I am scared of everything. Not rational things like heights or spiders or public speaking or horror movies. But things like:
Is this meat cooked? Are you sure?
Falling off a subway platform
Death by escalator
Contracting a disease from any combination of the following:
Not sleeping enough
Properly cooked meat
The kid I saw throwing up on the side of I-95
Disappointing my friends and/or family
It is awful, arbitrary, and, sometimes, quite funny. For all of its sadism and abuse, my anxiety and its neuroses often give me a good laugh. How else could one deal with the realization that with each passing minute, you are 60-seconds closer to your next stomach flu?
I have met plenty of other high-functioning people with anxiety and have always used humor as a mechanism for explaining and coping with mine. But I often wondered why the humorous nature of everyday fears and worries was never used as more mainstream ice-breakers for discussing a common mental illness.
And just like that, I discovered cartoonist Roz Chast, and her book, What I Hate from A to Z (2011). Chast writes about and draws the intrinsic humor in the fears that keep us up at night and the very common and valid nature of persistent, irrational worry. Her drawings run the fear gamut from the everyday (balloons, elevators) to bigger questions of death. In “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?” Chast navigates the humorous, maddening, fearsome, and difficult process of watching loved ones grow old.
Recently, Chast discussed her work at the Manhattan JCC as part of the “Reimagine, End of Life” festival in New York City. The nonprofit organization “Reimagine” hosts the annual, week-long “community-wide exploration of death and celebration of life through creativity and conversation.”
What I find touching and important about her cartoons is that they validate not only the authenticity and presence of anxiety and its impact on everyday life, but also the authenticity and presence of humor in the things that we fear and the difficulties we traverse. And how the two (can and should) coexist.
A rainy day or stuffy nose might throw me into an internal panic, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t also find that fact hilarious. And it is also true that there are moments of humor and levity in dealing with our darkest fears or most morbid realities. I reached out to Chast after her talk to thank her for her authentic work. “Anxiety and humor,” she wrote back, “I don't know why, but for me, they're like an old couple. Like peanut butter and jelly.”
I recently forgot to get a flu-shot before leaving the country for a few days—oh well, I thought, looks like I’ll be dying abroad.
I panicked a little. Then I laughed. -Alex Minton
Alex Minton is an actor and writer from Sleepy Hollow, NY. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 2017 with a degree in American Studies and has written several short and full-length plays. A pilot, he is currently an Aviation Policy Fellow in New York City. (www.alex-minton.com / Twitter: @bestmidler)
To learn more about Roz Chast, check out her website here.