I’ve always been a trembling what-iffer with debilitating side effects.
“Mom, can I ride my bike in the road?”
“Not right now.”
Other words I’ve said too many times:
“Don’t eat until I get home.”
“Sleep on your side.”
“That field trip is too dangerous.”
“Lock the door.”
“Lock the door.”
“Lock the door.”
The boys aren’t, and never have been, twirled around in bubble wrap and I do give them some rein, and my strictness with them is not completely altruistic, but because I am afraid, and not of little things like speeding tickets and popped tires, but of major crashes involving pointy deer or high-piled logging trucks. I’m not afraid of obesity but of choking, of illness but of death, or of meeting new people but of becoming abducted. My apprehension lives in the Land of Extremes, and it dances in my face.
My trepidation is a filter, an overlay that places itself over my glasses. Of course, many of these fears dissipate as the boys grow and mature, each with their own degrees of irrational fears, but some never do. (It’s absolutely learned and/or genetic so they suffer, too.)
I think that’s why I’ve always liked it when the kids had their friends at the house instead of them going elsewhere. It’s selfish, I see that now, but I don’t know if I would have changed either way. I just can’t deal with the fear of what-if at times, and it only takes a minor tweak in the regular rhythm of our family to churn the rigid tides of my thoughts.
Once the clock ticks passed one minute after Sammy’s supposed arrival time from his work-to-home trek, I feel the creepy Monarchs finding their way into my stomach and chest. This is nothing new, but it was definitely enhanced to the most nonsensical proportions after Roger died.
Even now, if a dog limps I think it’s going to die. I’m not kidding actually. When Zoeeee started coughing one night years ago, a few hours later we were at the emergency vet putting her down. I’m still and always will be scarred from losing my best friend that night. It piles onto my mound of reasons to be irrational and paranoid about every little thing, about loss.
I’ve been teased and have gone through rigorous sessions of peer pressure, which I failed many times. I’ve been called “paranoid” and a “worrier” over and over.
When I was little I was terrified of wind and still hold onto an unnatural fear of it even on a bright sunny day. I do know one thing that doesn’t work: exposure therapy.
Management of my foolish fears and side effects because of them is ongoing, and quite successful recently. Intentional positivity helps by hiding the worst-case scenario behind the happy thing.
For example, if I worry about a trip to Western NC, instead of focusing on the fear I have of driving off the highway or getting lost in the Appalachian woods during the venture, I will put real effort into detailing in my mind the good local pizza we’ll eat while there, or the black bears and gorgeous mountains we’ll see, or the wicked awesome photos I will take. This way of thinking started as a tennis match between my fun brain and my scared brain, but with practice, I’m learning to change my thinking ways and to see life and new adventures through a newborn, optimistic lens.
The what-if sticks around and it’s not uncommon amongst people. With positive thinking and redirecting instead of allowing my mind to take over, I grab that pink, fuzzy steering wheel and forcefully turn it towards a fulfilling journey, positive thinking, and truly looking forward to a future filled with adventure and plain old fun.
* I know nothing technical or formal about anxiety. These are simply my personal experiences. The Mayo Clinic has a good piece on it. Please click here if you have questions.