Anxiety is what happens when I don’t feel that I’ll have enough time to prepare, and by “preparing” I mean learning a driving route somewhere, or learning about the people who are going to interview me for a teaching job I’ve been trying to land since (it seems) 1492, or learning about the school or workplace itself. I am anxious with my lack of preparation.
Anxiety leads me to study the route a la Google Maps – not just once, but several times, at different times of the day, on different days. I look at alternate routes; I look at whether Google Maps wants me to take I-15 or I-215 or some combination thereof, because the Belt Route makes me anxious because I don’t drive it often (even though my iPhone has GPS and a navigation app that has not once rerouted me to somewhere in Wyoming). This worry leads me to look at driving surface roads – driving locally – and avoiding the interstates unless it’s a part of the interstate I’ve already driven and can mentally envision. (It’s a catch-22: I can’t become familiar with either of the interstates with which I’m unfamiliar unless I drive the interstates more often, which I tend to avoid unless I have to. It’s like avoiding trying new food because one might not like it – what’s the worst that can happen? Death, I suppose. You could die trying a new food, but that’s extreme because I have no food allergies, and besides, I have good health insurance. Likewise, I am not likely to get horrifically lost on the interstates because – wait for it – I could turn around. I know this logically but that doesn’t stop me from being concerned that I’ll try to exit at that one exit that doesn’t let me actually turn around.) So over planning is how I compensate (overcompensate).
(I’d like to note that I am not actually anxious about trying new food. There are foods I definitely do not like – bell peppers are, in fact, a tool of the devil, and don’t you dare tell me that cabbage is edible – but I like trying new food and have not yet managed to die trying something new, even while flying Pakistani Air that one time.)
About seven weeks ago I started a new job, teaching English at a charter high school in a part of Utah I’m not terribly familiar with. I planned a route. I looked at Google Maps. I gave myself 45 minutes to get there, even though I didn’t need that much time. But because I’m anxious, I prefer to give myself extra time in case the highway eats me or I encounter a moose or people driving (below) the speed limit. (People driving below the speed limit don’t make me anxious. They make me mentally curse them in German.) I hate being late – it’s one of my pet peeves, being late. I am anxious because I am a visual driver and I tend to like to mentally picture a route based not only on signs, but on landmarks. Once I can picture how to get there, how to navigate the situation, I become less anxious, until the anxiety recedes.
Copy machines make me anxious. I am anxious I will break it or that I will cause such a paper jam that an error message along the lines of PC Load Letter (this is an Office Space reference) will mean that I cannot make copies for my students.
It is the lack of preparation that makes me anxious, the inability to fix something, the inability to convince people that I’m worth hanging out with. I am anxious I will not be accepted. I am anxious I will be overlooked because I am quiet and am not gregarious or extroverted or like eating lunch with people I don’t know. (Another dilemma.) In my first several weeks of teaching at the new school, I was in a very anxious state every night because I was unprepared.
Anxiety keeps me from talking to people I’d really like to get to know.