Well I did it. I ordered 23 And Me, the genetics and health testing kit that can let you in on your ancestry, potential future health issues and other things based on your DNA.
You send your saliva in, they do their magic — and voila. You get a picture of who you are, where you’ve come from, and who you’re likely to become. Past, present and future – all from a test tube full of spit.
I’d been pondering the choice for a while. Did I really want to know about potential Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s? Would it make me anxious, peering into every little nuance of change in my behavior for signs of trouble? And how much does genetic expression truly govern what happens to us anyway?
Would I just plain freak out?
Would I want my child to know? Would that cause undo worry for him? Or would I keep the info to myself, and if I received not great news, would I do my best to prevent those things from happening, or would I tend to collapse into resignation of a deteriorated state? Would I tell my husband or the rest of the family, or keep that info tight to the vest?
I’ve long felt that the hardest part of aging was facing more and more ambiguity about the future. Not that earlier in life, the future is calculable or predictable. Not at all. But somehow, rounding into this decade, I’ve thought more about the future.
I’ve buried my parents. I’ve buried friends. I got told by my concerned contractor the other day, “You have no business getting up on that stool. You need to get a step ladder.”
But he’s probably right.
I want to be rooted in the present. I know after years of being a therapist that staying in the moment, enjoying what you’re experiencing in the now – and actively working through painful emotions that are in your awareness — is the way to go. If not, you’re setting yourself up for anxiety.
And anxiety can be crippling.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) comes from focusing on the future, and predicting that horrible or worrisome things will happen, feeling out of control, hypervigilant and searching feverishly for what will prevent these things from happening. In severe cases, people with GAD can suffer actual visualizations of tragedy. They “see” planes crashing with loved ones aboard, or armed terrorists rushing into their home. The fears are mostly irrational, and can be triggered by real or imaginary events.
And then there’s panic disorder itself, which involves an abrupt invasion of fear, with episodes where your heart races, your chest tightens, you get sweaty and feel like racing out of room for air. You basically feel as if you’ve been invaded by an alien, your body and mind not your own.
I already experience performance anxiety. Am I just “asking for it” if I read the results of such a test?
The answer is, “I don’t know.”
I started listening to country music back in 2007, when I was driving back and forth from my home to my parents house in southern Arkansas. They’d both died, a week apart, and we were cleaning out a home that had been lived in for almost 60 years, seemingly with little going to Good Will or The Salvation Army during that time.
It was stuffed to the gills. We found honeymoon luggage back in the far reaches of an attic. Letters that my mom had written my dad when he served in the Philippines. Pieces from my mother’s trousseau that I recognized from old pictures.
And dishes. Lots of dishes.
It was a gargantuan task.
I’d never listened to country music before. But I needed an emotional outlet. The last decade of my parents’ lives had been far from healthy, with my mother’s severe anxiety unintentionally ruling their life. She couldn’t tolerate change, and tried to create the same schedule every day. Occasionally, Dad would put his foot down. But it had been very sad to watch.
Rolling down the highway, I’d listen to songs like Tim McGraw’s “Live Like You’re Dying” or Miranda Lambert’s, “The House That Built Me” and tears would fill my eyes. I’d loved my parents so much, yet aging had not been their friend.
If I can, I want to save my own child from that experience.
I’m hoping that I will relish the present — to live fully and completely until I no longer can. If the assessment suggests I have something to grieve, then grieve I will. I’ll do better having the information.
I’ll follow up with you when I get the results. I’d love to know your own thoughts and feelings.
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You can hear more about anxiety and many other topics by listening to Dr. Margaret’s new podcast, SelfWork with Dr. Margaret Rutherford. Subscribe to this website and receive her weekly posts as well as her podcasts, plus Dr. Margaret’s eBook, “Seven Commandments of Good Therapy.”
Dr. Rutherford hasn’t received any compensation from “23 And Me” for this post.
Want more from Dr. Margaret? Read how to know when a friendship is over, and how to make a long-distance relationship work with your grown children.