I’m both pleased and sorry to say that before I started going to therapy in 2022, I didn’t feel much anxiety—ever. I thought there was something wrong with me for not feeling this ever-present, trembling fearful feeling I’d heard so many of my friends describe, both online and off. Catastrophic things would happen I would just be…
In fact, I didn’t seem to feel regular-old-fear like normal people, either.
One time I almost drove off a cliff.
When I was on a camping trip in rural Idaho a few years ago with some friends, I was driving our rental car. The road in front of us was carved into the side of a mountain, and to our surprise, throttled itself down into a one-way dirt deathtrap midway.
My friends in the car panicked.
Any smart, normal person would.
One wrong move and that rotting road could crumble and send us tumbling into the deep ravine.
If a car came barreling from around the bend, that was almost as bad; what were we gonna do, face a head-on collision, or back up the whole way?
My friends voiced their concerns, but I just felt kinda numb.
My focus sharpened. Something told me there was nothing to worry about. I carefully drove forward and followed the curve, keeping my eye on the drop-off to the left.
That drive lasted somewhere between five and ten minutes.
When the road opened up, we had our “Phew!” moment.
I still felt weirdly calm.
“How are you feeling? Are you okay?” My friend asked.
“I’m scared,” I said.
I felt nothing but a mild boredom.
A little later, I parked the car and we all got out to stretch our legs.
Privately, I tried to make sense of the feeling of calm nothingness when faced with a real situation that could’ve killed me and all of my friends.
I watched them, shaken up but chatting happily in the grassy part of the parking lot, and wondered why I felt so disconnected. I felt disturbed at the sudden, stark awareness that I was hollow in a way I hadn’t previously known.
Over the years, that numbness in the face of danger gave me an advantage in the working world. I interviewed exceptionally well. I stayed calm when customers yelled. When important things around me would break, I’d calmly go into the codebase and try a few things to fix it, bored as ever.
I used to think it was my superpower—that I could feel nothing in a world full of shocks and surprises and anxiety and doom. I could date, and dump, and get dumped, and not feel anything at all. I could watch scary movies depicting horrible things and feel nothing but that sea of emotional grayness. I could keep working until everything functioned to my satisfaction. Projects, endless projects, zero fear.
In my arrogance, I thought this lack of fear made me different than others; it gave me advantages in certain areas of life. Later, I learned that it was not true; that I wasn’t special at all. Many people have this emotional stuntedness and it’s not an advantage, it’s crippling. It makes it very difficult to connect with others in any real way.
It comes from trauma. It comes from growing up in an environment full of fear and uncertainty. Your developing brain gets so used to adults yelling and screaming and blaming and neglect that it decides, “Ah, yes. The world is just like this. No big deal. I’ll just numb everything and never trust other people and do everything myself.” And it shuts off your ability to connect. It stays like that for the rest of your life, unless you get treatment.
I got the treatment. And wow, does it open up a whole new world.