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When Bad Circumstances Make Anxiety Vanish By Jamie Friedlander

When Bad Circumstances Make Anxiety Vanish

I have generalized anxiety disorder, but in times of true crisis, my anxiety seems to disappear.

By Jamie Friedlander

As I stepped into my grandmother’s empty home, the stillness and silence unsettled me. I saw an A-line skirt pattern on the table. She and I had planned to sew skirts and scarves with colorful floral fabric the following weekend. My stomach dropped.

Two days before, she had collapsed in her bathroom. The stroke she had was too massive to recover from. Over the next week, we all stayed with her in the hospital, making sure she was as comfortable as possible and surrounded by those who loved her most.

My grandmother, at 91, had been active and independent. She occupied most of her time by hand quilting, and we thought she would’ve appreciated having one of her quilts with her at the hospital. But she had made nearly 100 of them. Which one would I pick? Instead of overanalyzing it, I simply walked into her house and chose one I knew she loved—a red-and-white quilt made up of tiny heart prints.

Typically, a decision like this would fill me with immense anxiety. I have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), which means I obsessively worry about anything and everything. Tasks as small as negotiating a freelance rate and selecting an outfit for a wedding cause me anxiety, and the worry only intensifies with the importance of the task.

But I wasn’t worried about choosing a quilt. In fact, I was completely calm.

Shortly after my grandmother passed away, I went in for a minimally invasive shoulder surgery intended to clean up inflammation due to rotator cuff tendonitis. Upon waking up in the operating room, I was told that my doctor also did a surgery that was much more intense to fix my bicep tendon.

Instead of having a simple, three-day recovery, I would be in a sling for a month and wouldn’t regain full use of my shoulder for five months. The surgeon very briefly mentioned the possibility of this surgery in my pre-op appointment, but did not by any means explain the magnitude of it. I was completely caught off guard. I couldn’t drive for a month and I missed various work deadlines, not to mention the feeling of isolation I developed from all of the unexpected time I had to spend alone.

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