusting, even to a lot of people who don’t generally have an issue with this type of stuff.  But just the idea of them is making me sick and creeped out right now.  It makes me wish I could scrape my retinas to rid myself of those images forever.  Unfortunately, I will always have pod- and toad-related flashbacks.  Those horrific little fuckers will haunt me until the day I die.

Okay, I have to go and throw up now.

Many bloggers have shared their experiences with the Writing Process. The writer’s block. The procrastination. The dilemma about where to go with a plot or a character. The battle with characters who start going in directions you weren’t expecting. The back-and-forth between “My God, this paragraph is magnificent. I am a fantastic writer!” and “All of my writing sucks ass.”

I feel your pain.

I don’t know much about the specific agonies involved in writing fiction or poetry because I haven’t done either of them since college. But I know it can be slow and agonizing work. You have to keep track of a lot of things I don’t have to worry about: characters, settings, plot development, etc. I take my hat off to all of you.

My writing is historical non-fiction, which brings its own kind of hell. Not worse than that of the fiction writers or poets, just different. Some of my challenges are probably similar to those experienced by historical fiction writers or anyone else who has to drape their content over a factual framework.

For too long, historical writing had an unfortunate reputation as being mind-numbingly dry, dusty collections of names, dates, and places. Fortunately, over the past 20 years or so, many writers have admirably demonstrated that history is full of all kinds of juicy, exciting tales, complete with adventure, mystery, intrigue, and naughty bits. There are heroes, villains, dirtbags, sluts, idiots, geniuses, and hot guys and gals. And the truth is often stranger than fiction.

My particular interest is in writing about people and events that nobody’s ever heard about. Even the people I’ve written about in this blog—most of their stories aren’t often told. I like the idea of “resurrecting” people who have been lost to history. I care about them because of who they were, what they accomplished, how they lived their lives, what they left behind. I want to do them justice.

Which brings me to my challenge at the moment. See, I’m writing a biographic piece on this guy. Perhaps you remember him.

Robert Cornelius wasn’t just a dreamily handsome face rivaling that of Pierce McKennon or Rupert Brooke; he was a brilliant and innovative guy. And except for a lame entry in Wikipedia and some other random blurbs about him, there is absolutely nothing out there about him. When I discovered that he was all but forgotten, I knew I had to write about him.

As you might have suspected, I’m hugely biased when it comes to Mr. Robert Cornelius. I feel like I’m back in high school, getting all tongue-tied and freaked out at the idea of talking to a cute guy. So when I sit down to write, I get all nervous and can’t think of anything. Or I babble for a few pages before realizing that I really haven’t said much of anything worthwhile. And then I panic. Here’s a sample of the dialogue that takes place between me and my brain:

Judgmental Brain of Madame Weebles: Dude, WTF? You’re going to rewrite that, aren’t you??

Madame Weebles: Why, is it really bad?

Judgmental Brain of Madame Weebles: He’s going to think you’re an idiot. And it’s not interesting. You make him sound boring. He’ll be insulted. And you need to rewrite this whole section too.

Madame Weebles: What’s wrong with it?

Judgmental Brain of Madame Weebles: It’s terrible. It reads as if you originally wrote it in English, then translated it into Chinese, then translated it back into English. I can practically hear him rolling his eyes at you.

Madame Weebles: Okay, fine, I’ll tinker with it some more.

Judgmental Brain of Madame Weebles: Also, what the hell are you wearing? This is what you wear when you write about him? Seriously? Put on something decent, for crying out loud. Fix your hair. And maybe put on some lipstick. Wait, what is that, is that food in your teeth??

Madame Weebles: Oops. It’s a poppy seed. What does it matter? He can’t see me.

Judgmental Brain of Madame Weebles: How do you know? He could be hovering over us right this minute, thinking, “Boy, I wish a better, more attractive writer were working on my biography. Just my luck I get one who doesn’t even check her teeth before writing about me.” Do you want him to think that?

Madame Weebles: No, of course not!

Judgmental Brain of Madame Weebles: Hmmm, what’s that on your chin? Shit, woman, you’re getting a pimple. That’s it, shut it down. We can’t write like this. There is no way I’m letting you write about him when you have a zit on your face.

Madame Weebles: Um, okay. I guess.

So there it is. The anxieties of talking to a crush combined with writer’s block all in one. My palms are getting sweaty just thinking about it.

All I know is, after I finally finish writing this biography, I’m looking for someone less attractive to write about.