“When did we start being this anxious?” my friend asked me, holding a giant mug of coffee in her kitchen, looking baffled.
We’d spent the previous 10 minutes laying out our routines for beating back the generalized dread that hovers over our shoulders like a horror-movie ghost. For me, that means a fleet of supplements (including theanine, chamomile extract, and CBD), daily exercise, and gratitude journaling during code-red situations. Despite my life being blessed by dumb luck, my body is like a nuclear plant that requires a skilled team to be pushing buttons and pulling levers constantly, to avoid meltdown. (Or, as the philosopher and teenager-dater Seinfeld said, “If your body was a car, you wouldn’t buy it—too much upkeep, it’s a pain.”)
Totally unrelatedly, I started a new job last week, which sort of accounts for me skipping a week of my newsletter when I explicitly promised myself I wouldn’t. The beginning was the same as all new gigs these days: Getting-to-know-you Zooms, syncing my calendars, filling out megabytes of digital paperwork that mostly amounted to typing out my address and SSN eight times.
Then, as jobs tend to do, it speedily became a very real concept that kept me up at night with worry. For about 48 hours, it felt hard to take a full breath, like that giant meme baby was sitting on my chest. Do other people just go to sleep and wake up 7-8 hours later, or do they rest in a patchy series of low-quality bursts, like I do? A few days in, I decided I needed to start meditating—no, but for real this time.
For the last couple of years, I’ve kept up a semblance of a routine with something I got—say it with me—from a PR person. But unlike the novelty record player or cookie that said “Diaper Rash,” this promo gift has had staying power: Core is a small, elegant globe you hold in your palms while you meditate; it syncs up to an app, which plays guided meditations or ambient music. The ball vibrates (heheh) in patterns that wordlessly guide you to inhale, exhale, and hold. Afterward, the app gives you metrics explaining how well you did. The quantified self is in the building, baby.
Below was me about two weeks ago. The circle represents the entirety of your session—the green shows how long you were focused, and the blue is how long you were calm:
And here was me on Saturday:
It feels weird to essentially fail at something that’s supposed to be healing me, but it’s helpful to track where I’m at and how badly I need to slow down. And holding this purring orb is a good place to focus my energy, or try to.
To answer my friend’s question, I don’t remember when I started being this anxious. Somewhere between my mid/late 20s and now, I was infected by this nasty combo of comprehending my own mortality, caring about the future, and catastrophizing like an absolute champ. And most of my really top-shelf catastrophizing revolves around work.
I guess I’m more aware of outcomes now—re: my career, my finances, and my (disgusting, but I have to say it) reputation. I once fell asleep fully sitting up on a sofa at a friend’s house during an extremely debauched party, woke up in the same position, bought a new outfit at the Astor Place Kmart, then went to a full day of work. (The outfit involved a T-shirt from the boys’ section that said MONSTER TRUCKS across the chest.) Now when I use the word “deliverables,” I’m almost never talking about pizza.
I feel proud of what I’m doing day-to-day but where is the memoir I was supposed to write? Where are my podcast bookings? What if nobody ever asks me to fill out a Proust questionnaire? What does all of this even matter when we just nearly got obliterated by a 23-ton hunk of Chinese rocket? (What, you weren’t actively worried about that? Lightweight.)
Apparently we get more relaxed and happier as we enter our early 60s: For my third act, I’d like to run a pottery studio in Key West and shrug when someone tells me a boob has popped out of my sundress. But should that day never come, I’ll have my supplements and my meditation, my metrics and my cardio, my counterfeit peace that tastes almost as good as the real thing.
To my clinically-proven-to-increase-happiness 90s R&B playlist, which indicates my age better than any crow’s feet ever could:
The breathtakingly enjoyable HBO show Hacks, about a sardonic redhead writer who’s hired by a female media icon. [coughs so loud someone hands me an inhaler] I haven’t fallen for a series like this in a while, so to paraphrase Jeb Bush, “Please watch.”