In my family we used to joke that my Grandma Velma’s nickname (unbeknownst to her) was “The Worrier”….My dad seemed to inherit this special trait, though his nickname was “No-Man” – His constant worries manifested into him simply saying “NO” to all of us, all of the time. I remember my mom’s first bone-marrow transplant at OHSU (the local teaching hospital on a huge hillside in Portland, OR)….during a visit we went out to the balcony to get some air and my dad – seeing the gorgeous view from quite high above the City – started yelling “NO NO NO…Get back from there! You could fall off – SOMETHING BAD might happen!” (So, of course, my brothers and I went closer to the rail, just to torture him.)
The “worrying” didn’t end with him, unfortunately. My siblings, my cousins and I all have it – in some of us it’s been diagnosed as “anxiety”. My kids struggle with it, too. My friends occasionally tease me about what it is I do to make them worry so much…”Bad news,” I answer….”I gave them my DNA – this was inevitable.”
Aaron, the kids and I recently went out to dinner with my dad and my youngest brother, Joe, for his birthday. My mom’s last full week of Chemo and Radiation battling Esophageal Cancer was last week so my brother’s brain is operating 100% in future crisis management mode. Nearly 20 times during our hour and a half dinner he wanted to talk about the “what ifs” in this, my mom’s 4th, cancer journey….”What if she gets sicker?” “What if the chemo doesn’t work?” “What if she has to stay in the hospital?” “What if she dies?” I don’t blame him for being scared – it is scary.
On the other side of the table, my son was in a mini-meltdown of his own, having had a random conversation with a classmate about ISIS during the school day: “Mom….where is ISIS? Why are they here? How do we get rid of them? Do you think ISIS could be in Red Robin RIGHT NOW….???? Maybe God could send some kind of sign when they’re gone….” I don’t blame him for being scared either!
These fears are real – it’s entirely possible that the worst could happen. It’s also entirely possible that the worst never will. I’m not in denial…I just don’t see how worrying can possibly help me. Empathy? Yes. Concern and caring? Yes. Thoughtful planning? Yes. Support? Yes. Love? YES YES YES. But worry? Not really….all worry does is wipe me out and paralyze me, so I can’t do any of those other things very well. I’m guessing the same might be true of you….
I definitely don’t find it funny….but I do find it interesting….that this is where many of our brains live, much of the time. The future – the past – the “What If” – the “Holy Shit”.
It is consistent across 95% of my clients that the suffering they are experiencing is caused by things that haven’t actually happened…they are just imagining how bad it will be IF IT DOES….
The money runs out?
My husband leaves me?
My daughter gets addicted to drugs (or video games, or alcohol)?
People don’t like me because I’m overweight?
No one wants to hire me again?
I don’t make the team?
That girl in my class thinks I’m ugly?
I try and I still fail?
My kids suffer because of how I parent them?
My best employee quits?
I’m never happy again?”
Yeah….Ok…that could happen. Here’s an idea to consider….What if it doesn’t?
Don’t misunderstand – I worry too. Often. I’ve just gotten better about noticing these patterns, being patient with myself, and then making small and consistent shifts in my thought process when they come up. This is what I try to teach my clients. This is how I try to support my children (and my brother, and anyone else that I love). And this is what I’d like to offer to you (if you, too, happen to have a brain that gets hijacked on occasion):
Next time you find your mind wandering to the crisis that COULD happen, please:
1) First…Be patient with yourself.
2) Now…Thank your brain for trying to protect and prepare you
3) Finally….try remind yourself that right now – in this very moment – You’re ok.*
*(Unless, of course, you’re not…in which case, ask for help).
And if that doesn’t work just run toward the problem yelling “NO NO NO!”
My dad seems to think that’s the strategy to employ…..
(And if you need a little support along the way? I’m here for ya.)