I have an idea for an app. Feel free to steal it and make millions.
It would have two buttons. One would allow an anxious person to send this question to loved ones: “Are you mad at me?” People could check in as “mad” or “not mad.” If everyone responded “not mad,” the anxious person could go about their day, unburdened.
The second button would ask the same people, “Are you OK right now? Are you dead on the floor? Have zombies attacked?” The loved ones could choose “Don’t worry, I’m fine,” or — in a worst-case scenario — “The zombies have arrived! Send help!”
I would like this app to exist (and if it does, let me know) because these are the questions that fly around my brain when I’m feeling anxiety, which is a lot of the time. The app wouldn’t actually cure my overthinking, though. Because even if people checked in as fine, I would doubt it’s the truth. That’s how my anxiety works.
As I get older, my worries grow. Medication does help, as does therapy. But what about books?
For this monthly “Working on It” column, where writer Christina Tucker and I have explored the world of self-help for more than a year, I dove into a book about anxiety and loved ones. “Overthinking About You: Navigating Romantic Relationships When You Have Anxiety, OCD, And/Or Depression,” is by comedian, writer, and podcaster Allison Raskin. While its title focuses on romantic relationships, I figured it might help with all of my close connections.
It turns out Raskin’s book transcends the romantic. In fact, a lot of her own overthinking, she admits, is about her dog.
But the stuff about romance is the best part, and in a quick, quippy book that can be read in an afternoon, she manages to explore a range of ways any of us can get stuck in fear and doubt. It’s a good read for people going through breakups; those who get anxious when, say, potential romantic partners don’t text them back; or anyone who feels panicked about a loved one’s health (that’s me). It’s also for anyone considering therapy and medication, and for people who find love but can’t stop feeling like it’s not enough.
Raskin shares very personal stories, including the one about the guy who dumped her because she couldn’t have an orgasm. She’s exploring these topics to get answers for herself, which makes the journey that much more relatable. She reveals her own pain points without making it about self-deprecation (much of the book is about compassion, and she follows that rule for herself).
Topics include what Raskin calls ROCD — relationship obsessive-compulsive disorder — where you’re fixating on “whether or not you have the right feelings for your partner, or if they have the right feelings for you.” And she talks about how mass media (including social) can feed the problem, making us think “passion needs to be constantly present, and that you should be 100 percent sure you’ve found your soul mate.” She interviews, among many others, therapist Sheva Rajaee, who tells her that no relationship is supposed to feel perfect. Rajaee, director of the Center for Anxiety and OCD in Irvine, Calif., surprises Raskin by telling her that people can “look for good enough relationships.”
“The wildest part is that she’s absolutely right,” Raskin writes. “In the age of online dating, I’ve often thought people are far too picky. My peers tend to think the perfect partner is one swipe away — so they keep swiping and swiping until they give up ... But I never thought about it in terms of what you value. Some people are going to value stability over passion, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.”
The heart of the book, for me, was her chapter about how to talk to loved ones about mental health. Sharing is good. Asking for help is healthy. But you have to keep things healthy for the other person, too.
There’s some happy medium between my suffering in silence, worrying about my sister, for instance, and telling her she has to call me every 20 minutes to tell me she’s OK.
“Seeking continuous reassurance is one of the hardest habits I’ve had to break,” Raskin writes. “But I have come up with a helpful rule of thumb. I still let myself ask for reassurance about certain things, but I only let myself ask once (per day).”
The thing I liked most was Raskin’s observation that we’re allowed to be works in progress, and that if you’re prone to overthink, it doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t be in love.
“The reality is that it takes a lot of risk to love and be loved,” she writes. “And just because we have been deprived of joy at times throughout our lives due to our mental health doesn’t mean we should stop fighting for happiness. If anything, it should motivate us to fight harder. The world is metaphorically — and in some places, quite literally — burning around us. We need to reach for all the happiness we can.”
“Overthinking About You,” by Allison Raskin, Workman Publishing, $16.95
Meredith Goldstein can be reached at email@example.com.