This piece originally appeared on Lilith.org.
It’s not who I am, it’s just a sickness.
These are the words you want to protest to your five roommates in Florence, Italy, when they bring up the idea for a weekend getaway to Paris. Who says no to Paris?
Evidently, you do—when “travel expenses” mean hitchhiking and “hotels” mean couch-surfing: the trendy practice of seeking out strangers to, literally, sleep on their couches, saving greatly in dollars but risking expensive compromises to personal safety.
“Come on,” they urge you. “Where’s your sense of adventure?”
This is the reality, despite all the adventurous heroines you love and admire in books and movies: you don’t actually have any sense of adventure. At all. That’s because you have anxiety instead.
You fear more than just living out the plot of the movie “Taken,” in which a young girl studying abroad is sold into trafficking. You fear being the Mom of the group when you’re supposed to be just a roommate. You fear causing problems that will make a small, three-bedroom apartment with six women and two bathrooms more uncomfortable than it already is. You fear being perceived as boring. You’re not sure which of these fears is the most valid: perhaps it would be better to be “Taken” than to be boring.
Your condition of anxiety is actually a more unique case. It’s called Jewish Mother-itis.
Your family records from Poland are long lost, but you know that your father’s ancestors immigrated to the United States at the turn of the 20th century to flee pogroms. Your mother’s history is a bit fuzzier, but you learn from your grandmother that most of her side was safely out of Europe by the time Hitler rose to power. Even still, the Holocaust was hardly the only incident of mass violence against the Jews—who knows how far back your family line extends, and how much a history of chronic violence afflicted Caplin genes to produce the nervous wreck you are today?
You think back to being eight years old, when you overheard a conversation between your parents in which your mother was describing a recent nightmare she had about the neighbors: she’d dreamt that they reported you all to the Nazis, who promptly came to take you away to the camps. After that, she never quite let up on the theory that the dream was somewhat prophetic. If the Smiths weren’t actual Nazis, then they were at least Nazi sympathizers: a theory that gained traction when one of their sons bloodied your brother’s nose, though the exact reason for this is still unknown.
As a consolation for not being allowed a Christmas tree, you asked if you could at least display our menorah in the window. Mom said no—your home could get vandalized for it.
You were the much-longed-for child that your parents never expected to have, after a round of expensive fertility treatments. The pregnancy that ended with your birth was the last and final attempt after a series of devastating miscarriages and one ectopic pregnancy. You joke that your conception day was on Valentine’s Day, because your birthday is exactly nine months later, even though you know the actual event was far less romantic than that (and that few pregnancies last exactly nine months, anyway).
You’d like to think that was the reason you were always overprotected as a kid. You were never allowed to have sugared snacks because the artificial ingredients caused cancer. For the longest time you weren’t allowed to go to the mall alone, despite living in a small suburb (the kind too small for secrets) even when all your friends could, because Stranger Danger was imminent. You were a petite little girl, a delicate dancer and figure skater, and assumed unable to fend for yourself. If you were late for curfew, you must have been kidnapped and stuffed in a trunk. Your first cell phone was given to you not so you could increase your social communication, but to let your mom know where you were and what you were up to so she wouldn’t worry.
Despite knowing these rules were only out of concern for your safety, that didn’t stop you from thinking, in typical teenage fashion, that your parents just didn’t ever want you to have fun.
Nonetheless, the anxiety only increased as you grew older, and with it, your knowledge that the world around you was an unsafe place to be both Jewish and female.
Your parents were wrong about a few things: “Stranger Danger,” statistically, is a joke. Most people are abused by someone they already know, and in many cases, someone they love and trust: a lesson you learned from the first man you loved, who raped you in his dorm room over spring break. You learned you can avoid processed food your whole life, eat only organic, exercise regularly, never smoke, and still die young from untreatable cancer, as your father did. You can fear what your Nazi-sympathizing neighbors might want to do to harm you, but more Americans are killed in car accidents than hate crimes.
As you inch closer to turning 30, you wonder if it would be irresponsible of you to try to have children: if all you’d be doing is passing down the legacy of trauma and anxiety in your genes, inflicting innocent beings through no fault of their own.
In the months after Donald Trump won the presidential election, the term “post-election stress disorder” came into being. At this time, just over 100 days into his term, millions of Americans risk losing their health insurance, being deported despite acquiring visas, and face increasing harassment because of their skin color, sexual orientation, or religious practice. What will become of this generation’s children, born into political turmoil this country has never seen before?
What are the odds that the future holds a society in which every one of us is a ticking panic attack just waiting to happen?
Who you are might, for once, become the new normal.
Like this post? Check out Confessions of a Jew-ish Skeptic, now available on Amazon.