I would like to preface this by clarifying that I do not “have” anxiety. I “experience” anxiety. I get to feeling anxious over specific, concrete circumstances in my life. I do not suffer from a disease wherein my brain falsely signals panic and fear responses to seemingly insignificant or unknown triggers. I’m lucky, in that I experience anxiety “logically,” in response to definitive curveballs in my life. I feel greatly for the millions of Americans who suffer from anxiety. I can’t even imagine living like this all the time. It sucks.

I’m anxious right now.

You see, my husband is going in for surgery tomorrow. It’s a small, outpatient procedure. Standard. Routine. It really isn’t that big of a deal.

But my brain keeps imagining horrible things.

It keeps screaming in my ear about complications. About mistakes. It’s forcing me to picture solemn looks from nurses and doctors. To imagine the horrific phone calls and conversations with loved ones. To see my daughters’ devastation. I can’t seem to turn these horrible thoughts off.

So, I’m responding to the anxiety the way I’ve always responded to it. I’m cleaning. Obsessively. Neurotically. Chaotically.

And it’s that nervous cleaning that I want to talk to you about today.

Recently, I’ve seen several memes, funny tweets, and Facebook posts about “those people.” “Who are those people who clean their houses when they’re anxious?” these posts often begin, “And how do I get to be one of them??” People identify and laugh along with these posts. “Oh, I’d give ANYTHING to be one of those people!” “Amen!” “All that I do is eat an entire bag of Cheetos when I’m anxious!”

Perhaps I’m being overly sensitive, but I would like to set the record straight. As someone who compulsively cleans when she’s anxious, I’d like to remind everyone of this one, simple fact: Anxiety always sucks, regardless of the ways in which it manifests.

There is no good anxiety.

There is no useful anxiety.

There is no right anxiety.

Anxiety ALWAYS sucks, regardless of the ways in which it manifests.

Take today, for instance. I’ve been cleaning since I dropped my kids off at school. It’s now five minutes to five in the evening. I haven’t stopped. Cleaning my house the day before my husband’s surgery sounds like a great idea (it’s always less stressful to come home to a neat house after an exhausting day). And it is. On paper. When it’s controlled. When it’s planned. When it hasn’t been hijacked by a brain in panic mode.

And, trust me, this is a hijacking.

There are sections of my house that are spotless. Yes, I vacuumed the bedrooms. And, yes, I ran a load of laundry. But did I change the sheets on the bed? Did I wash towels and pillows? Did I organize his favorite foods and physician-approved snacks to make them easier for him to access while he recuperates tomorrow? No. Absolutely not. Because I wasn’t cleaning with a clear, logical mind. I was cleaning with an anxious one.

So, instead of wiping down our inexplicably sticky and crumb-filled couch (where he’ll be resting tomorrow), I took an old toothbrush and scrubbed all of our coasters clean. Instead of putting away the dishes, or going shopping for foods he’ll be able to eat and enjoy, I reorganized our china hutch to better fit all of our serving dishes. I took a cover off an old chair to put in the wash (a chair that he never sits in). I disassembled the kitchen sink so that I could scrub the drains with stainless steel polish. Then I also polished the faucet and drip rails. I went out in the garage and collapsed all of the cardboard boxes to take them to the recycling center. I wiped the dust off of his drill, for fuck’s sake.

I spent no time with my daughters.

I told them that Mommy was “busy preparing for Daddy’s surgery tomorrow.”

But that’s not true.

I was busy desperately trying to calm my crazed mind.

I was busy trying to make everything out there look neat and organized, so I could convince myself that everything in here was under control.

And I’m worried that they’re noticing. That they’re starting to understand. (I’ve noticed that my youngest daughter won’t go to sleep at night if her room is messy. She HAS to have her toys put away. I get it, little girl. I so get it.)

Friends tell me that I have a clean house.

They praise my ability to make toys disappear. To make counter and stove tops shine. My power washing skills are renowned throughout my neighborhood.

I tell them that they shouldn’t praise me.

I’m not being humble. They really shouldn’t.

Because I don’t clean out of a sense of joy. But a sense of fear.

Sure, it looks good.

But it isn’t good.

There IS no “good” anxiety.

I don’t ask for it often, so if my darling readers could send my husband some good vibes, thoughts, and wishes for his procedure tomorrow, I’d be really appreciative! He’s the other half of my heart. And I’m not ashamed to say it.

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