I thought all of this was my imagination. Somehow, in my metaphor-loving overdramatic goth brain, I was imagining my friends unravelling. I was imagining the process of everybody slowly losing their shit just because I didn’t want to feel alone in losing mine (intermittently, mind you). Surely, I was just imagining the stress level among my friends rising like the Cumberland did weeks ago. Surely, I was just imagining this because I have a strange love for group suffering. Group suffering brings a group together, like Vietnam or art school. Then, I started asking around. I wasn’t imagining this.
We are all standing around, watching the stress level rise, as though a subconsciousness in the group knows, feels that something bad is going to happen. We don’t know what it is. We don’t know when it will happen. That just makes it worse. If we knew what we were worried about, maybe we could do something about it. As it is, we all just run around being all screwed up and not knowing why.
Maybe it started with the flooding. Something that we never thought would happen actually happened, so now some little part of us wonders what else we should be fearing. The economy still sucks, and there’s a lot of change going around. Some is good change, like people getting married, but it’s still change and change is always unsettling.
Whatever it is, it’s a weird collective feeling. Each of us is individually stressed; as we talk to each other to work through the stress, the stress on one person lowers, but the stress level in the group rises. I wish I knew a scientist who could come and study this and maybe bottle it up and use it as a weapon. We would beat our enemies by coercing them into eating cake icing right out of the tub. It would be the most efficient war ever. Operation Enduring Cholesterol.
I have no scientists, so I’ve started making mental notes of when the feeling of dread hits me. When I notice the stabs, I follow them with “we’re going to be fine” or “mom’s got your back” or “it’ll get better” or something. Noticing and counteracting the stabs is similar to noticing and counteracting negative inner thought or endless “what if” thinking. The thing about being crazy for 20 years is that you get better at spotting and dealing with it. The stabs are little, and you don’t notice them until you start mentally writing them down:
1. Driving down Wedgewood, seeing multiple luxury condos for sale in a strip where there would usually be no vacancy.
2. Driving down 8th Avenue, seeing closed store after closed store. A series of small business owners’ dreams gone south.
3. Walking at Radnor Lake, seeing a giant hole in the road caused by flooding.
4. Sitting at dinner, empathizing with someone who is saying the same things to me that I said to someone else a month ago.
5. Talking to someone as we both lose our minds simultaneously. At work. About work.
6. Talking to someone who is starting to sense that she’s going to get laid off.
7. Looking at the paper from my chopsticks, which are lying directly on the table. (A secret with myself, this one.)
I think I bummed my mom out Thursday. She called to see how my 1-week follow-up went at the eye doctor. I’m 20/20, by the way. I think she thought that new eyes and a new car would make everything OK. I had so hoped that they would, like they would reset my whole life and everything would magically fix. Yes, they made things suck a lot less. Both the eyes and the car are seemingly bottomless wells of boundless joy. However, neither of those made me magically able to sleep.
When the weight sits on me, it’s like I can’t take a full breath. When the weight leaves me, I just assume someone I know has taken up half-breaths. I have an impulse to start calling people and asking, “did you just get anxious for no reason?” until someone says yes. It’s like some weird game of anxiety hot potato.
I have decided to study this phenomenon. It’s horrible and painful for everybody, but I have to admit that it’s bizarrely fascinating. It’s like we all take turns either losing our shit or helping people not lose their shit. There has to be a name for this in some sociology class somewhere. I googled “group sense of dread,” and all I found was an article about panic that involved the phrase “clamor of terror.” I only bother to mention it here because it sounds like a bitchin’ name for a metal band.
As for the rest of us, it seems there is no easily-googled term for this. Not only do we not know what we fear, we don’t even have a name for the fear itself.