Judy Blume will be speaking at the University of Hartford on June 21st as a fundraiser for The Mark Twain House & Museum. I’ll be interviewing her onstage and taking tons of audience questions. In preparation, I will be reading her complete works and blogging about the experience. Get your tickets here. Let's talk about anxiety.
I like to think of myself as a laid-back person. Or at least, I was until the last couple of years. My mother can recount so many late-night school projects I'd left to the last minute, or huge messes in my room, or activities dropped because I just didn't feel like doing them any more. I stunk at clarinet and piano? No problem, I'd just sing in the choir. AP Bio conflicts with Drama in my schedule? I'll just take drama.
But, thinking back, a lot of my chilled-out attitude was actually related to an extreme perfectionism that I still have. I don't just want to do things. I prefer to do them well, and, if possible, be the best.
Rather than making me into a perfect person, this instead made me into kind of a crazy person. It created a little seed of anxiety that has grown into a shaky little tree that I still have wafting around in my chest today. It isn't as bad as some people's anxiety-- not at all-- and it isn't particularly easy to swat away sometimes. I'm guessing I fall right into the "average perfectionist" camp (a maddening phrase for any perfectionist).
Rachel Robinson is the same. She's nice. She's smart. She has good friends. But she has this unshakable sense of worry all the time.
As soon as I said it, I realized my mistake. Natural Helpers are supposed to listen carefully, not just to the spoken but to the unspoken. We're supposed to acknowledge feelings. But did I acknowledge Stephanie's feelings? No, I did not... I'm going to have to learn to be a better friend.
This is a nice moment of self-realization and growth, but it's also classic worrier. One little comment spirals into self-punishment and sweeping generalizations like "I'm a bad friend." I'm so with you, Rachel. How many times have I said that to myself?
Now that I've read almost all of Judy's books, I can confidently guess that Judy Blume herself is familiar with worry. This is probably the biggest thru-line of her work. Worry: who will I be? What am I doing wrong? What is going to happen to me?
I fight the impulse to worry so much, and to be the best at everything. Sometimes I give in. Rachel does both, too. For once, I wish I could reach back into the book and tell her: it'll be alright. Everything will be great, even if it isn't.