According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 18.1 percent of Americans—that’s 40 million of us—have anxiety. Since Trump was elected in late 2016, that number has gone up. Psychologists have noted a significant rise in “Trump-Related Anxiety,” Barnes and Noble has reported a 25 percent increase in sales of books related to anxiety, and I don’t know about you, but I can report that every single one of my friends is freaked the eff out.
Anxiety is, apparently, having a moment. But I was anxious before anxious was cool.
After leaving my radio hosting gig at Live Wire five years ago after a crippling two-day panic attack, I wrote a book (which was excerpted in this very publication) about spending a year doing things that scared me, in hopes it would teach my anxious brain that everything would be okay. As I was doing all these experiments, I realized that in the same way staying at home and watching increasingly mediocre Netflix comedy specials can become a habit, so can embarking on new adventures. And while I was and am a victim of the former habit, I have always yearned for the latter.
So I’m continuing those adventures in this column, but I’m also going to talk to people about ways in which I might calm down along the way, so it’s not just an un-scientific person allowing her easily triggered brain to run rampant.
My first adventure? Going on a book tour.
Along with my publisher, I set up a two-week book tour with six stops along the California coast: San Francisco (twice), San Jose, Santa Cruz, Los Angeles, and San Diego. I decided to drive down the coast in an RV with my boyfriend. Because the longest we’ve ever spent together is five days, and apparently we really want to break up.
My very first event was in San Francisco at Writers with Drinks at the Makeout Room—a chill, dimly lit bar with a stage that usually hosts bands. I was reading with five other writers, including Pulitzer Prize winner Jane Smiley, current literary “It Person” R.O. Kwon, and Maria Dahvana Headley.
We arrived at the RV park in the afternoon and, because the shower in our RV sucks balls, I decided to use the public shower. As I began shaving my legs, I dropped my razor. On the floor. Of a PUBLIC SHOWER. As I picked it up, I pictured what was happening to it at a molecular level: The tiny cells of a MRSA infection clinging to the blades, waiting for a single, microscopic cut to work their way into my system slowly, until I’d ultimately need to amputate my leg. Welcome to my anxious brain.
I decided to wear leggings instead of shaving my legs, and once I was ready to go, I continued my pre-show mental ritual: What if no one comes? What if everyone comes? What if San Francisco audiences are different and mean? What if I follow Jane Smiley and she and everyone else wonders what the hell I’m doing here and how I got a book deal and why I didn’t shave my hairy ankles?
To answer all my questions, quite a few people came, San Francisco audiences are surprisingly friendly, and I went before Jane Smiley, who didn’t notice me at all.
One thing about this trip that’s different from real life is that my boyfriend gets to be around for my pre-show ritual, which I generally attempt to hide from everyone in my life. So I get a little stress uptick from my boyfriend witnessing this new level of crazy (will this be the straw that finally makes the camel break up with me?), and he gets to spend a little extra time with stressed-out-and-worried-about-Jane-Smiley-and-MRSA me. It’s not ideal.
But the boyfriend is one of those people who weirdly doesn’t take on other people’s stress, so once I was done onstage, we had a pleasant evening, eating Indian street food with the other writers and feeling the wonderful calm that only happens immediately after a successful performance, but before it’s time to worry about the next one.
We’ve had three bookstore stops since: Five lovely women came to San Jose. Santa Cruz was a full house of the most supportive literary types I’ve ever experienced. And My second stop in San Francisco was a decent crowd of very quiet literary types, including one woman with a wildly expressive face that allowed me to see every feeling my story triggered in her. She was shocked at how long it took me to have an adult relationship. She was grossed out by me peeing my pants. She was not cool with the “F” word. And then she left. But everyone else stayed.
So this is my lesson for the week, for me and for you: Focus on the ones who stay. I know our anxious brains want to follow that one person out the door and ask her why she left. “What made you go?” “What could I have done?” But it doesn’t matter.
Bring your anxious brain back to the ones in the room, and swear like a trucker. Because fuck ’em.