I Am Anxious and My Amygdala Is Exhausted

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My amygdala should have blown up by now, like some engine that is overheated, steam pouring out of the hood (or my ears), pulled over by the side of the expressway. Sold for parts. Or maybe it should have just collapsed into some cringing and exhausted heap, no longer capable of monitoring my emotional register, of triggering the fight-flight response it’s so famous for managing.

If my amygdala were truly protective of me, it should just say fuck it. These years and years of Trump-induced anxiety has been too much to deal with for anyone, this evolutionary adaptation has met its match. 

The amygdala is a little almond shaped part of the brain—the name actually comes from the Greek word for almond—and its all about managing our emotional state, especially when it comes to anxiety and uncertainty. It’s focused on the future, the panicky little voice saying, “Watch out! It looks risky! Did you think of what this storm approaching could mean? Batten down the hatches! Those trees near your house will destroy your roof. The president of your country will destroy democracy.” You get the idea.

Which brings me to why mine, why everyone’s I suppose, is exhausted after all these damn years of watching institutions crumble, a group of politicians become enablers for crypto-fascist leadership, children put in cages, their parents lost (Lost?? When will the trials for crimes against humanity begin?), our Cold War foe becoming our frenemy, the overt racism, the grotesque abuse of government workers. Absolutely everything is implicated. And anxiety is washing over my perceptions of absolutely everything. 

I am anxious about getting COVID. About someone in my family getting COVID (right, my daughter already had it); ok, about my daughter getting sick again. I’m anxious about insomnia and about the reason for it, about my 15-year-old dog dying, about typos (even worse if they’re in the hed or dek). I’m anxious about climate change. There’s my gas stove, anxious about that because I am reading so much about how bad they are, plus we should include anxiety about my excessive consumption of paper towels.

I am anxious about falling down stairs and driving over the Bay Bridge and not going swimming and going swimming. I am anxious about something happening to my house or my car or my 401k (ok, something happened, it’s fine). I am anxious about the winter and quarantine when it’s cold and dark and all those delicious distant dinners and drinks al fresco will be impossible. I am anxious about getting a heater for outside and anxious about propane, about Mercury in retrograde, about Fauci’s health, about the criminal in the White House, about the mess we are in, about a huge economic depression and a national nervous breakdown. I am anxious about QAnon and about some people in my neighborhood who are actually buying more food or leaving town to go to Arizona of all places because they are worried (make that anxious) about a civil war after the election. I am anxious about not having solar panels. I am sick with anxiety about how we’ve forgotten about the kids in cages and what will happen to them?

What has happened to them?

What has happened to us all? 

What is the point of all this anxiety? I talked to a Hungarian friend who lives in Germany the other day. He said, with the fatalism of Hungarian Jews that I know so very well, “Stop worrying. Nothing matters.” I think his amygdala has just thrown in the towel.

Except, it does matter. It matters so much, it makes me anxious. —Marianne Szegedy-Maszak

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