Never, in 25 years of writing, has a blank page felt so intimidating.
To say I struggled to find something to write about this week is an understatement — not because there isn’t an abundance of news and important stories worth covering — but because I haven’t been able to read or watch any of them without spiraling into an uncontrollable sense of panic and fear.
For the past week I’ve been stuck in a deep black hole of anxiety, a kind I’ve never felt before. It’s been exhausting.
Before I continue, let me say at the outset that I am getting treatment. I’m taking steps to limit my exposure to triggers. I have not yet asked my employers for time off, but I very well may.
I’ve always been a worrier — the kind Woody Allen movies and Larry David sitcoms affectionately portray as “neurotic,” or as go-getters might spin as “Type A.”
Worrying about what could go wrong has been a part-time side hustle for most of my life. I chalked it up to moving often as a kid, and having to constantly prepare for unknowns. Later, exacerbated by 9/11 and compounded exponentially when becoming a parent, worrying became the full-time gig. I constantly caught myself envisioning the worst possible scenario, even scenarios that were not just unlikely to happen to me, but nearly impossible. I told myself this was a normal part of responsible adulthood, and that things like clocking the nearest exits in a restaurant were just “being prepared.”
I also started obsessively transferring the pain of others onto myself. It wasn’t hard to find subject matter — I covered things like war, genocide, oppression. It wasn’t long before every child victim of the Syrian war was my child. Every mother fleeing Myanmar was me. Every family separated at the border was mine.
That can be useful — I’m not embarrassed or ashamed of empathy. But at times it could be debilitating. I leaned on friends who also worked in those difficult spaces, and attempted to compartmentalize.
The increasing divisiveness of American politics was also disorienting and traumatic. Once friends were now political foes; the things I thought we all cared about were no longer important to many; things like facts and truth and science were perverted purely as an exercise in manipulation and political gain; institutions have been and continue to be attacked and eroded by the very people charged with protecting them.
Then, in the midst of a deadly pandemic, worrying about things we once took for granted — going outside, going back to school, traveling — now had a proper purpose. Indulging my anxieties during COVID felt good and appropriate. Worrying about my job, my kid, my parents, my town, my community, my country all felt totally deserved. I leaned in.
But suddenly, the anxiety I nurtured and cultivated over the years became an absolute monster during this perfect storm — pandemic, politics, problems.
Now, every ambulance I passed was going to my house. Every call was going to be bad news. Every step, I was convinced, was going to be my last.
In the past week, simple things have become impossible. Making a decision, from what to buy at the grocery store to which words to use in a conversation, is agonizingly difficult. Racing thoughts make sleep impossible. A video of a boy on a ventilator sparked a panic attack while running errands. I am simultaneously overwhelmed with emotion and completely disassociated from my body.
While I knew instinctively to limit my news and social media intake, it’s my job to pay attention. So as I prepared to write this morning, the headlines were assaulting:
“COVID-19 cases among kids keep rising.”
“Wildfires ravage California and Greece.”
“Cuomo report triggering emotions for other sexual harassment victims.”
“Former Bronx charter school music teacher sexually abused students as young as 12.”
“Man on meth and Xanax crashes child’s birthday party.”
Asking anyone to function amidst a steady diet of this kind of news is a heavy lift. Today, I could barely manage to click on the links.
While opinion comes easy to me, I couldn’t make sense of anything I saw. They were jumbled words on a page, vaguely familiar but disassembled.
Oddly, the only thing I can seem to think clearly about is my anxiety. Somehow I can explain in excruciating detail the contours of my panic, but I can’t string together a cohesive thought about the stories I’ve been covering my entire career.
So, as I go about getting help to get back to my old self, or perhaps discovering a new and improved one, I hope you’ll bear with me. Apologies if I don’t tweet much or post.
Even as I write this, I have anxiety over sharing it. I’m not sure what the next days and weeks will bring — ideally some relief and clarity. But I know I will get there.
S.E. Cupp is the host of “S.E. Cupp Unfiltered” on CNN.
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