My brain is easily led to intrusive thinking. In the past, this has led me to restrict my eating, to exercise obsessively, to spend hours Googling sleep solutions for my toddler, to become obsessed with sunscreen for my daughter, to worry about the health and well being of my family. When I was a kid, I would become obsessed with the idea of my house burning down during fire safety week and couldn't go to sleep until I had mapped out exactly how I would escape my burning home with all my stuffed animals even though my window opened directly onto the earth.
When my daughter was a baby, we lived in an eighty-year-old home with huge wall grates. The holes in the grates were decorative and large enough for, say, a snake to climb through. So I became obsessed with the idea that a snake would get into our leaky, stone basement and somehow find its way straight up through the grate and up my daughter's crib. I thought about this a lot.
In my first apartment in Kansas City, I became so obsessed with the idea of someone climbing in through my first-floor window I nailed the windows shut. A fire hazard, for sure. But I couldn't sleep until I did it.
I'm a lock-checker, a make-sure-the-oven-is-off fretter. I've been known to turn around five miles from home to make sure I shut the garage door.
The bat thing was funny until someone pointed out my husband could've been bitten by the bat and not even know it. Then I made the mistake of looking up rabies and found it is fatal in humans if not treated immediately. I made Beloved call urgent care to see if they thought he should get rabies shots. They said no. He is not about to do it anyway.
I have thought of nothing but rabies for the past three days, of him dying two months from now and leaving me and the little angel all alone.
I know these are intrusive thoughts. He was not bitten, he swears he didn't touch the bat, and I believe him. He is not an idiot. He swatted it down with a broom, stunned it, captured it under the broom and got it between the broom the bag without touching it. I believe him.
I've got to stop thinking about him dying.
These are intrusive thoughts, and when I think of them, I can feel the adrenaline downloading into my bloodstream as it is this very minute. My heart is pounding, I'm breathing shallowly and I feel like I might throw up.
My daughter is watching Veggie Tales in the next room and I have work deadlines. I have no room in my life for intrusive thoughts.
There. I just took a deep breath.
Last night, I had a dream about having to cross five train tracks set very close together and traversed by high-speed trains that came within seconds of each other. You had to memorize the patterns in order to cross the tracks safely. I was sitting on what I thought was the ground before the tracks and someone turned a light on and I discovered I'd been sitting on a set of hidden tracks. I backed up and made it across, carrying my daughter, who was a toddler squalling to be let down.
That's what anxiety feels like, actually.
The anxiety operates the trains I'm constantly worrying about. They're not ghost trains -- there's plenty in life that can go wrong. Sometimes I think people with anxiety are actually just pragmatic realists -- you could die from just about anything. Thankfully most of the time, we don't, but it's true, you could. It's far better to operate under the illusion that nothing bad will happen -- that you'll get through the entire day safely and in one piece, because ironically, the more you worry about bad things happening, the more likely you'll make a dumb decision thinking it will make things better and actually endanger yourself in some other way than the danger you were trying to avoid in the first place. The fact Keith Richards is still alive proves God protects fools and children.
It's true my husband could've been bitten by a bat and not know it and end up foaming and leaving me a widow by the time my daughter enters third grade. The man drives 1500 miles a week -- it's far more likely he'll get plowed by a semi or choke eating a cheeseburger in the car. If I allow myself to think of everything that could happen to him, or my daughter or anyone I love, I'll spend my life rocking and crying.
I refuse to live that way.
Intrusive thoughts can be paralyzing. I'm forcing them out now, because I have no control, really, over when my cards or anyone's cards get drawn. Bad things can and will happen in the course of my life, because that's life -- the bad comes with the good -- and it does no good to anticipate everything horrible that could happen. Anticipating those things will most likely cause stress hormones to clog my arteries and overtax my heart, lower my immune system and perhaps bring on a terminal disease.
In the end, it's probably safer to fiddle dee dee and go look at talking animals on the Internet.
Just not talking bats.