On Being a Worrier

My negotiations with the mind and the body

Amy Jolene
4 min readSep 3, 2021
Photo by Jason Briscoe on Unsplash

I am a worrier.

Not a warrior, as Spell Check’s squiggly blue line suggests, but a worrier. It’s not the word I’d like to use to describe myself, but it’s the word that captures who I am. I come from a long line of worriers, our genetic code linking like shackles through generations of nervous breakdowns and bloody cuticles.

It started with the dreams. The ones that come when the body falls asleep and the mind stays awake. My eight-year-old limbs twisted and contorted beneath my grandma’s patchwork quilt and I feared I’d been touched by something sinister. (In my late twenties I’d learn that Sleep Paralysis is a common experience and not actually a sign of being possessed by the devil… but it’s still terrifying nonetheless.)

If I eat lunch, my family will be hit by a car.

I’d pinch my wrist and feign stomach aches to protect us from the impending doom waiting outside the McDonald’s playpen. Inevitably, I always gave in to the french fries and happy meals before lunch ended. With greasy fingers I’d walk to the van carrying burgers and guilt in my belly, knowing I’d be responsible for our deaths. I’d try to convince my parents to avoid crosswalks and busy streets, but a middle child is rarely heard amongst the eldest’s demands and the baby’s cries.

In Confirmation classes I learned to fear God. I was thirteen and agonized that he could look inside my head and see what impurities lurked there. I fretted that he was always watching me, even in the shower. Even in my bed when I lay paralyzed with terror and he did nothing to help. On Sunday mornings, I sat on my hands and traded glances with Bryan Smith between prayers. He sat on his hands too. Later we’d burn the pamphlets tucked into our mother’s purses, our fears curling and crackling in the youth group’s beach bonfire.

If this crayon makes it into the bin when I throw it from across the room, it means that God loves us no matter what.

I never was very good at sports; I should have known to make better deals. I worried about all the people who lived in other countries and wouldn’t have a chance to go to heaven. It didn’t seem fair. I worried about sins. Which ones were forgivable and which ones weren’t? I worried about my cousin and my grandpa and I thought if I could read the Bible from start to finish in one sitting, I could save them. But there were so many pages and my eyes kept closing. I worried about rules and sex and dying in a car accident.

I didn’t tell anyone about what was happening inside my mind. I figured that everyone heard the mean voices that whispered to the brain, and if they didn’t, I sure as hell wasn’t going to be the one revealing mine. So I stepped over cracks and avoided eating and started drinking and swallowed pills and left the church and stopped sleeping and laughed it off and kept my mother’s smile on my face. I didn’t tell my doctor because I worried that I didn’t worry enough to need medicine. I didn’t want her to think that I was making it all up just to get drugs or attention like my other friends did.

“I’m too anxious to take anxiety meds,” I recently admitted to my sister-in-law after a bottle of Rioja. She choked on her gulp and grabbed her stomach in a fit of snorts. But it was the truth. My anxiety was a mosquito in my room at night. It was an itch in my throat. It connected my head and my mouth and my body. Boyfriends tried to help by saying, you don’t need to feel this way and everything’s fine just relax. Yet to my great disappointment, it couldn’t be wished away with bathroom mantras (live, laugh, love).

Non-worriers don’t understand the ultimatums and negotiations that occur in the body and the mind of a worrier.

“Anxiety is primal,” my therapist says. It kept our ancestors alive when they lived with woolly mammoths and fought off tigers with sticks, stones, and strong running legs. “Try to think of it as a superhuman gift.”

But I’d take flying or invisibility over anxiety any day. Worry courses through me as I drive next to semi-trucks or hit the break. As I wait for the phone calls that change lives and map the exits at parties. For twenty years I let it guide me like a dog on a leash, and in many ways it still does, though now the leash is beginning to fray at both ends.

I’m learning how to wrestle the worry. I’ve accepted that it won’t fade away like the acne and the angst did. But I won’t acquiesce to it anymore.

I learn to breathe: in through the nose, out through the mouth. Like fogging up a bathroom mirror. I practice yoga. I sit through agonizing minutes of meditation and push away intrusions about embarrassing things I said to the popular girls in middle school. I eat lunch and know that thoughts are like clouds, they come and go. I walk so far each day that the skin on my heels cracks like pathways and my calves pulse. I write until the worry has a home to nest in. Until it’s out of me and tucked into lines of prose and poetry. I curl into my partner in the middle of the night and wait. I dream about survival, intruders, and bridges to nowhere.

And then I do it all again.



Amy Jolene

Copywriter & Editorial Manager. Educator. Crazy Cat Lady.