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Plan for Going to a Music Festival with Generalized Anxiety Disorder by Annie Marhefka

If you ask a person without generalized anxiety disorder how they plan for a music festival, they say things like: “Wear layers in case it gets too hot,” or “get there early to beat the crowd.” But for me, a person with generalized anxiety disorder, the blueprints of possibility are mapped synapses sparking within uncontrollably and my only defense is to plot out detailed plans to thwart the imagined risks. The week before the event, my brain starts tick-tick-ticking, feverishly drafting a schematic with my budding architect of disaster, sparing no tiny detail of tragic possibility. We plan together, my little friend Anxiety and I.

First, we plan for a fire (perhaps it erupts as quickly as a food truck’s can of propane exploding, or maybe a concert-goer’s dropped joint ignites a patch of lawn before catching the hem of a woman’s tie-dyed maxi skirt and spreading like syrup over hot pancakes). If we are on the fringe of the crowd, surely we can flee, our beer and fear-fueled calves pound-pound-pounding the dirt leftright-leftright, racing through narrow exit turnstiles like ants in plastic farms. If we are stage-front, raised hands swaying, heads bopping with the beat of the bass drum, we are sure to perish amidst stampeding Birkenstocks and Vans and the occasional bare-footed hippie, bodies tumbling underneath timpani of terror.

Later, we imagine a mass shooting, easy to conjure up because we’ve seen the news reels on repeat in Vegas and Miami, have flinched at balloons popping, ducked at the sound of fourth-of-July fireworks when it’s not fourth-of-July, cowered at the rat-a-tat-tat of an on-stage amp shorting out during soundcheck. We peruse the festival map, a cartoonish sketch of fences and stage and parking lots labeled A, B, C, and VIP, to see where the nearest exits are located.

We wrestle with these thoughts, my little disaster architect and I; with my left foot pressed against his neck, I tell him, that would never happen, that has never happened and he lurches back, pinning my torso against the concrete curb of doubt: but it could. It could. IT COULD.

Plans flay out in sketchy renderings as we dream up chaos: a collapse of the musician-laden stage with its monstrous overhang teetering, keyboards and trombone-players crumbling; an earthquake, the hard-packed ground splitting open into a cavern, wailing guitar riffs fading into its depths as we plummet; a tsunami sending a symphony of whooshing water six-feet high through swarms of legs and bebopping noggins and hands holding cell phones to the sky while the band draws out its trademark jam.

By the time Saturday arrives, its promise licking the tips of our toes at the coastline of the festival grounds, the sweet chorus of our disaster schematic has faded as the band’s melody will after the show—tapering off to a pervasive yet subtle ringing in the base of our skulls as we drift into pillows.

The day before the festival, my friend who has bought the tickets asks if I’ve given any thought to our plan for the day. I tell her, “Oh I guess we ought to get there early and try to beat the crowd. Maybe wear layers in case it gets too hot? I hadn’t really thought about it.”


Annie Marhefka is a writer in Baltimore, Maryland, where she spends her time writing, boating on the Chesapeake Bay, and hiking with her kiddos. Her creative nonfiction and poetry have been featured in Versification, Sledgehammer Lit, Anti-Heroin Chic, Remington Review, Coffee + Crumbs, and Capsule Stories, among others. Annie is the Executive Director at Yellow Arrow Publishing, a Baltimore-based nonprofit supporting and empowering women writers, and is working on a memoir about mother/daughter relationships. You can find Annie’s writing on Instagram @anniemarhefka, Twitter @charmcityannie, and

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