My husband being out of town has made me realize that he is like a daily low-level dose of Valium, without which my inner crazy starts to emerge. You see, I have issues with being happy. If something great happens, I immediately panic that tragedy will strike within 24 hours to counterattack that happiness.
It isn’t rational, it is completely fear-based, and I’ve done some crazy things because of it. Example no. 1: When I was a child, my favorite part of our Disney World trip was the drive home because I was frantic that our house had burned down while we were gone having fun. This fear followed me into adulthood. During our first trip to Paris, I called our answering machine to check on our cats. I didn’t actually think they would answer (I’m not that crazy), but my assumption was that if the answering machine picked up, our house hadn’t burned down and they were safe. It may have been more logical to call the cat sitter, but then she would have known I was paranoid that she hadn't answered my email.
Example no. 2: In college, I allowed my boyfriend to use my car to get to and from his second-shift job. If he didn’t come straight home after work, I went into a fit of worry that he had died in a horrible crash. I once went so far as to call the police station at 3 am to ask if a car with my license plate had been in an accident. (Actually, I did that twice). Turns out the police move very quickly when it comes to accidents. When my then ex-boyfriend did run my car into a pole and then left the scene because he was drunk, the police showed up very quickly at my door to tell me my car was impounded.
Example no. 3: Years ago, when my husband traveled frequently for work and I couldn’t reach him in the evening, I was certain he had been in a fiery crash. Just in case he hadn’t, I would leave voicemail messages chewing him out and clearly demonstrating I was certifiably crazy. (I did refrain from calling the hotel manager to check on him). In the morning my husband would call me first thing, not having listened to my ranting messages, and I would have to tell him to delete them immediately before listening. I assume he did because I’m still married.
For years, I thought I was a control freak. Then a few months ago, my husband got a great job offer and I immediately assumed, you guessed it, that he would get in a wreck on the way home. I had an ah-ha moment when in a fit of exasperation, I yelled to myself, “Why is it always a fiery car crash?!” My internal response immediately yelled back: Aunt Karen.
I was about seven years old when I watched my father answered the phone and learned that his youngest sister (age 21), her one-year-old son and her unborn child had been killed by a drunk driver. It was the first time I’d ever seen my father cry and I can vividly remember his sobbing. What I remember of the funeral is that they looked like dolls. I’m sure there was a lot of talk about how she had her whole life ahead of her and that it shouldn’t have happened to someone so young. The lesson my subconscious apparently took away was that if you are too happy, something awful will happen.
I’ve been thinking of this ah-ha moment a lot the last few days because, true to form, my husband’s absence has brought my irrational fears to the forefront. It seems appropriate then that today I read an excerpt on HuffPost from spiritual teacher Thich Nat Hanh’s new book Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm in which he writes, “Understanding the origins of our anxieties and fears will help us let go of them. Is our fear coming from something that is happening right now or is it an old fear, a fear from when we were small that we’ve kept inside?” (read the full excerpt)
I think there is truth to this. When my husband headed to the airport, my anxiety kicked in. We’ve been happily planning our future recently, so my dark side was certain his airplane would plunge into the Pacific. I thought of my ah-ha moment, though, realized where my anxiety might be coming from, and I was able to stop myself from checking the status of his flight or watching the news for plane crashes. Huge step toward sanity, people!
At this point some of you may be wondering if I’m afraid my husband will read this post, realize just how nuts I am and decide never to return from his business trip. Well, that just sounds completely irrational to me. He knew I was a nutjob before we got married and it didn't scare him.
Some of you may also be wondering why I would share just how crazy I am. It’s because I think there is something to be learned and Nhat Hanh says it well: “But we have the power to look deeply at our fears, and then fear cannot control us. We can transform our fear.”
I'll be downloading this book tonight since I’ve still got a lot of fear-based crazy to sort out. Next on the docket—my fear of ghosts. I suspect it has to do with living in a haunted house when I was 4.
What irrational fears keep you from living a happy life? You can share—I definitely won’t judge!