There’s Nothing to Worry About

Anyone who knows me knows my love for the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I don’t watch it that often now, but when I was a teenager I watched it probably 100,000 times. Besides my love for the beautiful and wonderful Audrey Hepburn, there’s just something so earthy and real about the story, and aside from the whole Mickey-Rooney-playing-a-Japanese-guy thing, it’s a perfect movie.

There are so many great lines from that movie, I quote it all the time. Like this little scene,

Holly: What do you do, anyway?

Paul: I’m a writer, I guess.

Holly: You guess? Don’t you know?

Paul: Ok, positive statement, ringing affirmative, I’m a writer.

I like that because it’s basically the same conversation I have with anyone who asks me what I do. I don’t feel so phony and useless knowing every other writer has the same insecurities. I have titled my writing Pinterest board, “I’m a writer, I guess.”

Oh, and:

Holly: It should take you exactly four seconds to cross from here to that door. I’ll give you two.

BAM. Do you know how many times I’ve wanted to say that to someone, but didn’t have the courage? I love it.

Anyway, there’s one bit of dialogue that sticks with me always.

Holly: You know those days when you get the mean reds?

Paul: The mean reds, you mean like the blues?

Holly: No, the blues are because you’re getting fat, and maybe it’s been raining too long. You’re just sad, that’s all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you’re very afraid, and you don’t know what you’re afraid of. Do you ever get that feeling?

The first time I ever heard that dialogue I was like, “YES! Yes, Holly GoLightly, I get that feeling. I know EXACTLY what you mean!”

It just occurred to me that what she is talking about is anxiety. The kind of gripping and terrifying anxiety that I face, and many other people face, on a daily basis. The kind of anxiety that stops you in your tracks and makes you forget all about whatever it is you were doing. The kind that fills your head with panicky thoughts and makes you want to hide under the covers. Suddenly you’re afraid, and you don’t know what you’re afraid of.

And the worst thing a person can say is, “There’s nothing to worry about.” God, I hate that. I want to slap people when they say that to me. I know there’s nothing to worry about. That’s why I can’t pinpoint exactly what it is that’s making me anxious, because it’s nothing. If I knew what it was, I could deal with it and move on. But that’s the ugly blackness of anxiety. You’re just anxious. No rhyme, no reason, just sweaty palms, a fluttering heart, and the feeling that something, something is about to go wrong. The mean reds.

I wish I had known 20 years ago all the things I’ve learned about my anxiety in the past year. For one thing, that I have an anxiety disorder. Because I wouldn’t have spent so many years hating myself for feeling panicky and off all the time. I’d have given myself a damn break on those days I didn’t want to leave the house, but forced myself to anyway. I would have given myself more permission to be a little irrational. I would have stood up for myself to all the “There’s nothing to worry about.” and “You’re just too sensitive.” No, shut up, I have a real disorder. This is real. Why don’t you try helping me instead?

Anxiety is a monster. And I let it run my life for way too long. It’s better now because I have a better picture of what I’m really dealing with, but I’m still not in control. I still don’t know fully how to prevent a panic attack, or really proactively deal with one when it comes. I’m still full of what ifs. They can be small, like what if I don’t have fun? What if no one talks to me? What if I leave the oven on? What if I have to pee and there’s no bathroom? Sometimes they’re big, like what if I get hurt? What if the kids get hurt? What if the house burns down? What if there’s an earthquake? What if something happens to Brien? What if we lose all of our money? What if what if what if. I can’t turn them off, they have a lot of power.

But I try. I try to get through the day, and it’s better because I’m armed with a lot more tools than I had when I was 20. But it still sucks. It sucks feeling like such a weirdo for being so worried, and it sucks feeling like your chest could explode from the worry and it sucks holding yourself back from things because you’re too afraid of all the what ifs. Anxiety is real, and it has a grip on me, and others like me, and you just can’t understand unless you live it. If you know someone (besides me) who suffers from anxiety, give them a little hug today. Tell them you’re there for them. Ask them to talk out their worries. But, please oh please oh please don’t tell them, “There’s nothing to worry about.”



4 comments on “There’s Nothing to Worry About

  1. I’m constantly told to stop overthinking or that I worry too much. I feel like if I worry, I can’t be blindsided (the equivalent of being t-boned in a car). I’m starting to find a lot about myself through you.

  2. I used to have “panic disorder” that was not really panic or anxiety disorder at all and I believe the condition is misdiagnosed quite a lot….

    For me, it began during peri-menopause during which there began to be, rapid changes in my hormones, during a period of serious stress. My body was suffering excess adrenaline and stress hormones as well as experiencing rising FSH and lowering other sex hormones all at once. As I nurse, I encountered many women having anxiety attacks and many of those women coincidentally were dealing with sudden hormone changes. (One example was a woman who’d just had an abortion, comes into the E.R. with sudden severe panic and chest pains.) For years, not understanding the hormone connection in anxiety/panic disorders, instead of finding the root causes, doctors prescribed valium and xanax to their “hysterical” patients. (It’s interesting that hysteria comes from the Greek “husterikos” via Latin “hystericus” meaning of the womb. Hysteria is associated with women much more than men.) Now the hormone connection is much better known.

    The phenomenon of so-called panic disorder that isn’t panic in the DSM sense is a function of some other disturbance triggering the “HPA Axis”. (Whether physically or mentally induced, the HPA Axis does exactly the same things. Example, too little oxygen or too much coffee can trigger apparent panic attacks which are not of mental origin.) Understanding that was extremely helpful for me to overcome what I was experiencing. It does get complicated when our minds start “figuring” and adding mental/emotional significance to the moment when we are confused and don’t know why our bodies are suddenly out of control. Then our minds can actually activate the HPA Axis without a real physical cause. For example, mine started at work and continued periodically there, then by mental association it “spread” and began happening in other locations so that I would have them in the grocery store and other places, and it really became quite a psychological nightmare for a time. The phenomenon can go both directions, i.e. from physical to mental, and mental to physical. Understanding it helps minimize the mental contributions.

    I’ve known people to suddenly develop panic disorder apparently out of thin air: One developed it, and eventually overcame it, as a consequence of having mitral valve prolapse which caused the heart to experience occasional skipped beats that the HPA Axis interpreted as reason to activate. MVP is a benign condition, usually, especially in an otherwise healthy person. Many people never know they have it. This individual also generally has a low blood pressure and low heart rate. A heart rate too low or pressure too low will trigger the HPA Axis phenomenon because of the perception of threat to life inherent in hypotension and bradycardia. That person also deals with a mild chronic general anxiety, so he was sort of “primed” if you will, and was extra sensitive to such physical changes. (This would not happen in athletes who tend to have low BP and heart rates because they are so fit.) Once triggered, the HPA Axis tends to fire more easily upon future similar triggers, in my experience and those of others I’ve talked with. Another person experienced the phenomenon of a panic attack while driving up a mountain, a couple thousand feet above her normal elevation. (I myself experienced it upon paying a visit to someone who lives at 7,000 feet while I was living at 2,700 feet.) The decrease in oxygen at the moment, similar to the sudden momentary decrease in oxygen to the brain from a few skipped heart beats, triggered the HPA Axis to fire. Same for another person who found herself inhaling exhaust from a car in front of her. (Carbon monoxide competes with oxygen on the red blood cells, thus lower the oxygen.) In those instances there wasn’t any particular stress going on to create a whole mental “thing” and they didn’t keep experiencing attacks with the typical triggers for panic or anxiety like those who receive the diagnoses of those conditions.

    Usually, the immediate remedy is slow deep breaths. This also quells a brewing attack. It also helps to remind oneself that one is not in fact dying.

    A pattern or habit of worrying can be helped by practicing mindfulness/meditation, I would think. I’m just exploring that for myself though I do not suffer anxiety or panic anymore (my time with that was fortunately only a couple years!). You might like to read on the topic in books by Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Buddhist. I really enjoyed the short book, “The Miracle of Mindfulness” recently.

    You don’t have to post this comment of course, but whenever I hear of or meet someone who suffers like you’ve described, I feel compelled to share in hopes that maybe this information will help. I have lots of good references too, but didn’t want to just give you a list to go fishing around without telling you that there are ways to get a handle on it. My odyssey took a couple years and fighting my way through what I came to call “The Shrink Rink” trying to fix a mental disorder I never actually had but developed during the process of trying to heal a physical disturbance! Many medication trials later, I was able to overcome it, and stop the nasty medications. It took lots of research, aided by my knowledge of human anatomy and physiology as a nurse. It became my passion to help other women who were suffering and not knowing why. This was some 16 to 18 years ago – very little was understood then about what goes on as women’s hormones change. As one of the E.R. docs I worked with said when I told him my patient wasn’t having a heart problem but a panic attack because her hormones just went haywire after an abortion a couple days prior, he said “Well, I don’t know from hormones.” But, he probably does now, I would imagine. Ha!

    I wish you the best in dealing with whatever you are experiencing. Feel free to email me if you’d like any references.

    1. P.S. Love Audrey Hepburn!! And when I had my colonoscopy, my friends all teased me calling me Holly GoLytely (GoLytely, named for the electrolytes used in the stuff one has to drink to clean out the system before the procedure. Roars!

  3. I’m 19 and I’ve watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s for at least three times. When I first watched it, I felt this connection to Holly – i felt like the movie wasn’t that good enough to have so much praise – but I couldn’t shake off the feeling that I loved and felt so much relatability to Holly.
    After having one of my panic attacks, I’d realised despite leaving the town I grew up in I wasn’t able to grow out of my panic attacks. I thought once I’d leave that old town I wouldnt feel so horrible. Only thing is, I’m happy but I still have attacks.
    This realization cropped up the quote “wherever you go, you always run to yourself” that Paul says. And I kept thinking about this quote. Wondering where I heard it from. Only to realise it was from one of my favorite movies.
    And then these quotes like “when youre sad for no reason” kept popping in my head and i thought “Wait, Holly couldn’t have anxiety…right?”
    And that’s it. I love Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

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