My Life as a Catastrophist

hindenbergYou don’t know what it’s like.

Or…maybe you do.

Living in abject fear, a state of near unbearable suspense, day after day.  How wearing that can be.  Because that’s what we’re talking about here.  A mindset centred around dread, a soul-sucking sense that things are about to fall to pieces and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it.

How can someone exist like that?  How can they face getting up in the morning?  What keeps them going?

Questions only the uninitiated, the smugly secure would dare ask.

Y’see, what the preceding sentences have failed to convey is the intoxication someone like me feels when a potential crisis peters out into insignificance.  The surge of relief that provokes can’t be matched or simulated by any mind-altering drug I’m aware of.

And on those rare occasions when my worst fears turn out to be justified, the sense of relief and vindication I experience is…sublime.  I actually tremble with the sick pleasure a junkie must feel just as the needle hits its mark.  I’m like Chicken Little, running around, clucking with excitement and joy as big chunks of the firmament crash to earth around me.

Rawwwwk! Told you so!  Told you so!”

I’ve always been a worrier, possessed by the certainty that happiness is transitory and danger lurks around every corner.  My childhood was like that, perhaps even my infancy; the baby who always makes strange, no matter how many funny faces you pull.  Filled with such foreboding when faced with each new encounter or experience that I was literally sick to my stomach.  Vaccinations, the first day of school, a trip to the dentist; preparing for these minor inconveniences as if they were a very public and brutal form of execution.

I can recall nearly wetting myself whenever I was called down to the principal’s office.  It invariably turned out to be something mundane, a message from my parents, a form that needed to be picked up.  I’d exit the office and immediately make a beeline for the nearest washroom.

My high school years were no better.  So fraught with painful anticipation, consumed by a nervous energy that burned off every ounce of my frame; I weighed about 125 pounds the day I graduated.   A long, thin stick insect, whittled down to the quick by neuroses.  Not an attractive figure.

There’s been some improvement since then but I still get thrown into a tizzy over relatively commonplace occurrences:

* A stopped up drain means ripping up the basement floor and paying an astronomical fee to some greedhead plumber (it turns out ten minutes of roto-rooting and a $150 touch does the trick)

* A stalling car means replacing the engine, maybe even being forced to buy a new(er) vehicle (no, actually the spark plugs need changing)

* One of my sons having a grumpy day is an early manifestation of a depressive personality (nope, he just got out of bed on the wrong side that morning)

doctorAnd did I mention that I’m a borderline hypochondriac?  Now there’s a lovely combination.  So every ache, every twinge is magnified in importance, exaggerated, fretted over.  A belly ache could mark the onset of pancreatic cancer.  A rare headache could mean a malignant brain tumour.  See what I mean?  And what about this latest development, waking up at 5:00 a.m. in the morning with low-grade nausea.  Not out and out sick-making, just a weird, unpleasant feeling in my lower gut.  Does this mean anything?  Is it significant in any way?

That nervous energy sometimes manifests itself as a racing heart.  Occasionally I get little jolts and twinges.  And with a family history of heart disease that could be an indication of a problem.  Or not.  But, let’s be candid here, one day–it might be tomorrow, it might not happen for decades–my fears will be realized, my body at last betraying me and those small aches and pains will coalesce into something genuinely life-threatening, something that keeps on growing until it blocks some vital pathway or invades and compromises a critical organ.  Punishment (or reward) for all those years of waiting for something serious to crop up, a final confirmation of the bad news I’ve been expecting all along.

Each day I pray for release from the irrational fears that afflict and bedevil me.  I place myself in my Creator’s hands and repeat my personal mantra of “health, happiness and wisdom” over and over again.  Not only for myself, but also for family, friends and loved ones.

I know sooner or later it all comes to an end.  Each one of us, at last, runs down, ceases to function, the machinery wearing out with a grinding of gears, sparks, smoke pouring from our ears.  No one here gets out alive.

Funny, I don’t  really fear growing old.  That doesn’t factor into my thinking.  As a catastrophist, of course, I have serious doubts I’ll live that long.

Frankly, knowing the end is nigh will undoubtedly come as something of a relief.  It takes so much fucking energy and strength constantly fretting about money, not being able to properly provide for my sons’ education, what if something happens to the house.  Etc. etc.

The sense of panic that almost unmans me when I can’t shake the thought that I might not be up to the task and that, inevitably, life is going to present me with an intractable problem, something I can’t solve, hide or ignore.  I am hounded by the knowledge that I’m really not that smart or strong or brave.  And that the time will come when my weaknesses and vulnerabilities will be exposed (Christ, better anything than that).  The worst feeling, the greatest terror I have is that I won’t be able to save the people I love or prevent some terrible personal apocalypse that will consume them while I watch, helpless to intercede.  My resolve failing me at a crucial juncture, my faith evaporating away as I face on-rushing danger.  Something I glimpsed a long time ago.

Remember?  I tried to warn you of its impending approach, tried to make you understand the severity of the situation…but you told me it was all in my mind.

train

9 comments

  1. Rolli

    Really sounds like severe anxiety and depression, Cliff, if you don’t mind my saying (and the cantankerousness is very typical here, too), teetering on the verge of nervous collapse. A little Paxil and 3/4 of it will evaporate; the rest, you’ll have to learn to manage. And don’t think of it as a chemical altering of your real personality, but a restoring of chemicals to normal levels. Presumptuous – but sincere advice.

  2. Cliff Burns

    Ah, chum, if you only knew of my complete disdain for the pharmaceutical industry. Anyone who’s ever read the work of David Healy knows those motherfuckers are just plain EVIL. Plus there’s also the fear I have that by seeking to control my fears and anxieties through medication I might wound or castrate my artistic Muse. And so I endure…with the help of family and friends and a benevolent Creator who has a soft spot for fools, artists and neurotics (often one and the same). Always good to hear from you, lad; we are literary colleagues up here in Canuckistan and I know you have nothing but my best interests at heart.

  3. Cliff Burns

    Thank you for that. My stories, novels, poems, radio dramas and essays are an essential part of my life (and mental and spiritual health)–without them, I think I’d be REALLY nuts. Bless ya for dropping by.

  4. Andre van der Merwe

    we are our molecules, but what makes an atom tick nobody knows. I know there is still place for God in the e

  5. Cliff Burns

    Well, after twenty-five plus years as a typist, I still have trouble making this keyboard cry and sing. Instead of praying for a healthy mind, body & spirit, maybe I should have That Which Is Vast & Ineffable make me a better touch typist. Of course, one should not selfishly prevail upon the Creator for little things. I guess I’ll have to be content with my lot. Thanks, Andre…

  6. driftlessareareview

    Cliff, stop reading my brain! Seriously, you sound just like me. Stop it! It all sounded so similar, except for plumbing issues and kid issues, since I don’t have kids.

    At least I know I’m not the only catastrophist in the world. Cold comfort is these dark times.

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