From “Just don’t die, stupid!” to “Just don’t die stupid.”

You’d think that making it through to vaccination would be cause for celebration–joy, even. A new lease on life, a new beginning, hope, happiness, the whole shebang.

And it felt like that for a week or so. And then a series of external events reached straight in and grabbed my brain by the OCD and shook me around like an apex predator with its prey jangling from its jaws. Suddenly everything good seemed menacing, from plants in my backyard to the aches and pains I get from overdoing gardening in my backyard.

After more than a year of focusing on staying alive, I thought vaccination would free me to concentrate on living–really living, with all those things I’ve been saying I aspire to–kindness, love, laughter–and fearlessness.

Instead I found myself figuratively curled into a little fetal ball of anxiety. My rational mind understands how to grasp the odds of bad things happening, but the scaredy cat part of my brain doesn’t give a damn about probabilities. Nope, this brain goes straight for the worst case scenarios. I used to joke that I could make a living coming up with examples of the worst thing that could happen, for disaster planners to, you know, plan for.

My Dad taught me to “use my bean” to solve problems. Observe, apply reason to what you see, experiment, and if necessary, improvise, to build, repair, or learn whatever you wanted. Works great, but it can go haywire when you’ve got a brain that absorbs and retains all kinds of obscure facts, and attaches far too much importance to the scariest, even if most unlikely, ones.

“Using my bean” to get myself safely and successfully through life and its foibles has served me well, but it came with baggage: I knew that the worst possible thing I could do is do something stupid when I knew better. If you’d ever been on the receiving end of one of my Dad’s silent, withering looks as he methodically went about cleaning up a mess you made doing something stupid when you knew better, you’d have the same profound fear of screwing up over something dumb that I do.

Which is why after a year of getting through one day at a time in survival mode, telling myself “just don’t die, stupid” I am now robustly afraid of dying stupid (OK, stupidly, for all you adverb fans). Meaning wouldn’t it be ridiculous if, after making it through to vaccination, I fell off a ladder and broke my hip and died of complications from that? Or if I screw up putting my new chain saw together and hack off an extremity and bleed to death? Or if accidentally splash myself with birdbath water and get some weird infection?

You see where I’m going with this? I seem to have developed my Mother’s exceptional ability to see the cloud in every silver lining. Way to go, Annie–that’s really living!

This has got to stop. I keep telling myself that nobody lives forever, you only live once, stop being so risk-averse, you are frittering away precious time with worry, etc. But I’ve still got so much work to do, getting things in order for what happens after my eventual (and far in the future, I hope) demise, that it’s imperative I don’t die until that’s settled, and I’d especially like to avoid dying stupid(ly).

There have been multiple articles in major newspapers about how weird it is to come out of pandemic survival mode, about how lasting the mental health impacts of the past year are likely to be, and about how there aren’t enough therapists to go around. May is mental health awareness month, and everyone on the planet has been deeply affected by the past 14 months, so let’s all just give each other a break as we take baby steps toward something resembling “normalcy.”

For me, the best baby step yet was hugs from my brother, the day after he was fully vaxxed.

I won’t stop scanning the news for any tidbits of improvement in the dire situation in India and elsewhere in the world, where vaccines aren’t getting into arms anywhere near fast enough. But I’ll try to be grateful for the baby steps I’m taking, even if my heart still starts pounding in the presence of the unmasked. I’m not ready to unmask myself yet in any indoor environment with people I don’t know, but I’ll get there.

If I don’t die stupidly in the meantime, that is.

Deciding to be proud of my gardening-related aches and pains, and to push away anxious thoughts about weird plants and birdbath water, I remain,

your emerging slowly after several weeks of figuratively cowering under the covers,


Featured image by beauQ from Pixabay

4 thoughts on “From “Just don’t die, stupid!” to “Just don’t die stupid.”

  1. I also find it challenging to reenter the mainstream after paddling in my own little rivulet for so long. Step by step and stroke by stroke. The mix of unconscious chemical information and the thoughts that endeavor to frame it for survival ask a lot of focus from us. I know that I am not my thoughts but it surely is hard to take the keys away from them driving me where they insist on going. Tough love and kindness combined is often the only way. to respond. Sometimes it even helps!


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