The day after our worst rainstorm this past January, I rolled out of bed and into my red-and-pink polka-dot rain boots. I added some lip stain—since I go nowhere without it—and headed out the door to help one of my favorite people on the planet gather and move her entire life. She had arrived home the night before to no power and several inches of water in a home she'd recently moved into and decorated with an expert skill and a superior taste that Nate Berkus would envy.
With several cherished belongings ruined and her life unexpectedly upended, my resilient friend waded directly to her kitchen where she poured herself a glass of bourbon in the dark. Personally, I would have taken a pull right out of the bottle; while my lipstick might make me look refined, my friend actually is.
There was a lot of worry that day but not from me, which is quite a turn of events since I am the Valedictorian of Worry. I'm running 10 minutes late? The entire event is ruined. Did my fifth grader do poorly on a test at school? She's definitely not getting into college. The pain in my leg isn't going away? It's probably a blood clot. I bet it needs to be amputated. Going out for a run? It's so relaxing to await that texting driver who is most certainly going to plow into me.
Or here's a big one: Perhaps a friend hasn't responded to an email. I'm certain it's because I've pissed them off and now I have revisited every conversation we've had in the last year or three. I'm rolling it all over until it's one single smooth and polished worry stone. And that tumbling has taken me—spiraling—through every single perceived slight or hurt I may have ever caused every person I've ever cared about ever since I was eight. Clearly: I'm a horrible person.
"It's hard in there," another Disaster Team member said to me last year. She was tender as she pointed at my head, her forehead wrinkled with concern. Indeed. She labeled precisely how rough it was.
I recognize there is a component of narcissism to this whole absurd thought process. Clearly, an unanswered email doesn't mean you're pissed. Certainly you are not thinking about me right now. You are busy managing your job, your kid, your spouse, your volunteer work, your life. Your email inbox looks like mine and you feel badly that you can't stay on top of it. I know all of this. But unlike 96.9 percent of the population, I am utterly powerless to stop the way my brain goes on trips to hell and back without my having signed a permission slip.
This extreme level of worrying has been the pulse of my adult life and the kicker is that, until it was acknowledged in a particular way—it's hard in there—I thought it was wholly normal. I also thought I managed it fairly well, until I found myself utterly unable to manage it.
It wasn't until I somehow barely avoided the urge to stand on a table, strip down to my underwear and berate the roughly 300 attendees at a conference last year that I realized I was drowning in my own metaphorical flood waters.
"What the fuck are we all doing here anyway?!?" I screamed in my delusional and thankfully never-realized Six Feet Under fantasy meltdown. "This is all bullshit!"
While I actually stand calmly, rationally, firmly by the truth of that fantasy, I also recognize that I've got a special little brain issue that had become so severe as to incapacitate my ability to function.
I'm fortunate I was able to get help from a professional who diagnosed me with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), an affliction that 6.8 million people—and twice as many women as men—suffer right alongside me, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
This doesn't assuage my regret for not getting diagnosed much sooner. My poor husband, and my poor child suffered the brunt of all the manifestations of my illness. But I'm grateful to have a name for what ails me, and even more so to have access to medication that has: Changed. My. Life. Lexapro is my word of the day.
I'm running late? Pfffft: Lexapro. Kid had a rough day at the office? She's gonna be fine because, Lexapro. Leg pain? Chop it right off. I don't even need pain meds because I've got Lexapro. Still waiting to hear from you? It's all good because we have Lexapro.
This is not an advertisement for the drug, to be sure. I actually take the generic version because the brand name is a scandalous $250 a month, a price tag that could soar if that scoundrel Martin Shkreli gets his greedy fingers on it. And there isn't enough space here to capture how wrong it is that Big Pharma makes sure that medications are inaccessible to so many people.
But I'm taking the medication, and what it's done for me is it's given me breathing room. It allows me the space to choose my reactions and be a better, calmer, Disaster Relief Team member. So when floods and upheaval happen, it's really nothing a red lip, a few shots of bourbon, a tincture of time and a little pill can't handle.