2/3/2022 06:26

Mental Empathy

Wow. I just gained a scary amount of empathy for people who suffer clinical anxiety. (Not merely the tendency toward being anxious which is a longstanding aspect of my life but the REAL THING.) Somewhere between 03:00 and 05:00 I went from vague worry to deep concern over house maintenance, connecting to my email, restrictive covenants, the IRS, pet health, medical lab tests, delivery made to the wrong door, staying warm over night, and I don't recall the rest.

These are all legitimate concerns. For example, I was planning to make an appointment with the clinic for the lab tests and it is true that I dislike making phone calls (although I just made 3 phone calls in the past 3 days with no disaster resulting). Also it is true that I failed in my attempt on Wednesday to schedule an appointment. The clinic is always closed on Wednesdays; I just forgot which day is was. It would be reasonable to think trying again today will be successful.

The point of anxiety is that you do not take a rational view and can not see (or can't believe) reasonable steps like trying again the next morning. You can believe the implausible is probable. ("Even if email continues to work as it has for the past 20 years FedEx might try to bring a package to the back deck where the dog is!! I'd better stop ordering things online to prevent that!" Or "Maybe the clinic answers their phone this morning but I will discover an infestation of ants in my house which shuts down the furnace in below-zero temperatures!!")

I'm surprised I was not going into a mental tailspin about public affairs and the future of our democracy not to mention climate change, fire danger, falling trees, tornado alley moving north, mass migration into the Great Lakes region from Nevada and South Carolina. None of those came to mind 04:00; maybe they are too nearly rational to fit with a short-term anxiety attack.

As I woke up I could not help but wonder, How do people with real clinical problems survive?

An interesting side issue is that I think I would have been certain no treatment would be useful. If this anxiety had been the real thing and had continued for 6 months and become diagnosable I imagine that I would think there was no point in asking for help. Or I might worry that an incompetent practitioner would exacerbate the condition. Either way there would be an inclination to avoid getting help.

In actual reality 06:00 came, the anxiety faded, I laughed at how my brain was working, and I carefully packed the resulting empathy into a safe mental box in a safe mental corner where it is unlikely to disturb me in the near future. Because even though I am awake and dawn is opening the day, denying the experience feels safer than dealing with it.