I was wide awake at 4 a.m. this morning anxious about my anxiety. The Klonopin just wasn’t cutting it last night.
I started thinking about my anxiety and how it all started for me as child: Fear of being abducted, never to return home again. (I often daydreamed as a child about being adopted, and that my kind, loving birth mother would come and take me away one day. Yeah, I know I’m fucked up. And that’s a different kind of abduction than the one I’m about to talk about.)
Anyway, I digress. It was 1981, and Adam Walsh had been abducted and killed in south Florida (not too far from where I lived at the time). His decapitated head was found floating down a river or canal or something. I was 8. I was terrified. Even in my young (crazy) mind, I wondered — with bile frothing in my throat — whether the kidnapper had cut off his head before or after his was dead.
And so started the first shades of anxiety in my life. I did not want to walk to school alone, fearful that I would end up chopped to bits and distributed into individual Ziploc baggies. Yet my mother insisted I walk, deeming the car riders “lazy.” It was not a long journey in retrospect: when I go home to visit, I chuckle at how close my old elementary school is to my house. A third of mile, perhaps? But in the mind of a kidnapper-phobic 8-year-old, it was a 25-mile hike through dark alleys filled with leering men.
Prior to leaving for school each morning, my mother insisted on a good, hearty breakfast. “You can’t have a good day without a good breakfast” was her motto, force-feeding me eggs and cream of wheat, which would end up in piles of barf on the floor. That’s how upsetting my walks to school were: I literally made myself sick in anticipation.
Disturbed by my daily breakfast regurgitation, she took me to several doctors to determine the physical cause.
Not one of those docs diagnosed me with anxiety — instead they called it “nervous stomach.” My mother was told to allow me to eat whatever I wanted in the morning: ice cream, grilled cheese, tootsie rolls. What those moronic doctors didn’t realize was this: if my mother just drove me to and from school until the Adam mania subsided, the problem would’ve been solved. Alas, that did not happen, and I continued to puke each morning, regardless of what I ate.
Five years later I had survived the walks to school without dying, and was now in junior high school. That’s when the anxiety-related insomnia started. An obsessed little bookwork — I used books as my escape from the pain of a difficult childhood and a gawky physical appearance (much as I would use alcohol and promiscuous sex to medicate my “nervous stomach” in my 20s and early 30s). Bored one evening, I stole some sort of adult fiction paperback from my brother’s room. It involved a serial killer who murdered entire families in their sleep, after slipping into the house through a carelessly unlocked door or window. I read it in one night, staying up until 2 a.m. I never fell asleep that night and I haven’t slept well since. I was convinced if I slept, the Son of the Son of Sam would slip in and execute my entire family. If that happened and I survived, I would really miss my dog and my youngest sister. And my dad.
In hindsight, I realize these two incidents were early signs of a disorder that still persists today at the age of 38, albeit in a less intense way. I wasn’t diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder until I was 35 and I didn’t get the proper treatment until November 2011. With a combination of drugs and cognitive behavioral therapy, I’m better but will never be completely “cured.” I just wish someone had diagnosed me sooner — what a long strange trip it’s been since 1981.