Over the Hill on the Yellow Brick Road, I was feeling anxious. It was a hot day and I forgot to drink a lot of water, so my mouth was dry. I couldn’t accept the fact that dry mouth could be a normal reaction to slight dehydration. I thought my tongue was no longer working properly and I was going to die. I was obsessing with it. That’s what happens to me sometimes as I feel myself growing older. I don’t trust my body to get its act together and move on. So I kept walking in a panic and passed a spa. I decided to stop in and try to calm myself down. I was heading to the spa café, when floating around nervously in a hot tub, I noticed a sponge I’d met once before. I wandered over and asked:
Hey sponge, do you remember me?
SPONGE: Yeah. We met when I was soaking up sadness from other peoples’ lives and wondering if I was crazy.
Right. So what are you doing here in the hot tub?
SPONGE: I’m trying to calm myself down because I’m scared! I’m anxious! Every day I obsess with a different symptom and I can’t pull myself out of it! I don’t trust myself to get well anymore! Because I’m getting older!
Me too! A few days ago, I had a headache and thought something was wrong inside my brain. I got over that, but the next day I ate some broccoli and a small piece got stuck in my throat. I thought it would never go down because my throat was too old to push it and I’d stop breathing. Today I have dry mouth, and yesterday–
SPONGE: Don’t tell me any more of your symptoms. I’m suggestable. I’ll think I have them too and sink deeper into my sponge holes.
Why do you think we’re panicking now? What clicked in our brains to make us distrust our physical selves??
SPONGE: Maybe we’re looking at situations around us differently, with an older eye. It’s not always pretty.
How do you mean?
SPONGE: Well, I don’t know about you, but I had a terrible Mother’s Day. My adult children were too busy to come and visit me. I feel like I don’t matter anymore. Maybe I shouldn’t even be here. I think that’s why I start thinking all these things are wrong with me physically.
I think you’re on to something. Like, since I’m older, I’ve decided it requires more effort to be sure people take me seriously the way they used to. I feel less useful and my world of possibilities is smaller. It makes me so sad. Maybe I shouldn’t even be here. That brings on the symptoms of doom. They’re based in deep sadness.
SPONGE: Well as I said, that’s why I’m in this hot tub. I comfort myself by floating around in here for weeks. The problem is, it’s not good for me. The more I sit in here, the deeper I sink and the heavier I get. When I’m heavier, it’s harder to get myself back on track. I’m all sogged-out.
I do the same thing with food. I eat because it’s comforting. But when I keep eating and eating and eating, even though I love it because food is so delicious, it makes me heavier and lethargic, and it’s much harder to get back on track. The food sits in my stomach longer and I gain weight much more easily these days.
SPONGE: So what can we do to calm ourselves down in a healthy way when we’re older?
SPONGE: Nope. Hate that stuff.
Me too. I won’t even take Advil. Meditate? Or go for a walk?
SPONGE: When I’m in a panic mode, I can’t get myself to do that.
Me neither. Try tapping methods?
SPONGE: Nope. When I’m in a panic, I can’t pull it together.
Same here. Get a massage? With oils?
SPONGE: Not happening.
Acupuncture? Physical therapy?? Go to a chiropractor???
SPONGE: Nope, nope and nope.
So… you think there’s no way to make ourselves feel better when we’re anxious in older age?
SPONGE: I don’t know! I guess some conversations just can’t end with comforting answers.
I guess not…
With that, I told the sponge I’d catch up with her later. I wished her well, and just before I left, we embraced. Oddly, the sponge immediately felt better. By wrapping my arms around the sponge, I’d squeezed all the water out of her. All the water that was weighing her down. She felt refreshed. Temporarily. And so…I guess I can say… sometimes, the best cure for anxiety in older age is simply…a hug.
How do you make yourself less crazy?