Every now and then you meet someone who had a problem and never really knew it. Like my ex boyfriend, who was born with a malformed knee and was all of five or six before he realized that other people didn’t experience pain when they walked. Or a girl I used to work with, who didn’t realize that she had inflammatory bowel problems until she was in her early teens and said something like “you know how, when you have to poop, it hurts so bad you feel like you’re going to pass out?” and got the response, “no…. maybe you should see a doctor…” Or a man I met who told me that he spent his whole childhood getting scolded for picking fewer strawberries than his siblings, for using such strange crayon colour choices and so on… until he tried to join the air force and was told that he was colour blind.
Now I have people like the psychologist from Fraser Mental Health, and my nurse practitioner, and caring people on the interwebs, asking me questions like “how often do you worry?” and “what sorts of things do you worry about?” and “what have you tried to stop your worry?” and… I don’t know how to answer these questions. Try asking a fish how much water it swims in daily, and how long it has been in the water, and whether it is has been feeling wetter lately, and you’ll probably get a similar empty stare. Mind you, that’s because fish have, like, three neurons total and never blink, but that’s not my point.
I have always considered myself a pretty introspective person. I am highly aware of all of my mental health processes. I know why I say the things I do, and I can analyze the way that I think and make extrapolations about my personality. However, asking me how I worry is a lot like asking a fish how wet it is. I have no word for the medium in which I swim. All of my thought processes, from introspection to planning to reflection to analysis, are worries. To me, to think is to worry. How can one think in a form which is not a worry?
While I never knew that my worrying could be considered bordering on pathological, as the psychologist and my doctor seem to think, I did know that people thought I worried too much. I learned that talking about certain kinds of thought processes tend to get you funny looks, and I learned not to talk about them, much the way that as children we learn not to talk in company about our bowel movements or touching ourselves.
So I’m here to give you the dope. Because I will never be able to catalogue what is normal and what is not normal, if people don’t know about it. I’ll just give you the run down of what I do know about myself and my anxiety.
I can’t tell you or my doctor what makes me worry, because I don’t understand the question. When I ask my husband what I worry about, he says “Well… everything…” so clearly that is a dead end. Let’s just assume that it is like Internet Rule 34. We’ll call it If By Yes Rule 34: If it exists in her mind, Carol is worrying about it.
What I do know is that there are lots of things that I’m not afraid of:
I am not afraid of flying. Although of course when I’m on a plane I worry about crashing, or our bags getting lost, or accidentally flying off into space, or someone suddenly coming down with rabies and none of us can escape because we’re all trapped in a flying metal tube with a rabid person. Luckily I’m vaccinated for rabies so I’m not actually afraid per se. It’s just stuff you think about (yes, I’m exaggerating about the rabies worrying, but yes, I am vaccinated against rabies).
I’m not afraid of driving, either, even in Vancouver where death is imminent the minute you go near a road. Of course, when I’m driving I think about how I’d probably call my husband first, and work second, if I were in a car accident, and I wonder if the EMT people would be able to figure out my contact information and contact my husband if I were not conscious when they arrived. But I’m not afraid. Just planning ahead.
I’m not afraid of public speaking. I mean, it makes me nervous and my heart pounds but I don’t mind doing it, as such. I just try and practice a lot at home first and quadruple check my grammar before I read my speech. In fact, I try to memorize it so I’ll be able to make eye contact with people, and make it sound natural. I don’t want people talking about what an awful public speaker I am.
I’m not afraid of dying. My own death doesn’t scare me, but I do think about what I would do if I were diagnosed with cancer, and sometimes I worry that it would happen before I had a chance to have children, because that is something I really want to do in this life. Then sometimes I worry that I’m being selfish, and if I were going to die young of cancer I should do it before kids, so my kids don’t have to lose a mother.
Really, when it comes down to it, I’m not really afraid of your big, classic scary things. The only three things that scare the bejeebers out of me are:
- Falling (not heights, heights are fine, it’s when I suddenly decrease in my altitude that I freak out)
- Corpses (because corpses are terrifying, obviously, and people say that’s silly because they can’t hurt you, but I’m pretty sure every horror movie ever made begs to differ)
- Doing something wrong
But really as long as I stay off of carnival rides, and the wings stay on the planes I fly on, and I stay away from funerals, funeral homes, morgues, cemetaries, television shows about war or gruesome murders, and other places where I may stumble upon a corpse and have a complete freak-out, and as long as I always, always, always am very careful to do everything right all the time, these fears don’t really disrupt my life all that much.
And until recently, I thought that my worrying saved me from fear. In fact, I still can’t shake that belief, even though Anxiety BC tells me that this belief is commonly held, but incorrect. Still… by thinking about all the possible scenarios that could happen, and systematically devising a plan of action for each of them, I can be prepared. In fact, I might even be able to prevent the thing from happening in the first place.
Look at the Titanic: a classic example of a disaster brought about by people not worrying that the ship might sink.
Then again, if other people are correct, and I am wrong, and worrying about everything doesn’t hold the fabric of the universe in place, then I am wasting a whole helluva lot of emotional energy, not to mention time. But do you really want to take that chance?
Like, if it’s true that I needn’t worry about stepping on my cat while going down the stairs in the dark and accidentally giving him internal injuries, then I probably could have been saved some anxious dreams like that and can speed up my nighttime descent of staircases. Then again, what if I’M right and the moment I stop worrying about it, I’ll accidentally kill my annoying, but Inexplicably Loved kitteh? Or, if worrying about whether or not I’ll be a good mother won’t actually help me be a good mother, then I’m spending a lot of time reading books about having children that I may not need to spend. And, maybe it does take some time to painstakingly unplug all our Christmas lights on the windows before we go out anywhere, but isn’t it worth that so the house won’t catch fire?
It just seems like the risks outweigh the possible emotional benefit of NOT worrying.
I do admit that it would be nice not to arrive home near tears or shaking with anger because of an increasingly catastrophic scenario that I have been building in my head for the last ten minutes as I drove, in which someone says something to me and then I say something else and then they get mad, and then what if they don’t like me any more, maybe I should call them and beg forgiveness, and if only I had phrased that sentence more carefully… and it’ll take me a while to calm myself down and remind myself that none of that actually happened.