Novelist John Green to The Late, Late Show host Craig Ferguson.
“We’re professional worriers. You’re constantly imagining things that could go wrong and then writing about them.”
I talked to my psychiatrist the other day about poop. The conversation, like everything I discuss in therapy, wasn’t what I wanted–or had intended–to talk about. It stemmed from my attempt to excuse my lateness for our session as the result of my elderly dog not relieving himself quickly enough during the morning walk. As usual, however, the Freudian philosopher in front of me seized upon my off-hand comment, attempting to draw a connection between some unrealized-yet-deep-seated childhood trauma regarding bodily functions that might help explain my persistent anxiety.
“When were you potty-trained?”
I scooted a centimeter back from the edge of his couch in response. I like to park my butt on the bleeding edge of the cushion so I can bolt upright in the event of an emergency. Not that I think there will be a sudden blaze in his dim basement office located in an older home that was surely constructed before new fire codes went into effect. Or that I spend too much time pondering how quickly his decorated-to-distraction surroundings filled with wooden tchotchkes from sixty-some-odd decades of trips around the world would serve as accelerant. But one never knows when an extra second may count. “I’m sure around age-one. That’s when I did it for my kids. Thirteen months.”
He leans a little forward in his leather chair. To my untrained-eye the seat resembles an Eames lounger. The cracked material around the arms makes me think it’s an original . “You know. There have been studies showing the body doesn’t actually develop the sensory capabilities to understand when to go to the bathroom in advance until age two. So potty training before then could be linked to–
“Half the world potty trains before age-two,” I interject. With friends, I might not interrupt so freely. But these minutes are expensive, and I don’t really want to discuss the most mindful way to instruct toilet usage. “Asians, Africans, West Indians. All start early. It’s a cultural thing. Half the world isn’t anxious.”
“How do you know?”
“That half-the world isn’t anxious? Well, maybe it is. But–
“No that half-the-world potty trains by age two?”
“All my friends were potty-trained by age two. I know because we all talked about when we were going to train our kids.”
“Perhaps your group of friends is limited to the kind of high achieving people that might exhibit a greater degree of anxiety and therefore–
“Well, if you’re saying there’s a link between high achievement and early potty training, then everyone in this town will start their kids at birth.”
This kind of thing went on for the next ten minutes or so, with him arguing that maybe there was a better way to live than in a perpetual state of fight or flight, and me protesting that what I’d experienced hadn’t killed me so there was little reason to change anything. For all my tolerance of how other people want to live, I have very definite ideas about how I think my life should be organized–and what should be done in a given day.
“But, as we’ve discussed,” The amusement that had peaked from behind his eyes at the beginning of our debate was no longer visible. “Can’t there be drive without this level of tension? Stress takes a toll. People have heart attacks–
“Well, there’s something new to worry about.”
“But isn’t that why you’re here, to figure out how to lessen this anxiety?
“No, I need my anxiety to write.”
I said it without thinking. But, I soon realized that I meant it. I spend most of my days thinking about bad things that could–and have–happened to seemingly decent people and then writing my way to feeling better about it. Writing in many ways is how I deal with stress.
“Then why do you come here?”
I shrugged. “Sometimes I just like shooting the shit.”