As a rule, what is out of sight disturbs men’s minds more seriously than what they see. ~Julius Caesar
I have a very active imagination. Vivid imagery whips around my mind as if it’s caught in the winds of a hurricane. Short stories, memories, ideas, and my deepest fears collide. They shatter into a million pieces and fly in a hundred different directions. Grabbing hold of one, even for a second, is a skill I wish I hadn’t mastered because those pieces have very sharp edges.
Sure, I could lament that nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen, but that feels a little… Self-indulgent? I’m writing about my life, my thoughts, my fears, and posting it online. Huh, I guess self-indulgence is kinda my thing. But maybe, for today, let’s stick with the imagined troubles conjured by a mind that won’t give it a rest. That’s the real hero of this story.
We can tackle self-indulgent narcissism some other time.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told my brain to give it a rest. It laughs, winks, tells me to hold its beer. If you think that’s bad? Ha! What about this trick shot? My brain digs deep, finds a fear I didn’t know I had, and serves it up like it’s Wimbledon. I’ve never had a tennis ball fly at my face but I imagine it’s a close comparison. The ball’s coming at me going, what, 100 MPH on a straight serve?
Yeah, that’s gonna leave a mark!
Just before Christmas my car died. I drove it for, 13-14 years, and it just wouldn’t go any farther. I grieved the loss which is weird, I know. It’s a just car, geez! I said goodbye and braced for the incoming expense. I needed the car. It’s not a luxury, well it is, but more of a necessity. For many reasons, you can read about them in a previous post, public transportation isn’t an option for me so I had to get another car.
It’s not a Tesla or something equally as majestic. It has four wheels, and I can see out of the windows. I’m 4’10, if I don’t slouch, so that’s an important feature. AC: Check. Airbags: Check. See over the steering wheel: You had me at hello. The car is good, it’s safe, and it will help me get around. It’s also an expense I didn’t need or want. It’s a stress, for sure, so my brain grabbed hold of it and ran wild.
It started to tell me that I’m going to lose my main source of income, lose my home, and end up living in that damn car. There’s no evidence that this will happen. I do what I need to do to take care of business. No one’s threatening my financial well being but my brain doesn’t care about facts. It doesn’t need evidence. It will dress up the pretty little shadow puppets and turn them into a life-threatening monster.
It sees evil in every corner and disaster in every twinge of my muscles. Oh that twinge. It’s cancer. I just know it is! Or, I pulled a muscle cleaning my carpets. My furnace was making an odd noise so, of course, it was about to explode and kill everyone in the neighbourhood. We had a lot of rain, the creek near my building started to rise so, for my brain, that meant floods. I live on the second floor of an apartment complex. The creek is a glorified puddle the squirrels bathe in. Raccoons can sit in it like they’re 22, drunk, and thought the kiddy pool was a bidet.
A flood? What? The confluence of events that would have to occur would be astronomical. It might take an event of biblical proportions. I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, climate change and all, but, realistically, it won’t happen anytime soon. Logically, I know it won’t happen but screw logic!
Logic dictates one response but my overactive imagination calls for another. It takes the minors and turns them into majors. It doesn’t matter if there’s no evidence to support the thoughts. It doesn’t matter if there are facts that can nullify the worry. A reasoned argument won’t tame the imagined dragons. If there’s even a hint of trouble, hiding in a dusty corner, my mind will latch onto it and run with it.
If it’s a known threat, something I can see or I’m actually experiencing, then I’m very calm. Despite my mind’s proclivity for self-induced hysteria, I’m very good in a crisis. A real crisis. Not one I dreamed up at 2 AM on Tuesday during a windstorm. There are a lot of trees surrounding my building, and one of them could, I don’t know, fly through my window and skewer me in my sleep.
Who am I kidding? I don’t sleep. I’m a very basic insomniac. But could it actually happen? Could a tree fly through my window and skewer me? Highly doubtful.
In a real crisis, my mind clears and time slows down. I’m calm and in control. I can quickly assess the situation. A plan will form and action will be taken. I’m absolutely brilliant in a crisis. If things are happening, real things, you want me around because I’ve got this. I can and will help you out.
Any other time? I’m probably just gonna get in the way.
Unless you want someone to spot dangers that aren’t pressing and, potentially don’t exist? Give me a call. I’m sure I can come up with something. Will it be helpful? Absolutely not! Do you need that kind of thing in your life? Hell no! I’m willing to bet you’ve got more than your fair share of real problems.
Why do I add more worries on top of my real-life ones? Am I just a gluten for punishment? A control freak with very little control over just about every aspect of my life? A natural-born worrier with a genetic predisposition to catastrophize? Maybe it’s something I’ve learned?
When the catastrophes keep happening, it’s only natural to assume that they will keep happening. I live with a chronic illness, renal failure, so the good days are like a layer of ice over a lake. I go out, enjoy myself, but with each step I hear the ground crack and groan. I’m waiting for the moment it gives way and I’m plunged into a deep, freezing cold, lake. I keep scanning the ground for trouble so I can run before it’s too late but the shadows beneath the surface play tricks. I jump, flinch, run a short distance, and slide a little further. It’s better to worry than to be caught off guard.
But is it better? Probably not because worrying doesn’t change anything and it doesn’t help all that much. It feels helpful because I feel like I’m doing something and I need to do something. I don’t sit still, very well. I can’t just be present in the moment. If I’m not doing something I feel like I’m crawling out of my skin. I feel like I’m just sitting there, helpless, waiting for the ice to break.
At least, when a something real comes up, I can act. There are things to be done, problems to solve, and physical reactions to coordinate. I don’t feel so helpless. I’m not sitting there waiting to be hurt. No, I can’t control the situation, but I can control how I respond and I can respond. I can be of use instead of being in the way. I’m comfortable in those moments because those moments are more familiar to me than moments of quiet.
And there it is. Familiarity. We will always be me for comfortable, more confident, in familiar surroundings and circumstances even if they aren’t good for us. We gravitate towards what we know and if all we’ve known is chaos then that’s where our minds will go. It seeks out what it knows and if it can’t find it? I guess we’ll always find trouble if we look hard enough.
There’s one question a therapist asked, “Will it hold up in court?”
If I lay out all the evidence in the case, give a very dramatic closing argument, would the jury come back with a positive verdict? Would it come back with a negative one? Would the case, as it stands, hold up to the scrutiny of a trial and a jury?
Most often, when it comes to my thoughts, the answer is no it won’t hold up. The case would get thrown out and I’d be free to go. That’s not how the mind works is it? I wish I could shut down the thought, slam the door closed, and lock it up inside a tiny cell. If having that simple answer was all it took to silence the screaming thoughts then I would be a lot happier.
But, no it doesn’t work like that and I have to keep arguing back until I wear it down. Sometimes saying the worry out loud takes away some of its power and that gives me a chance to building a tiny holding cell. Sometimes but it’s not always that effective.
For me, finding actionable steps I can take, in these moments of worry, helps more than anything. It doesn’t have to be related to the problem I’m fixated on but if it is, all the better. If I’m in a thought spiral, I’ll get up and vacuum or do the dishes. I’ll have a shower or take my dog for a socially distant walk. I’ll do something because doing nothing makes the worry grow into a full-blown panic attack.
Moving my body, changing my location, doing something to feel productive helps me feel more in control. There are so many things in my life I can’t control, my thoughts being one, but when I focus on what I can do I feel more grounded. I feel my mind slowing down. I feel like I’m standing on more solid ground.