Essays

TV Dinners With Anxiety

For someone with general anxiety disorder, eating in front of the TV isn't about laziness. It's about self-preservation.

When we first got married, my husband and I tried to agree on a dinner rule: If it’s in a bowl, it’s okay to eat in front of the TV. On a plate, and we sit at the table.

It’s not a particularly onerous rule, but it’s one, more often than not, which I have trouble following.

Such as tonight. The table is set with plates. My husband is finishing making dinner.

“Do you want to watch a Mindy?” I ask planting myself firmly on the couch, remote in hand.

He looks at me. We both know I’m trying to lure him away from a sit-down meal away from our Formica-and-chrome kitchen table. Sitting side by side on the brown couch we bought from the damaged section, we can direct all our mental and emotional energy towards the TV, instead of at each other.

I have generalized anxiety disorder. What that means is that I often feel inexplicable dread uncurling from the pit of me, worries gnawing away at the background of my mind, few of which have any bearing on real life. I lay awake in bed at night, obsessing over how I’ll die: inevitable car crashes, unavoidable brown recluse bites, fires that burn down our home. This is the panopticon of my paranoia, in which I am perpetually kept in solitary confinement.

Sitting down in front of a TV show, I know I won’t have to tell my husband about my anxieties.

For me, my day is my fears, my worries, my thoughts. Which is why I like to eat in front of the TV. Sitting down in front of a show, I know I won’t have to tell my husband about them. Instead, I can tuck my anxiety manageably away for an hour, then–god willing–have a normal conversation with my husband. I can connect. I can escape the trap of my own mind.

Because I so often want to watch TV while we eat, I often worry that my husband will think that I don’t want to hear what he’s thinking: his hopes, his fears, his passions, his thoughts. Nothing could be further from the truth. I want to know what’s going on in his head, I just don’t want him knowing what’s going on in mine.

Though I know this isn’t true, I live with a bone-deep fear that, if I spoke my thoughts aloud, he would stop loving me. And even if I could convince myself in the moment that speaking wouldn’t render me immediately and permanently unlovable, to explain my fears is humiliating.

I know my anxieties are ludicrous and unfounded, but after years of trying to medicate or cognitively therapize them away, they’re still a part of me.  They are part of my body, and they never go away.

So we eat dinner in front of the television, more nights than not. And after dinner, I’ll toss out another well-worn ploy to delay connecting about out days. “I’m trying to decide,” I say, “whether to go get some ice cream.” Most nights, my husband says, “I’ll go with you,” and we’ll go the grocery store, and come back with a huge plastic bag of snacks.

Perhaps it’s that old trick of automobiles encouraging difficult conversations as you stare ahead, as if at a TV, instead of looking at each other, but it’s often on these snack runs that I feel most alive and most connected to my husband.

One day we will again only eat in front of the TV if dinner is in bowls. Until then, I’ll take these connections where they come… and feel forever grateful to be with someone who accepts me for who I am.