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Love In The Age Of The 24-Hour News Cycle


by Rachel W. Miller, Contributor

Love In The Age Of The 24 Hour News Cycle | A Practical Wedding

Last week was rough. It was rough for different people in different ways. There were members of the APW community way to close to the horror in Boston on Monday. There were lots of you locked down in Boston on Friday. There were those of you close to, or with loved ones in and near West, Texas. There were people, like me, who had lived through different kinds of terror and were finding their PTSD triggers all being hit at once. Then there were the many glued to the news, afraid and/or sad. As I’ve gotten older, and built my own family, I’ve found that bad news hits me in a different way. The fear of losing a child or a partner can quickly wrap it’s icy cold fingers around my heart. News cycles like last week shake me up in a whole new way. Today’s post by Rachel Wilkerson explores the fear that pops up after national tragedies, and the everyday fear that keeps us up at night worrying about our loved ones.

Meg

Love In The Age Of The 24 Hour News Cycle | A Practical Wedding

If you’d asked me three years ago to list the things I am afraid of, this would have been my list:

1. Sharks.

2. Having someone break into my apartment to rape and kill me.

That was it. I don’t know if it’s really all that rational or not, but it’s a pretty short list, and I never felt like it was affecting my quality of life.

Now? Now I need a damn outline.

I. Fears about kidnapping, assault, rape, and murder

A. I’m the victim and a stranger is the perpetrator.

B. I’m the victim and MY HUSBAND IS THE PERPETRATOR.

C. I’m the victim and nobody cares because I’m not a pretty white woman.

D. Someone I care about is the victim.

II. Fears about my future children

A. They will be bullied.

B. They will bully someone else.

C. They will be kidnapped, assaulted, raped, and murdered.

D. They will kidnap, assault, rape, or murder someone.

E. Wait, am I even going to be able to have children?!?!

III. Fears about diseases

A. I will get a disease.

i. Every time I have a stomachache or a headache, I’m clearly dying.

ii. I’m worried that this chicken isn’t cooked all the way through and also, even though I wore latex gloves when I was touching that chicken and washed my hands (and nails too, duh), I’m still afraid to touch anything in the kitchen for the rest of the night.

iii. I’m really stressed that I’m not getting to the gym enough to lower my stress, which will keep me from dying from being stressed because STRESS KILLS.

B. Someone I love will get a disease.
i. The people I love clearly do not eat enough vegetables to keep them from dying young.

ii. YOU FORGOT TO WEAR SUNSCREEN GOLFING?! ARE YOU TRYING TO MAKE ME A WIDOW AT THIRTY?!?!

C. Don’t forget about that recent flesh-eating bacteria case.

IV. Fears that the Mayans were right, we just had the date wrong

A. Natural disasters.

B. The War on Women.

C. Economic collapse.

D. The Hunger Games really happens.

For a long time, I managed to avoid most of these irrational fears by simply not watching the evening news. But then I moved in with Eric. Suddenly I had this additional person who I was now terrified of losing, and said person typically has the TV on. His go-to shows include Law & Order: SVU, Dan Rather Reports, and the endless stream of war, aliens, and apocalypse programming on H2. It got into my head, big time. It basically turned me into my mother, who, on any given night can be found in the kitchen close to midnight, eating milk and cookies as a serious-sounding voiceover says, “…Linda had always told her friends and family that she feared one day Frank would kill her.” These shows were the only explanation I could come up with for the fact that she became seriously worried if I didn’t update my blog or Facebook status for a couple of days. I found her fear ridiculous…and yet two years later, when I wasn’t able to get ahold of Eric for several hours, the following thoughts went through my head in a twenty-minute period:

  • He had lost his phone.
  • His phone had been stolen.
  • His car had been broken into.
  • He had gotten a DUI after leaving his poker game and didn’t know my number by heart so I couldn’t be his one phone call. (I briefly imagined him asking the police if they had a computer where he could just Facebook me.)
  • His apartment had been broken into and he had been there and so the intruder shot him—and without a phone, he couldn’t call for help.
  • He had died of natural causes in his apartment.
  • He was breaking up with me.
  • He had been kidnapped.
  • He had been mugged.
  • There had been an attempted mugging but then they just went ahead and kidnapped him.
  • He had been in a car accident.
  • He had a gambling addiction so he had bet his phone in the poker game and then lost it.
  • The poker game had gotten heated and someone had pulled a gun.
  • His office had been taken hostage by a former employee who was going postal.

That last one was when I realized I had turned into my mother, so I did what my mom would do: I got online at four in the morning to look for car accidents, break-ins, and hostage situations in Houston. Nothing. I tossed and turned until morning. When my alarm went off, I called him again. At this point, I was worried that the murderer was going to answer. Then I started to freak out that there might be semi-scandalous pictures of me on that phone, which the murderer now had access to. What if they texted me back pretending to be Eric to lure me into a situation where they could try to get a piece of that? When, at 7:58, I finally got a text from him saying that he had left his phone at a job site much earlier the day before, I nearly burst into tears…and realized exactly what love can do to a person. The only thing to fear is fear itself? You got that right. I was afraid of how terrified I was of losing him.

In an effort to avoid moments like those, I cut myself off from the majority of the fear-mongering programming I was taking in. Unfortunately, I can’t cut myself off from what’s happening in the world around me every day. Every time a tragedy has the country glued to the news (an event that feels like it’s been happening far too often lately), I want to get everyone I love in one place and not let them out of my sight. Ever. I’m afraid if I do, someone will take one of them away from me.

I thought getting older would make me less afraid, but it’s made me more afraid. Now I know what I have to lose and I know what can, and does, happen. I had so many thoughts of, What if this is it? What if I never get to talk to you again? last week.

And the week before that.

And the week before that.

For a while, those thoughts were followed by the question, How can I make sure this doesn’t happen to me? Because at some point, I got the message from the media and those around me that good people do what they are told (wear SPF, bleach the kitchen countertops, always keep your keys in your hand when walking to your car) and bad things happen to people who don’t. The troubling extension of this—the idea that if someone is a victim, it’s because he or she didn’t just try hard enough not be—was constantly reinforced. Every TV show and news story left me feeling like I had an assignment: never get put in the trunk of someone’s car, and if you do get put in the trunk of someone’s car, you better not die. On some level, every new fear gave me a new opportunity for self-improvement.

But I’ve since realized that no matter what I do, it’s never going to be good enough—after all, there will always be something to be afraid of. Being prepared is fine, being afraid of sharks is fine, but needing a bodyguard just to go to Target because I’m worried about the flesh-eating shark that was attacking women for trying to get birth control prescriptions filled at a Target in another state is not fine. So I cut myself off from the behaviors and purchases that, while done in the name of empowerment, were actually making me feel powerless.

The only thing that makes me feel powerful now is to just love harder. I don’t just say, “I love you”…I live in a way that leaves no room for doubt. I have stopped waiting to go after the things I want because I don’t know if I have time to wait. I make peace with my life every day and am grateful for what I have every night. I live and love the hell out of my life because that is empowering in a way that buying loads of anti-bacterial hand soap is not. I feel a little pang of fear every time Eric and I say good-bye to each other, but I’m comforted by the fact that we’ve said and lived our “I love yous.” We say good-bye because there’s nothing else we need to say; we both know and appreciate exactly what we have. We may go to bed angry sometimes, but we try not to leave the house that way. As Maddie has written, we are laughing in the face of danger every day. The best I can do is be sure we’re laughing.

Photo by APW Sponsor Kara Schultz

Rachel W. Miller

For most of her life, Rachel has loved the sound of her own voice. She loves reading, doing yoga (she still refuses to call it “practicing”), hanging out with her dogs, and talking Eric’s ear off. She lives in Houston, TX. You can read more from her on her blog.

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  • http://www.chanouxstories.com Laura

    Wonderful post – you expressed so many things I have never fully been able to articulate. You also have a great point about the idea that you can be safe by just being better. “Don’t get kidnapped/don’t be in the wrong place/etc.” It’s scary to feel like you’re constantly at risk, whether you’re doing “the right thing” or not.

  • laura

    Amazing. Excellent writing and all of the above resonates with me. Thanks x

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00388929873803169413 Kristen

    Thank you, thank you, Rachel! I think the last paragraph is the most powerful and to me, personally motivating of an extremely well written piece. That we should embrace life as it is now and try not to plan or worry for what might and will happen.

    As a person with anxiety, fear is a normal part of my life. It is a part of my blood, my every breath, , my every thought and choice. Getting married – or even lets just say, loving someone to the degree where their presence is a necessity to your life, only makes the fear worse. But in a strange way, getting married has also helped my fears. Because suddenly, there is someone else who cares as much as I do. And who fears as much as I do. Often hearing my husband talk about his anxieties, lessens my own. Makes me feel more normal and calms me. If he’s scared then of course I’m going to set aside my fears to help him. And vice versa. When my fears of how terrible I will be as a parent, rear their head, my husband is there to assure me that I will be wonderful.

    Having someone to share the fear with, someone to hold your hand, hug you when you’re shaking, someone to comfort so you can set aside your irrational anxiety about that lump in your arm – because hey, they’ve got a real fear, its immensely helpful. Not feeling alone, has done wonders for my fear. I wonder if others have experienced this helpful side effect of relationships like I have.

  • Steph

    Thank you! As a person with a penchant for leaping to the worst possible conclusion in a single bound, I wanted to exactly this whole post
    (Even though hubby and I are child free by choice, if I ever did decide to have kids is have those same fears too)

  • http://www.laughterinthelou.com Emma

    I am really interested in fear and our relationship with it. Has anyone ever seen the movie Defending Your Life with Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep? It basically lays out that humans are on Earth to try and conquer fear, and they cannot “move on” (to whatever that is, it doesn’t tackle religion at all) until they can prove that they lived a life where they didn’t make decisions based on fear. It’s FASCINATING.

    Thank you for articulating many facets of this topic. I strive to live my life without fear (worries and stress come and go, but not letting those devolve into panic/fear is where I try to draw the line).

    Cheers to saying and living our “I love yous” – love that phrase!

  • http://www.superfantastic.blogs.com Superfantastic

    My list used to be “1. Bees.” And every time I got on an airplane, I’d think “Well, if it crashes, then you know, I had a good run.” But now, like you said, I know what I have to lose. Becoming an aunt is one of the best things that ever happened to me, but also completely terrified me regarding parenthood because if I can love these little people this much, how much more will I love my own kids while not being able to ensure that nothing bad ever happens to them? And yes, every time I don’t hear from my husband for a while after I expect to, I’m pretty sure he’s in a fiery grave. And pretty much every time, it turns out to be that his cell phone battery died.

    I saw two women running in the Army Ten Miler one year who had shirts that said “Live every day like he deploys tomorrow.” Keeping that in mind helps me with everything your last paragraph says. When he did recently have to go away for a few weeks, he kissed me goodbye, but it was 4am and it occurred to me a few hours later that I hadn’t told him I loved him. But it was ok, because he knows. (Then I went hiking alone and narrowly escaped dying alone on the trail, all puffy and misshapen from a million bee stings.) (In that I saw a bee hive from ten yards away and beat a hasty retreat. I read that bees have been known to swarm here. It’s a miracle I leave my house.)

    • http://unexpected-moments.blogspot.ca/ Sheryl

      My husband used to do day trips to New York about once a week for work, which involved two plane rides in one day. These terrified me, and I would inevitably shake in my boots until I received the “landed safe” text message in the morning and again in the evening. Nothing would ever feel as good as when he walked in the front door from being so far away and I got to hug him again for the first time.

      I can handle the thought of dying myself in some sort of freak accident or crazy circumstances. But to lose him? Cannot compute. It’s a paralyzing thought if I let myself entertain the idea.

      • http://www.devabydefinition.com deva

        I used to put notes in my now-fiance’s backpack when he’d travel, so he would have a reminder that I love him when he is gone. Now, I wait for messages that he is safe, text him pictures of our cats, and try not to think of the worst-case scenario. Last year, the Grey’s anatomy finale aired two days before he was to travel to Japan. We made the decision when we saw what it was about to DVR it and watch it together when he got back so I wouldn’t be dealing with irrational fear over a 14-hour flight.

      • carrie

        This. Is. Me. Except I’m the one who travels. When Meg said that she had to focus all her energy on keepin the plane in the air when she flew, I realized this is what I did with my husband. If I don’t tell him to be careful when he leaves in the morning, then something will happen. If I don’t do X, Y will happen.

        I hate it. I hate it so much. All because I love my partner so much and our life together.

        I had tears in my eyes reading this. Edit b/c I finished reading comments and I fear this has become some sort of crazypants confessional…I have considered talking to someone about this. But to know others feel like this too is very helpful.

  • Lib

    So much this! I am right there with you. We used to call my mother Mrs. Worst-case-scenerio. (One time a car up ahead on the highway was broken down and the engine was smoking, she exclaims, not kidding: “The road’s on fire and we’re trapped!”)

    The closer I get to 30 the more I get like this. I got a phone call from a stranger on my friend’s phone. I immediately assume that someone has kidnapped my friend and is holding him against his will, not that some good Samaritan is trying to get it back to him. I live with my 26 year-old sister and I literally cannot fall asleep until I know that she is home safe. When she has a date I make her call me part-way through to make sure she has not been kidnapped.

    I find that I fear far more for those I love than for myself. (I’m fine walking home alone at night, but my sister, no freakin’ way). I am concerned that I may never sleep again once I have my own kids.

    Living in Boston has not helped this week. Now every time I hear a helicopter I freak out.

    But, as the author said, I make sure to tell those I love that I love them frequently and I live my life.

  • http://wrightrmemdy.blogspot.com Addie

    Well this post made me start my “I love you” phone tree. I needed something to do while doing laundry and this seems perfect.

    Exactly to the whole thing.

    • Lib

      One positive to living in Boston this week is that I have gotten phone calls and messages from people I haven’t spoken to in years just checking to make sure that myself and my family are okay. It’s too bad that it usually requires a tragedy to remind us to do it but it has been really nice catching up.

      • meg

        It’s a weird thing… having gone through 9/11 a few blocks away. These sorts of tragedies are just the worst in a way we don’t have words for. But they bring out the best, also. The kindness New Yorkers displayed after 9/11 I think will forever shape the way I view humanity. Someone recently said something to me like “Most people are kind of shitty.” And my reaction was “NO WAY.” And I just now realized that THIS is one of the reasons I don’t agree. It took a horror to show me just how good people really are.

        If that makes sense at all.

        It’s the point of Rachel’s post, really. That the fear pushes us love harder.

    • meg

      Wait! What’s an I love you phone tree? That sounds awesome, though it’s possible I’m just being dense.

      • http://wrightrmemdy.blogspot.com Addie

        It’s a thing. Or at least I do it periodically. Ok so basically I call someone, like my bother or someone I haven’t talk to in a bit, and say “I love you or I miss you” or whatever. And at the end of the conversation I remind them to call someone else, like their mom, and do the same. I usually do this with my siblings.

        Bam! I love you phone tree. Bonus: sometimes you’ll get a call out of the blue from someone who “got a call that made me think to call you to say hi.”

        This also works with Facebook messages is phone calls aren’t your thing.

  • http://www.devabydefinition.com deva

    Okay, so I am ugly crying at my desk right now. And it is ugly. Mascara everywhere, because I”ve had a lot of these fears too. Add anxiety disorder to the mix and I have to remind myself that fear is not always rational.

    This: ii. YOU FORGOT TO WEAR SUNSCREEN GOLFING?! ARE YOU TRYING TO MAKE ME A WIDOW AT THIRTY?!?!

    I say a LOT, except replace golving with to the ballgame.

    and this: “I cut myself off from the behaviors and purchases that, while done in the name of empowerment, were actually making me feel powerless.”

    Is something I have been working on. Having GAD means i have to recognize when my fear is coming from an impractical place, such as when I got a bill for a preventive doctor visit on a Friday night, or when I am nervous about driving the new car in traffic (a car is meant to be driven). there is so much I can do to protect myself, but I can’t do it all. I can only hope for the best.

  • http://irvingplace.net Kayjayoh

    The 24-hour news cycle is one of the reasons I was very glad when i read “The Gift of Fear.” I can ask myself, “are you worrying about something that *might* happen but probably isn’t because you are up in your head imagining scenarios, or are you actually feeling misgivings about a situation you are *actually* in?” If it isn’t the later, I let it go. That has been very freeing.

    • http://irvingplace.net Kayjayoh

      I am also trying to teach my nephew, who is 6 and obsessed with “bad guys” how to be safe w/o being afraid and worried all the time about threats that just aren’t real. Yes, you hear about things all the time in the news, but they come from all over the world and they end up on the news because they are *news,* not because they are ordinary. Oh kiddo, please don’t worry about bad guys coming into your school or our home.

  • Hintzy

    excellent post, thank you!

    I have to say, any time I consider this sort of vortex of fear – that these things can happen any time and any where, my belief that a victim is not a victim because they didn’t try hard enough not to be, our culture is one with problems and some very very angry people who are willing to cause grevious harm to others for whatever reasons…. I pretty much always have George Carlin’s airport security skit come up in my head. possibly and odd and callous reaction, but there you have it. Something about that gravelly voice taunting “the illuuuuusion of safety” just sticks with me and makes me not afraid.

    does anyone else take strange comfort in George’s cynicism or am I alone here?

  • YS

    Thanks for another great post Rachel! I think when you’re a writer – or anyone else who works in solitude for much of their week – it’s really easy to get sucked into this sort of anxiety. I tried to combat it by renting desk space at my friend’s office – just being around other human beings during the day really made me feel better, and reminded me that there are still plenty of great people in the world. I spent considerably less time in my day reading news sites and didn’t feel any less informed because of it. In fact, I generally felt much happier, less anxious and able to process the news I did consume with more perspective, rather than immediate fearfulness.

    I’ve gone back to working at home now but I’ve tried to keep those feelings in my mind whenever anxiety creeps back in. As you say, we can’t predict what’s going to happen to us or the people we love – but we can decide not to let anxiety rule our lives or our relationships.

  • Blue

    “I got online at four in the morning to look for car accidents, break-ins, and hostage situations in Houston.” YES.

    Because when my FH flies somewhere without me, I get one of those apps that lets me actually track his plane’s arrival at the airport. And if I call him on his cell at work, and he doesn’t answer (because he’s using some equipment that drowns out the phone, usually) I have to immediately go to our newspaper homepage and see if there have been any car accidents/fires/shootings. Part of it is we live in a really shitty city where people randomly shoot other people so that they can have five dollars to buy crack with. Part of it is, I have severe anxiety and have had it since I was a kid. Part of it is, loving someone as much as I love him just opens me up to fear of loss in a way I never would have imagined.

    It took awhile, honestly, to realize that there are people in the world who DON’T just automatically jump to the worst case scenario. As for the culture of stress and fear that has come from our constant 24/7 access to the tragedy-whoring of the media…don’t even get me started. I keep up with current events, but I CANNOT constantly stay glued to the tubes reading about the next horrible thing…I realize that there are people who can but I am not one of them, and being able to come to peace with that has lowered my Xanax bill considerably.

    • mimi

      I have one of those plane tracking apps too…

  • Another Anna S

    I definitely understand and associate with every one of the fears you listed, but some of your statements raised red flags for me:

    “…even though I wore latex gloves when I was touching that chicken and washed my hands (and nails too, duh), I’m still afraid to touch anything in the kitchen for the rest of the night.”

    “…my mother, who, on any given night can be found in the kitchen close to midnight, eating milk and cookies as a serious-sounding voiceover says, ‘…Linda had always told her friends and family that she feared one day Frank would kill her.'”

    “I feel a little pang of fear every time Eric and I say good-bye to each other…”

    Please, (and I say this with all the love of having seen someone spiral into virtual madness over this) consider seeing a professional about debilitating/overwhelming anxiety. It can be genetic. We’ve lived in a 24-hour news cycle for over ten years and a mere three years ago you could still list “sharks” as one of your top fears. If the only thing that’s truly changed is a +1 to the list of people you love I strongly encourage you to seek assistance.

    I’m glad that you’ve realized that “it’s never going to be good enough” and “there will always be something to be afraid of.” That is true. But just as much as “STRESS KILLS” so can the kind of anxiety that pings you every time you say goodbye to your partner or makes you Google local disasters at 4AM if he doesn’t pick up the phone.

    I’m sure some people will think I’m blowing this out of proportion, but there’s a line between the kind of overblown worry that everyone experiences (“YOU FORGOT TO WEAR SUNSCREEN GOLFING?! ARE YOU TRYING TO MAKE ME A WIDOW AT THIRTY?!?!”/The Hunger Games really happens.) and the kind that has you bursting into tears of relief upon receiving a call after someone was incommunicado for less than a day.

    If you feel that maybe I’m not reading this with all its intended hyperbole then that’s fine; I respect that, but if not then please consider speaking with someone about your fears.

    • meg

      Let’s make this a little less personal. Rachel is using her craft to write about something a lot of us experience in one way or another, so let’s appreciate this as a piece of writing.

      However, a PSA about anxiety is well placed here. There are multiple kinds of anxiety, including generalized anxiety disorder, and both medication and cognitive therapy can be very helpful. If anyone reading this thinks they might have it, go make an appointment to check it out. You don’t have to live with it untreated.

      • Eva

        Yes, I don’t think I read this the way it was intended to be read… in my world, all of this would indicate that I’m headed for a serious psychiatric crisis and need to call my therapist and psychiatrist for an adjustment to my medication before something more realistically bad happens, not that I need to summon up some additional…love.

      • marbella

        I have always been a pretty laid back person and did not grow up with feelings of anxiety/fear. I have also always worked extremely well under pressure and even thrived in stressful situations and prided myself on being able to deal with whatever I needed to without much help.

        So to go through a period in the last few years of slowly ever increasing anxiety was something totally new to me. As in, so new that I had no idea that it was anxiety, and instead blamed it on various health problems or life situations. Only when it became totally crippling after a cross-country move, did it dawn on me that it wasn’t normal and that I needed to do something about it. CBT, medication, massage, acupuncture and exercise have helped enormously. I believe the therapy is the greatest contributor to that.

        I’d also like to reiterate what Meg said. You don’t have to live with it untreated. You don’t have to lie awake at night with awful thoughts running through your mind. As everyone’s saying, often the harder you love someone, the more intense the anxiety of losing them is. In the peak of the anxiety, I thought I was going crazy and would never feel better. I’m happy to say that’s not true and I feel totally myself 99% of the time now.

    • Rachel

      Hi! Thank you for such a thoughtfully worded comment. I was treated for anxiety when I was in high school so truly debilitating anxiety is something I know well. (And, oddly enough, those anxieties literally never had anything to do with death, dying, or anything listed in my current fear outline.) But actually, the fact that these behaviors were sort of over-the-top (and totally tied to what was on the evening news on any given day) and were growing more prevalent is what made me start digging deeper and asking myself, “Wait, why AM I so freaked out suddenly?” And so I’ve been exploring that in my writing for the past year or so, and I’ve realized that it’s not a case where nothing is causing this. It’s not just the +1 that has changed, it’s the fact that I’m SO not a TV person and up until last year, I pretty much didn’t watch TV. So I would definitely be concerned if there was no apparent reason for my anxiety, but my anxiety was really tied to the media I’m consuming, which was directly tied to my new +1 if that makes sense.

      So I appreciate your concern but I guess I’d just say that there is, to my mind, a clear explanation of why this escalated recently for me and there was a clear fix for making it go away. (And indeed, turning off “Law & Order: SVU” marathons and unpacking the reasons why I feel the need to be so prepared has pretty much eliminated the problem.) Since I know what real anxiety disorder and panic attacks feel like, I feel pretty confident that my state of mind during the times I’m describing here was more influenced by my media consumption and brand-new relationship than anything else. And because there was such a clear cause and simple solution, I can laugh about it now. But that’s not the case for everyone, and I agree with Meg that a PSA is well-placed here.

      • marbella

        So glad to hear that you are feeling better Rachel. This isn’t necessarily the case for you, but I want to point it out here in case others are having similar issues.

        During the height of my anxiety, I decided to only watch comedy TV as anything else would cause way too much anxiety. That meant weeks of How I Met Your Mother and even then, if something sad happened at the end of an episode I would have to watch the next episode straight away to get away from that sadness! I stopped watching news, gritty crime drama/thriller shows and even The Daily Show – nothing too ‘real’.

        After coming through a lot of the anxiety through therapy one of the things my therapist taught me is that many times, the way we avoid anxiety is to avoid the things that trigger it. For me a major one was driving, so every time I got in the car I was anxious about the fact that I had to drive somewhere. The more times I was anxious, the worse it got. He taught me that the way to get through this is to ‘turn toward’ your anxiety. I had to get in the car and drive. The more you do it (using the anti-anxiety coping methods at your disposal – not just get in and have a panic attack) the more your brain replaces the anxiety with normal experiences and sort of re-wires itself.

        Now that I’m more back to normal, the gritty dramas and news is back. Particularly in the last week, that’s been hard, but it also feels good to know that I can cope with the emotions they bring up and find a healthy deal with the anxiety they might cause.

        So I’d caution against simply avoiding something (that’s a normal part of life) that makes you anxious, and instead perhaps look into ways to deal with that anxiety that is brought up. Not saying anyone should be watching 24hr news and the drama-creating fear mongering headlines it causes, but we do need to be able to function in situations that might cause us to be fearful.

      • Another Anna S

        Rachel,

        I’m so glad that you know the cause of your anxiety and (as weird as it is to say this) know what a disorder/panic attack looks like for you. Also glad you understand my concern; I tried to be as gentle as possible in suggesting assistance as I know it can be a fraught topic. Thanks for allaying my fears!

  • Martha

    This post is wonderful. I like that it can be applied to our partners and all of our loved ones. Especially in an age when lots of people live further from home and everyone is so spread out – it’s easy to freak out when you don’t hear from people right away.

    Also, I love Rachel!

  • Moe

    “The only thing that makes me feel powerful now is to just love harder. I don’t just say, “I love you”…I live in a way that leaves no room for doubt. I have stopped waiting to go after the things I want because I don’t know if I have time to wait. ”

    This.

    Sometimes I wonder if this is the real purpose of that fear. That it would motivate us to live with urgency and to love without hesitation. Ten years ago my father left for his daily walk. He never returned, he died that day of a heart attack. My mom made a comment later that night “We had a really good day before he left.”

    That one loss and all of it’s painful grief with some regrets lit a fire underneath me. There was nothing I could have done to prevent losing him, to bring him back or recapture the moments I lost. (I still don’t remember the last conversation I had with my dad.)

    “Loving harder” is the best counter agent to fear. It’s love that is the opposite of fear, not hate.

  • Kate

    I’ve recently realized that thinking about or anticipating a tragedy will not prevent one. I would irrationally obsess over every possible worst-case scenarios like thinking about it would somehow protect me from feeling that pain in real life. Thinking went a little like this: “People who have horrible things happen to them never expect them, right? SO I WILL EXPECT ALL THE TRAGEDIES.”
    In reality if something were to take my guy away from me I’d rather have spent our time together as happy as possible, rather than constantly worrying.

    • meg

      I’m still working on this, but it’s so true. As a kid I was afraid of EVERYTHING, and none of those things happened. But awful things did happen, just ones I’d never thought to worry about. I think if the awful things do anything, they remind you to live in the moment, soak it up.

    • Nicole Marie

      YES. I’m a recently (mostly) reformed obsessor over all possible worst-case scenarios. For me, it was less about prevention than about preparedness. If I had a game plan for every possible bad thing ever, I’d know what to do when it happens and magically be able to fix it.

      Rachel’s description of her 20 minute marathon of panicked thoughts really hit home for me. Very recently I had a similar situation with the Boyfriend- it was very late at night, he hadn’t come home on time, I couldn’t get a hold of him, etc. When I consulted my mental list of What To Do When It’s 4AM And I Can’t Reach Boyfriend, I realized that having a list of What To Do did not make me feel any better, and that no amount of incessant calling/texting, obsessive watching of the news, and/or calling of every hospital within a 250 mile radius was going to calm me. Being “prepared” had not prepared me at all, and knowing What To Do did not bring him home any faster.

      As obvious as it may seem, I learned that anticipating a tragedy often does not make you more prepared for it or better equipped to deal with it. There is very little that I can do in advance that would soften the blow of my imagination’s worst-case scenarios.

      Thank you for a wonderful post, Rachel. I’m going to go focus my mental energy on something productive — Loving Harder.

    • Maddie

      You know what’s interesting, is I used to worry all the time about losing someone I love. I’d cry at night when I was a little kid that one of my parents was going to die or my siblings. And then you know what happened? One of my siblings passed away. And it’s interesting how much more paralyzing the fear was than the reality. Which isn’t to say that the reality wasn’t horrible, but I coped. As we do. I’m not sure it’s fair for me to make a direct comparison, but I do think it’s interesting to examine the ways that fear is in a lot of ways much more awful than actual terrible things. Because when you’re faced with a difficult reality, you have to find a way to keep living and push through shit. But when you’re faced with a difficult possibility, it’s easy to become paralyzed or start acting irrationally.

      I hope I’m articulating myself well here.

      • Robin

        I had the EXACT same thoughts growing up. I too lost a sibling (my oldest sister) a few years back. And you’re right. The fear is worse than the reality. Thank you for putting this out there, Maddie!

      • Manda

        Maddie, I wish I could ‘exactly’ your post a million times.

        My dad was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis when I was 12 years old. His disease progression was (and is) particularly aggressive and disabling, and as a child it was traumatizing to watch. I remember becoming overwhelmed with stress and worry, both for other family members and for myself. I tried to prepare for tragedy by coming up with every. single. negative scenario I could think of. Nightmares were common. So were panic attacks. MS became my greatest fear.

        10 years later, I was the one getting the MS diagnosis. My worst fear literally came true and, you know what? It was not nearly as bad as I imagined. Yes, having MS can royally suck. And yes, it took time (and many, many therapy sessions) for me to come to terms with my new reality (and the limitations thereof). But here’s the thing: people are resilient. We manage, and adapt, and cope. Adjusting to new realities is part of the human experience, and all of us have the capability to survive (and excel!) in the face of adversity.

        But yeah. In my experience, living with The Fear is definitely harder than living with the difficult situation.

    • Just Another Blue

      I’m really, really relieved to see that I am not the only person who does this. I’ve done it since I was a little kid. If I can anticipate ALL THE BAD THINGS, it’s like a charm that keeps them from actually happening. Of course as an adult I realize it is unhealthy and make a concerted effort to turn my brain away from it. But when I was younger I’d lie awake at night listing in my head all the bad things that might potentially happen, because if I could think of them they wouldn’t.

  • Laura

    I really really like this post. It generally resonates with me, although usually my thought process is a little more like, “Grr, annoyed, why aren’t you picking up your phone… unless you are dead in a gutter, in which case I feel both terrified and guilty that I was annoyed… but now I’m extra annoyed that your lack of phone-answering is making me even have these slightly overblown thoughts… grrr.”

    Meanwhile, the thing about sunscreen and driving safely, that’s a real thing. Skin cancer and car accidents are real, fairly common things that happen to good, loving, loved people, and they’re things against which precautions can be taken (though of course in life there are no guarantees). Not such a real thing? Flesh-eating sharks outside Target. Pick your internal battles wisely, I say.

  • http://spaceysteph.blogspot.com Stephanie

    Love this post!

    My husband and I often carpool to work but when one of us has to be in really early, we often drive separately. One day last week I had to be in at 7. When I got up my husband said “I wish you could stay and snuggle longer.” I told him “We’re married now, we can always snuggle tomorrow.”
    Fast forward 2 hours when my husband had not logged onto the intra-office IM client and wouldn’t answer his phone and I was terrified that he died in a car accident and I was being punished for saying we always had tomorrow. When I finally got a hold of him (in his office, having computer trouble) I got all ugly cry about how I would never take snuggles for granted again.

    There’s a fine line between loving like there might not be a tomorrow, and spending your life legitimately waiting for the eventuality when tomorrow doesn’t come. I hope we can all find it.

  • http://anniceephotographie.com Anni

    Oh, I love this post so much. Not because I’m glad you worry this way, but because… well, it’s nice to know I’m not alone.

    My grandfather was killed by a drunk driver when my dad was young, and that instilled something in my immediate family. My mom, already a worrier, internalized that – or maybe just added to it? – and I grew up thinking if someone was home 10 minutes late, they were dead on the side of the road.

    It wasn’t too horrible until I fell in love with my now-husband, and all of the sudden I had my own, new family to worry about… I’ve gotten somewhat better just by trying to distract & busy myself, but it’s still a knee-jerk reaction.

    At some point I realized that my negative thinking wasn’t holding anyone in a bubble. It felt, for awhile, like if I let myself forget the worry then I would be punished with something terrible happening. It was a weird relief to realize that my anxiety doesn’t change anything except how little I enjoy my night. Not that I don’t still struggle with it, but it’s getting better.

  • mimi

    Great post. I have basically feared every single thing on that list as well. I’ve also realized that I’m turning into my mother – when my fiance is out of town or working late, I’m unable to fall asleep until I hear from him (which of course gives me flashbacks to my mom’s frantic calls when I was 20 minutes past curfew, asking if I was dead). That also makes me realize that my mom probably used to be “normal” and only developed that kind of anxiety after she had her own family to worry about.

    Like you, Rachel, I’m going to work every day on loving harder!

  • AshleyMeredith

    Sometimes it is helpful to hear about people who’ve been somewhere you’ve been and gotten past it, and sometimes it’s just strangely encouraging to hear about people who are “worse” than you are. And this was the latter for me. Like, yes, I worry about things and I want to worry about them less, but you know, my life isn’t really so full of fear and I’m really grateful for that.

    But it resonated a lot because I thought I had a pretty overprotected childhood, and just yesterday when Mom and I were having our early Mother’s Day celebration she apologized for that, but explained that she had to be that way because if anything had happened to me and there was any way she could blame herself for it, she would probably have gone insane. I’m not a mother so I can’t imagine, but this post probably explains very well the way she feels/felt.

  • http://www.bakkenphoto.com Noelle

    I honestly thought I was the ONLY ONE who gets like this. I check traffic and accident reports during bad weather when my husband drives home from work to see if there are any along his route home.

    Thank you :) this one really hit home.

  • http://www.missgiggles.com/blog Giggles

    I’ve noticed my fears come in outline form now as well.

    We do everything we can to make sure the last thing we say to each other in the morning is “I love you.” Which means saying it more than once many times when I then say something really weird and awkward right after. If something happens and we don’t get to, I call him at work and leave him a message telling him I love him. Too many “what ifs” in the world.

  • http://www.dmarried.com Blair

    This is Fan-tastic.
    Every bullet I was like “oh man, did that one too!”

    A trick that someone taught me a long time ago that works at time goes like this: forgive yourself.
    Forgive yourself for not being able to control the world. Forgive yourself for judging or being frightened or not saving the world from itself. Forgive yourself for throwing away a starbucks cup or driving when you should have taken your bike.

    I think so much worry is buried in self-blame and shame. If you can find acceptance you can do anything.
    When you forgive yourself, first, the fear will fall away.

  • Becs

    Rachel,

    Thank you for being so brave to share your incredible personal experiences. This post (and in my opinion, all your posts) allow others with similar experiences to feel connected and empowered and not completely isolated in “has anyone ever felt like this before or am I just totally crazy” thinking. As you mentioned in one of your previous posts, writing about things which are so personal can be truly terrifying in and of itself, let alone writing about your deepest fears.

    Thank you for writing about them anyway.

  • Amanda

    “Now I know what I have to lose.” Yes, indeed.

    Not less afraid as I get older, just more AWARE of what can be lost.

    But as other commentors and the OP said, figuring out a way to have more love than fear in your life is key. (And something I struggle with sometimes.)

  • PumpkinPicker

    I really appreciate how much this site takes time to address the thoughts and feelings related to the transition from single to married life. Happily I have the luxury of stepping back and exploring how my feelings for my changing relationship are developing, but I can see how these feelings can be pretty scary and feel like (or move into) doubt if you’re not forewarned.
    My fiancee took Monday off to go into Manhattan to pick up my completed engagement ring. I knew he would be having sort of a laid back, techno-vacation sightseeing day, so I had to text him to let him know something had happened in Boston and that his commute home may be complicated. The feelings I experienced from the moment of that text to the moment he got into my car at the local train station were new and scary and yet somehow powerful and revelatory.
    These resultant feelings have definitely flavored my thoughts about what this connection (and our eventual oath to come) mean to me and how simultaneously powerful and fragile our connections can be. Marriage has a lot of meaning for me so I never expected being engaged to feel the same as living together but even so that knowledge didn’t remotely prepare me for the realities of my outlook on my new mini family (especially poignant I think because, aside from having Bostonian family and friends, as a runner myself one of my larger “family” groups had directly been targeted).

  • Emma

    Wow. I’ve been reading APW since my engagement last month but this post drew me to comment. It’s like you took my feelings and put them directly on paper (especially the fear of the Hunger Games…who says that’s a kid’s book?). Thank you for making me feel like I’m not crazy…okay, not totally crazy :)

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  • Hope

    When I get out of the car or leave the house or go to sleep I tell my husband “I love you.” It’s quite a ritual. However, last week I spoke to my Dad after a few busy weeks without a phonecall. Near the end of the call he said he was sorry we hadn’t spoken sooner, I replied “It’s ok, I know you love me and I love you too.” My mum died 8 years ago and I didn’t get to the hospital before she died. I couldn’t remember the last words we’d said to each other and it took me a while before I could think “It’s ok. She loved me and she knew I loved her.” I appreciate Rachel’s words that she lives in a way that leaves no room for doubt.

  • Jessica

    a thousand times THIS!!!

    Thank you Rachel for writing this…these are my thoughts everyday. Now I feel less awkward and crazy. The last paragraph I read over and over. And I’m deciding to love harder and not worry about the fears because at the end of the day I want my loved ones to know how much I love them and that whatever happens to them it was said and felt. Because the feeling is important.

  • NTB

    Not sure how I missed this post, because it resonates with me on so many levels. Thank you.

    As a person who has suffered from panic attacks and anxiety since I was 19, I can relate to this and I applaud you for taking the time to put this into words. This made me laugh and it also made me burst into tears. Because I know what it’s like to feel this way—about almost everything.

    The part where you talk about looking up recent car accidents, homicides, and hostage situations resonates with me strongly. That is what I do when I can’t get a hold of my husband on the phone and I know he’s driving back from camping, or work, or whatever. It’s hard for me NOT to jump to the worst possible conclusion.

    This post was awesome and it made my day. It made me feel less alone. Thank you.