The Only Thing We Have To Fear

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.

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A Little Chat With Future Amy

I’ll be honest with you. You should take me with a grain of salt today. I haven’t been sleeping very well, my blood sugar’s a little low, and it’s a slow day at work, which leaves me with a lot of time to obsess over stupid things. I’m working on the blood sugar, eating pizza as I type.

Why the lack of sleep?
Mainly the obsessing.
Never doubt my powers of obsessing. It’s just my brain trying to prepare me for every possible situation, but it’s also my brain dreaming up worst case scenarios until it explodes.

In an attempt to sort through all of this, I thought I would do what I wish I could do. I summoned myself from two months in the future and asked her how things were going to go. It was a pretty productive call.

“Jen’s wedding will go smoothly. You will have fun on the drive with hours and hours of new music, and the car will be fine.”

“Your hours at work will hold out and you will continue to be able to pay bills on time.”

“Those clients are going to love what you designed for them.”

“The road trips for your cousin’s wedding and con training will go smoothly. The car will be fine, though I can understand your concern. We DO drive a PT Cruiser.”

“The Lasik will go smoothly, you will come out better than 20/20, and you will never have to carry glasses in your purse again.”

“You will get some stand-up written. You will win open mic night.”

“You’re not going to need to go back on that Paxil.”

“The inability to sleep will be short-lived. Don’t worry about it.”

OK, fine. I didn’t really summon myself from the future. I wish I could. I could steal her DeLorean. Instead, I’ll tell you what Present Amy says:

“Man up already. Nothing that’s on your plate right now is any bigger or scarier than anything that you have faced before. These are not big, bad wolves! These are just things. Things that require waiting, which I know you hate, but they’re just things. Gather them up on a to-do list and just cross things off. Stop this nonsense. Let’s go.”

It’s so weird. Present Amy can be so damned sensible once she gets some pizza in her.

Zen and the Art of Rocking

Not too long ago, I was driving back from Kentucky having just spent six days away from home. I had been in Kentucky watching my dad die, watching my family watch my dad die, and trying not to lose my proverbial shit. Diah’s death got me slightly more accustomed to public crying, but it’s still not on my list of things I’d write as a turn-on on match.com. Incidentally, I also wouldn’t list match.com as a turn-on. That profile was a mistake made in youth that will never be repeated. Where were we?

Ah, yes. In the car, driving back to Nashville. Drained, numbed, tired, and probably unable to breathe through one side of my nose (Kentucky = allergies), I hit Bluegrass Parkway and gave myself permission to loosen up the tight coils that had formed in my spine. As the opening drums of “I Don’t Care” hit me in the face, everything relaxed. I had permission to lose my shit in the privacy of my own car.

Last weekend, I found myself driving to Kentucky again. A panic attack came out of nowhere, seeping up my chest, speeding up my heart, and making my palms start to sweat. As it so often goes when I travel, I wanted to be home. Right then.

A girl doesn’t survive with panic on Paxil alone. I have grown, in part, smarter than my brain. I know its games, and I know how to stop them. Its name is Klaus. It is my iPod.

A PBS special called The Musical Mind helped explain it: when you listen to music that you enjoy, your brain impulses light up, turning your skull into Studio 54. Your brain says “yes” and, in so doing, forgets all about whatever nastiness it was conjuring. It’s like seeing a toddler walk toward an electrical socket and distracting said toddler with a toy. (Unless the toddler is screaming, in which case I suggest letting the kid fry.)

For what it’s worth, clicking the iPod to a song I really, really like helps talk me down from a panic attack. It might help you. May I suggest Fall Out Boy’s “I Don’t Care”?

What Would Jimmy Urine Do?

Once upon a time, I decided that I was going to run monitors for touring rock bands. My roommate (herself, a future road manager) countered with “dude, no way…you’d die.” Even if I’d had the proper disposition to be a sound engineer (I totally don’t), I think she’d have been right. Like dairy products and wedding cakes, I don’t travel well. I’m a nester. I need a Batcave, a base of operations. Preferably, one with a cat. So, what happens when Batman, er BatWOman, has to go on a cruise?

The subject line of this post is my new mantra. I have written it on the inside of my watch band.

Jimmy Urine is the singer for Mindless Self Indulgence. They used to be “out they damn mind,” and now they’re decidedly more pop, but I still love them. Even in the age of having one’s album sold exclusively at Hot Topic, Jimmy Urine’s kept his teeth about him. He’s still just as smart-ass as he ever was, even if he can now afford the good drugs.**

I still have more than a month to get ready for the cruise I’m being taken on (see what I did there? the subtext being “against my will?”), and I’ve already lost the ability to properly digest things. Imagine how it’s going be when I’m sitting IN AN AIRPORT. I’ll be doing so with my left wrist, sans spiked bracelet, being the wrong weight. Feeling naked. Will security give me lip about my platforms? “But I’m 5’1″! I have the god-given right to wear stacks!” I don’t own luggage, I don’t take vacations, I don’t have a passport (yet), and I damn sure don’t get on planes. I enjoy my cage of fear. It has a nice throw rug.

Every so often, little goth chicks have to look the universe in the face and say, “bring it, bitch.” In the last year, the universe has taken some really sizable bites out of my ass, but I’ve fallen back, regrouped, and I’m ready for some payback. My name is (evil)amy, you killed my friend. Prepare to die. Please remind me of this paragraph in a month, when I’m curled up in a ball, muttering about snakes and hiding in my closet.

I can’t take full credit for the mantra, as “WWJUD” is a variation on Katy’s mantra “What Would Debbie Harry Do?” which she employs to fantastic effect, particularly when picking out shoes. In other words, here’s my inner dialogue:

“Jimmy Urine would suck it up and get on that plane and not care. Jimmy Urine would go on this cruise, turn it into performance art, and use the trip to Mexico to buy authentic Day of the Dead merch. Jimmy Urine would find the humor of this situation, and write a funny song about it. Jimmy Urine wouldn’t be in a cold sweat all the way to Florida.”

Yes, Florida. I am THIS nervous about a 45-minute plane trip. Shut up. Watching planes take off in movies makes me nervous. I haven’t been on a plane in 15 years, but I’ve always said that I would do it if I really needed to. OK, so I defined “needed to” as “Tim Burton offered me a job in L.A.” or “DHGs are sending me to London.” Ft. Lauderdale and Carnival cruise lines isn’t quite what I pictured. Can you get a functioning crystal ball on eBay?

**At least, he claims that he does all the drugs. If history is any indicator, though, his on-stage craziness probably means that he’s really quiet in real life. See also: Alice Cooper, Marilyn Manson.