Are we all suffering from information-induced anxiety?

Are we all suffering from information-induced anxiety?

I’m a big worrier. A few weeks ago, Facebook told me that anxiety is a sign of high intelligence, so I’m going to keep riding that high, thanks.

All of this is so deep-seeded. I remember as a kid, one particular babysitter used to make me say the “Now I lay me down to sleep prayer” before going to bed, because I could die in my sleep. I was six. And I’m a child of the ’80s and ’90s. We were taught, from the first minute we learned about sex, that we could die from it, that we’d probably definitely die from it, like Pablo from The Real World, or Jesse from Life Goes On, or Jimmy from 90210. Christmas = carnage. Sex = death.

My son was sick with a stomach bug a few weeks ago. I mean, without going into details, it was an obvious stomach bug. It was going around. But his was “weird” to me. He was bad, but then he got better. On Friday night he was pacing around, telling me that he felt like a rock was trying to push its way out of his stomach. Instead of jumping to the more logical conclusion of “he probably needs to take a shit,” my brain jumped to “something that will lead to death, possibly appendicitis.”

Well, after experiencing some “relief,” he promptly passed out on the couch. I remembered reading at one point or another (probably during another time where I thought someone had appendicitis) that sometimes, after the appendix bursts, a person might feel better for a time. Of course I figured that’s why my kid fell asleep. His appendix burst, and now the pain is gone, but his abdomen is filling up with whatever ick comes out of an appendix when it bursts.

I kept checking him through the night, taking his temperature, fretting. Around two o’clock in the morning, he looked up at me, ready to start the day. “I feel much better,” he said.

“Go back to sleep,” I told him, not entirely believing him.

The next morning he wolfed down three waffles.

I think, for me, the fear is that I’ll miss something. Everyone knows a story about somebody who knows somebody whose kid died of some terrible rare syndrome that IF ONLY the mother (because it’s always the mother) had noticed the symptoms early enough the child would’ve been fine.

I don’t want to be that mother. Nobody wants to be that mother.

It’s why I cried at home before taking my son to get his MMR vaccine at fifteen months. It’s why so many people listen to Jenny McCarthy and food bloggers who talk about “toxins.” Because maybe they’re wrong, but what if they’re right? It’s why I develop nervous tics when I see things like the “Every 3 Minutes” campaign to raise awareness for childhood cancer. Every THREE minutes? How can I beat that? How can any of us?

(DISCLAIMER: I don’t begrudge charities or whomever using these kinds of statistics to build awareness for their causes. I understand that the message is that cancer touches or has the ability to touch all of us. It’s the charity’s prerogative to spread that message. It’s my responsibility to figure out how to navigate those numbers and not take the statistics to heart. Also, please donate to Donna’s Good Things, which is a wonderful charity doing wonderful things.)

Then I took a chill pill (i.e. poured myself another cup of coffee) and actually did some research beyond the slogan. I’ve always thought those “every ___ minutes” statistics were particularly meaningless, honestly. Every 42 minutes a person will die from impaling himself on his own toenail clippers. Holy shit. What does that even mean? It just sounds scary. It’s meant to sound scary. That’s why they only give these kinds of facts when it comes to scary things like car crashes. Why are there never any statistics like that for nice things? Every seven minutes a kitten is born.

Looking (briefly, admittedly) into the childhood cancer situation, I learned that kids my kids’ ages have a 0.03% chance of being diagnosed with cancer, i.e. a 99.97% chance of not getting cancer. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen. That only means it’s probably not worth me lying in bed at night worrying about it because the statistics in that situation are much greater that I’ll get sick and die from lack of sleep.

I know a lot of people worry about the research that we don’t yet have, they pre-worry about things that have not yet been proven or disproven. I took my daughter to the ENT last week because her tonsils are like golf balls. The doctor walked me through some of the history of dealing with this sort of thing. Back in the day, they used to use radiation to shrink the tonsils, before doctors knew what kind of damage radiation could cause. It shrunk the tonsils, sure, but then kids were showing up 10-15 years later with thyroid tumors.

With all the information available to us, we’re always in a constant state of “What’s the next radiation for thyroid tumors?” What haven’t the doctors and scientists figured out yet? What choices am I making now that could ruin my kid’s life in the future?

A friend of mine is always constantly worried about the “vibes” in the air from all the cell phones and wireless networks. We were talking about streaming shows on Netflix and she was hesitant because she didn’t want the wireless waves moving through her house. She admitted that she turns off her router whenever she’s not using it.

I thought about it for a second and then I was like, “Okay, but you live in a city with close neighbors. If you turn off your router, you’re still close enough to access their networks. The ‘vibes’ are all around you. You can’t escape them, Saul’s brother from Better Call Saul.

I don’t know if that made it better or worse for her, but it kind of made me feel better, oddly. We can’t protect ourselves or our kids from everything. We can’t shut out all the “vibes” or the “toxins.” We can only do our best, do the least harm. And if those “vibes” really do get us in the end, at least we’ll all be in the same boat?

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