My Name is Dave and I’m a Worryholic

My Name is Dave and I’m a Worryholic

Mom was a worryholic. Grandma was, too. The fact that most of my siblings and I inherited this affliction should not surprise anyone. The Urban Dictionary online accepts and also defines this condition. I can't argue with its existence; yet I wonder why the genetic tendency behind it doesn't affect all of us equally.

For example, my brother actually slept in on a Saturday morning and missed taking his pre-paid SAT during his teenage years. At that time, the rest of us only thought he was a doofus whose head wasn't on straight, but today I'm convinced that non-worriers are better off in the long run. Life can be tough on a worryholic.

Nightmares were one of my earliest worries. I was afraid to fall asleep because the boo-boo man might come and get me in my dreams. I've never been examined by a psychologist, but I'd bet my house and pension that one would appreciate learning the story behind the boo-boo man.

Mom worried that I didn't eat properly. Both she and Grandma were anxious and fearful that I was too skinny and suffered from malnutrition. Their plan: To scare me into eating and if I didn't, the boo-boo monster appeared just around the dining room corner. Not until years later was it revealed to me that mom was behind this masquerade.

Mom meant well and her first concern was her son's health and welfare. I am content knowing that she thought so much of her son's well-being, but you have no idea how frightening she appeared with her hair pulled back tightly under a babushka. Partially dislodging and displaying her dentures was horrifying, too. The floral blanket wrapped around her body was an added touch that made me shove the food down my gullet, without pausing to chew.

Result today: Let's just say that neither anorexia nor being underweight was ever a life-long concern.

Early in my elementary years I worried that I might garner too much individual attention during class. I had a huge fear of being in the spotlight, particularly if I stood alone in the classroom or on stage. Intentionally missing the spelling of a word during spelling bees became the normal way to avoid that possibility, and I did that on numerous occasions.

Worried that I might need glasses, I cheated on my eye tests by memorizing those huge black letters while the students at the beginning of the alphabet took their turns on the eye chart. Today I suffer from uncorrectable amblyopia, a type of lazy eye, and I am farsighted, too.

Concerned that my sins were not mortal nor worthy enough of forgiveness, I'd make a few up in the confessional. This served another purpose, too. If I ever forgot to tell the priest a sin, I thought I was covered by those that were previously exaggerated. It's funny how a kid thinks.and even funnier how that rationalization still makes a kind of logical sense to me.

I haven't given a priest a confession for nearly 30 years, but I swear the next time I do, I'm going to tell him some whoppers to cover all those sins that I have missed.

In my 6th-grade music class I sat right in front of Mary Topper, an immensely popular girl in our school. The problem was that I had developed a mild case of dandruff, and Head & Shoulders hadn't been produced yet (or if it had, it hadn't shown up in any of the brown grocery bags that made their way to our house each week). To deal with this visible flaking problem, I contemplated notifying the teacher that I couldn't see the board very well, hoping to be allocated a new seat. However, I had already been assigned a front seat because of my behavior, so that idea was scratched in a hurry. So, I had to try to cope with the situation by scrubbing my scalp vigorously every night with a stiff hairbrush and regular shampoo while in the shower. No, the dandruff did not go away, but the resulting pinkish-red flakes were much less noticeable than the white ones.

As an adolescent, my complexion began giving me some concern, too. This is perfectly normal, but when Uncle Pete would repeatedly ask me if I was eating too many tomatoes, my worry level only got worse. And, of course, the cycle of anxiety and zits was off and running full steam.

During the entire summer before I entered junior high in grade seven, I shared an apprehension with many of my male classmates. Changing clothes in the locker room prior to gym class worried many, if not all, of us. I am aware that you ladies, too, had plenty of feminine concerns at that age, but coping with an escalating quantity of testosterone was not easy, either.

A fear of losing my hair was one of my longer-lasting worries in life. It began as a kid, when I noticed that my dad and all my uncles were basically bald. This continued for every waking moment of my entire life until I reached the age of 40 or so. By then I realized that it was not going to happen, at least not to the extent that it did with my dad and uncles. While in college I developed a back-up plan in case my hair all fell out overnight while I was sleeping. You might be laughing right now, but that did indeed happen in some of my nightmares.

My plan B was to use my degree in biology, live in a tower in Canada as a hermit, and watch for forest fires instead of becoming a teacher in a public school. There was simply no way I was going to teach kids without hair, and the peace and solitude of the Canadian woods provided me with a possible comfort zone should the need arise.

I still have hair today, albeit thinning a little on top, but it's still there. Aren't vanity worries peculiar? Other than the mess around my computer area, I wouldn't care today if my hair all fell out right now. But, for some, ego issues persist for a lifetime.

Other worries common to most of us, but seemingly imbedded much more deeply in me, included public speaking, social anxiety, and, of course, dying. I have to smile when I think of the comedian Jerry Seinfeld as he explains that people have more of a fear of public speaking than they do of dying. For me, it's true. I'd rather be "in the coffin than delivering the eulogy."

Fears and some reservations continue today, although they're not nearly as prominent as they once were.

Some of my most recent worries include: Will Mr. Krouse offer his hand to me as a sign of peace during mass after he just cleaned his ear out with his pointer finger? That lady just sneezed in her hand if she offers a sign of peace to me, I'll have to pretend I don't see her. Hmm, that waiter just went into the restroom I sure hope he washes his hands. I wonder, too, if that filthy, germ-ridden handle on that lavatory door has to be pulled from within in order to open the door. I better check that out right away.

Have any of these worry traits and characteristics been passed on to my kids? Unfortunately, yes. Some of my son's concerns while watching the news one day were: One, will his money in the credit union be safe from robbers? Two, will our house be safe in the aftermath of a tornado? And three, how likely is it that those killer bees might migrate from Mexico and end up making hives around our house? Sadly, he was afflicted with these worries before he entered pre-school.

I still maintain an unhealthy, worry-filled mental attitude today. My concerns are much less about myself, though, and much more about my dad, my kids, my wife, and my grandchildren. I fret less about public speaking and my eventual demise and more about the economy, the environment, and the earth's climate.

Today, my objective is to form a new support group called "Worryholics Anonymous" and open my home for our first meeting. I don't plan on getting much accomplished at these meetings other than drinking beer, eating some hot wings or pizza, and listening to oldie musicbut those activities alone just might help you forget your worries and issues even if for only a few hours. You are all invited.

Please prepare your introduction, "I am ____ and I am a worryholic." If your preamble bothers you because of your fear of standing and speaking in front of a group, we'll gladly allow you the option of sitting quietly and just observing.

Remember, one fact alone might help you relax: No one at this meeting will be more of a worrier than the founder.

My Roots - The Potchaks - circa 1927

My Roots - The Potchaks - circa 1927
From Left: Son, Steve - Dad, Frank - Mom, Anastasia (Makar) - Sons; John, Mike, Frank, Chuck (Author's Dad) - Twins, Pete & Mary - Daughter, Catherine. Photo taken in Wilmore, PA