It Turns Out My Anxiety Means I’m a Genius

by Erin Blakeley
Originally Published: 
A brunette woman with anxiety in a floral top sitting and looking down

My mother called them free-floaters, and that became our cute little nickname for the kind of incessant worrying that dogged us both. The worry that the small bump under the skin of my wrist was some sort of rare wrist tumor that cut down 13-year-olds in their prime. That every time the cat nicked me it would result in a raging case of cat scratch fever. That when someone was an hour late it meant they had been consumed in a fiery crash rather than that they had just hit some traffic.

Yes, I’m one of those people who sees impending doom around every corner, who drives back to the house to see if she left the toaster on, who still won’t take aspirin for fear of Reye’s syndrome (despite being 20 years or so past that particular threat), who checks her own pulse to see if she can detect … a heart arrhythmia? Coronary artery disease? Who even knows? When my children were babies, their stroller came with a wrist strap and I used it. You heard that right, I actually tethered myself to their stroller. I’m not well.

But I just may be a genius.

According to Slate, a number of studies seem to indicate that crazy people like me may, in fact, be more intelligent than normal people who blithely go about their day without any thought that they may be about to be hit in the head by a falling object.

For instance, a recent study conducted at Lakehead University in Ontario suggests that students who reported higher levels of anxiety scored higher on a verbal intelligence test.

Another study out of SUNY Downstate Medical center reports that people who suffer from severe generalized anxiety disorder have a higher IQ than people with milder symptoms.

As for the exact mechanism behind my brilliance, it’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation. That is, does being intelligent make you anxious or does being anxious help you become intelligent? Is it that incessant worrying causes people to be more attentive and alert, which leads them to be better learners, and hence, appear smarter? Or is it that all of these crazy smart thoughts bouncing between my synapses makes me anxious? (I’m voting for door No. 2.)

Either way, I feel lifted from the small degree of shame I have carried about all of the times I texted my husband 16 times in a row because I hadn’t heard from him in an hour or so, or the number of times I scheduled an emergency appointment with my GP to examine a strangely protruding rib, or doused my children in enough DEET repellant to kill a small mammal for fear of West Nile virus.

It turns out that my brain just can’t be stopped. So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to return to reading Remembrance of Things Past before I go spy on my kids at recess to make sure they aren’t being bullied. Just let me check my pulse first.

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