Month: January 2016

Worry Bags: On Bodies and Embarrassment

My nephew has been keeping his worries in a bag in the middle of the table.

This isn’t a metaphor for anything.  A clear plastic treat bag freckled with leftover holiday images is filled with small slips of paper and tied loosely with a silver twist tie.  A few of the slips have the nervous markings of a 6-year-old’s biggest fears.  The rest are blank in anticipation of bigger fears.  Lately, he’s been overcome by the fear of accidentally killing the dogs, born from a stern warning to stop dropping his food on the floor.  The eruption is brief but traumatic, as his mom or dad or my Someone or myself explain that, yes, while it’s important to not feed the dogs chocolate, one M&M will not kill them this time.  Other fears include forgetting his snack at day camp and accidentally getting his handicapped classmates sick, for fear that he might worsen their handicap or, well… kill them.


His wall to wall posters of superheroes seem to be no match for the unpredictable casualties the day might bring.  No amount of Batman and Superman pajamas seem to protect his skinny body from super villain Ferocious Fear.  So now, he has been instructed to create a bag to put his worries in so that they are stored in one place, and are only permitted out once a day for 15 minutes of Worry Time.  When Worry Time is over, the worries may not be spoken of again.  And if a new one pops up in his anxious brain, he has to write it down and put it in the bag to be brought up on the next day’s Worry Time.

This is information I didn’t know when I asked him about the bag in the middle of the table.  This is information I wish I had before I opened the bag in the middle of the table.  This is information that became clear enough by the time I calmed him down from his fear of accidentally hurting his friends on the playground and closed the bag, tying it tightly with that silver lasso of truth.

He took a deep breath.  He stared at the closed Worry Bag.  He left the table to go play with his sister– a game of make believe that had nothing to do with the contents of the bag and everything to do with successfully slaying the bad guys.


Today, the doctor called to confirm my blood work.  Negative, she said.  I am not, contrary to my body’s protest, pregnant.  I was relieved.  I was confused.  I was scared.  Because for the last month, I had left my Worry Bag open, and it had been funneling directly into my uterus.

They call it a pseudocyesis, but I am calling it being a crazy person.  It’s a strange condition wherein all symptoms point to pregnancy.  And sparing the more intimate details, by all accounts, the body is pregnant.  Except it’s not.  There are a few speculations on the cause, one being extreme stress.  Due to lack of attention or too much attention, I turned my Worry Bag into a Worry Baby in one month flat.  What they don’t tell you on Wikipedia or the doctor’s office is the amount of embarrassment you will endure immediately after.  My world wasn’t ending, but I had already burdened a few of my closest friends with my confident proclamation and deepest anxiety.  And now, it turns out, my brain tricked my body with the standard tactic of fear.  My Worry Bag was sitting in the middle of the table, clear and untied for everyone to read back to me: my insane projections of the ways in which the world was working against me were up for grabs.


My Someone assures me that I am not yet in need of being committed to professional care, no matter how much I feel like curling into a straight jacket.  Now I begin the waiting for my body to catch up to my brain on the reality of the situation: that I still have my same stressful and worthwhile life that I had before– now with the added benefit of being a little more able to laugh at my biological fragility.  And, fortunately or not, I still have plenty of blank slips of paper left in my Worry Bag of worse-than-this-worst-case-scenario.


I’m not sure what the life lesson is this time.  Maybe investing in stronger twist ties.  Maybe remembering to open my Worry Bag with more frequency and less resignation.  Maybe buying those Wonder Woman pajamas after all.  Or maybe to be less ashamed of the worries so that when it comes occasionally to an embarrassing end, I can leave the table to go on slaying the real bad guys.

My nephew has a new chapter book all about worrying.  He and his dad are reading it each night before bed.  I can hardly wait til tomorrow night.  That’s when we learn all about how to talk back to worry.  Maybe he can give me a few pointers.

New Year’s Hangover: On Having Enough

It was my first New Year’s Day since I was 22 that I didn’t wake up with at least a twinge of a headache and a wave of wooziness as I surveyed the empty green Adres bottles with one eye closed.  It was my first New Year’s Day in a decade that I didn’t have at least one more cigarette lingering in the pack for me to sit alone and take in the fresh year with the old year’s tainted lungs.  I didn’t feel righteous or unsettled, I didn’t feel different.  I felt like it was time to make New Year’s morning biscuits and spice the black-eyed peas for the early lunch Hoppin’ Johns– a tradition I’ve come to savor in the last few years– while my friends slept in rooms around a house that isn’t mine.  It has been my personal feat of strength to trudge through my hangover from New Year’s Eve’s celebration while everyone else bemoaned their choices.  But without the hangover, without resistance, I found myself a little disappointed.  No adversity.  No proving myself strong.  No outlandish tomato juice-vinegar concoctions to punish myself further for what I wished I hadn’t done.

There’s a mild fear that I am growing up.  And then, a small hope that I am growing young.


Everyone woke and ate, recounting the countdown, gathered their things and left– some through the front door, my Someone back to bed (as is his custom of taking care of himself in less brutal ways than me), and me to the kitchen to pick the smatterings from the bottom of pans and scrape half plates of leftovers from the night before.  I scavenged like a well fed impostor in a soup kitchen line, diligently following my mother’s rule that if it doesn’t touch a plate, it doesn’t count.  I pecked after I was full, and then pecked at my book, and then pecked more at cleaning.  It wasn’t time for anything– not for dinner, not for sleeping, not for working.  So I ran a bath and waited more.


I had Enough.  The word has been floating with me to day two of a new year, and I can’t seem to get enough of Enough.  This feeling of time moving not quickly and not slowly was a result of me having had Enough the night before– enough to drink, enough to eat, enough sleep, enough company.  I could have had less.  I could have used more.  But I was in the simple state of Enough, instead.  And that is a state I have rarely visited.


I waited for more clarity while the water dripped and I heard my Someone roll over in the next room.  But there wasn’t more.  There was just Enough.  I tripped over the word as I drained the tub and picked my dirty clothes from the floor.  I hadn’t worn this shirt Enough to put in the washing machine, so I put it back on.  My stomach ached a little as it digested more than Enough food, and my legs started to itch with not Enough exercise.  I got my shoes on.  I went for a long walk.  It was Enough exercise for both me and the dogs.  I decided to stop begrudging my Someone halfway through the afternoon for wasting our day, because I have had Enough begrudging and needing sympathy, instead.  I swished Enough of a small taste of wine around my glass that night when we went out with my sister and brother-in-law, and came home to watch just Enough of a movie to not keep me up too late– so I could have Enough sleep.

When I woke up again, I had Enough of being disrespected by some, and not Enough forgiveness for others, and I noted this.  I remembered I had not made Enough time to play my instruments last year.  I had Enough of a mimosa in the afternoon and decided not to have a second.  I have too much work coming up this week, and– hesitantly but deliberately– delegated some of that work elsewhere.  Last year, I complained about warm clothes while we froze in Wyoming.  This year, I hope I remember to double up those leggings to make enough warmth with what I have instead of wishing for what I don’t.  I will have Enough out of hope instead of regret.  I’ve had Enough regret.


I’m not going to write a book about my Journey through a Year of Enough.  I’m not going to fly overseas to try and find it.  I’m not going to turn a memoir into a workbook full of rigorous schedules and lists to prove the point.  Maybe outside of today, I’ll forget about Enough completely.  Next week, someone may find me face down blitzed on the sidewalk dressed only in my skivvies.  Or maybe starting this year knowing that I have Enough is Enough to make Enough difference.  And maybe when I am not looking for More, I can get to the important work of making sure everyone else around me has Enough, too.