…I didn’t do my homework, but I did spend the whole week stressing about the fact that I wasn’t doing my homework.
…What if I write down my worries wrong?
…I spend so much time worrying about the things I’m not getting done. Why can’t I just do them?
…What if they never get done?
…What do you mean, worrying about stuff and thinking about stuff are two different things?
…I’m worried about how much I’m worrying.
…Yes, of course worrying means you care. How can you care about someone and not worry?
…What if my child stops breathing?
… If it’s bad news, then I can handle it. What I can’t handle is not knowing.
…What if I can’t handle it and everything goes wrong?
…I’m so tired all the time. I don’t have the energy to face the world.
…What if I feel like this forever?
Every Wednesday, the people at my GAD group meet, and talk about their week, and cry. All of our stories are different, but the same thoughts and feelings fill the room like echoes. Sometimes, the room will fill with chuckles, as we recognize ourselves in each other, and share a laugh at our own expense.
What if I forget to lock the front door, and someone breaks in? What if they take everything we have? What if the insurance doesn’t cover it and we have to go into debt to replace our things? What if we end up so deep in debt that we lose the house? What if we end up on the street? Maybe I should research how to keep warm when living in a cardboard box.
We are all slaves to that ancient proverb:
For want of a nail, the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe, the horse was lost.
For want of a horse, the rider was lost.
For want of a rider, the battle was lost.
For want of a battle, the kingdom was lost.
All for the want of a horse shoe nail.
Wikipedia says the point of this rhyme, which has reverberated in my mind since I was a child, is that the consequences of tiny events can only be seen in hindsight. But Wikipedia is wrong. A person with GAD would have fretted over that nail, and probably invented all of the consequences within seconds of the shoe dropping off of the horse. Surely, the people in my GAD group would say, the rhyme should include “For want of a worrier…” because we would have caught it.
Or would we?
The leader of our group assures us, even as we look at her suspiciously, that people with GAD actually end up with more problems, because they tend to stress so much over tiny ones that they avoid dealing with them, and thus the problems become bigger and worse. In other words, the rider with GAD was so stressed over losing that nail that he never got around to re-shoeing his horse, and hence the kingdom was lost.
We’re supposed start recording our worries, and start facing them. We are supposed to start exposing ourselves to uncertainty. They want us to start with small things, like only checking the baby TWICE while it’s sleeping, or letting someone else do the laundry, or tackling some of the mess in our bedrooms.
We hate the idea. We are all like Marlin in Finding Nemo. We want to be sure. We would rather not have anything happen to us, than risk something bad happening to us. We want to double check, and triple check, and maybe even check a fourth time, before we even leave our anemones. Any scenario presented immediately starts a train of thoughts leading to disaster.
Marlin: They’re going to the drop off?? What, are we insane? Why don’t we just fry them up now, and serve them with chips?
Marlin: It’s a fish we don’t know. If we ask for directions, it could ingest us and spit out our bones!
Marlin: Hey, that snail was about to charge.
Dory: Everything’s going to be all right!
Marlin: How do you know? How do you know something bad isn’t going to happen?
Dory: I don’t!
Now, I realize it was good for Marlin’s anxiety to go out and almost get eaten by sharks, and jellyfish, and whales, and sea gulls, and pelicans. I realize that it generally improved his attitude towards life, exposing himself to all of those horrible things and living through it. I realize all of this intellectually. In fact, we have a couple of Marlins in our group who skipped the only-checking-twice-before-leaving-the-anemone stage and went right to jumping into pelican’s mouths. They are the ones making the really impressive progress. They come to group each week looking more encouraged, more empowered. They did it, and it wasn’t so bad. Their world is being handed back to them. They are blooming before my eyes.
I’m not even up to doing my homework, yet.