As I finished Shelly Laurenston’s The Mane Squeeze the intensity of Gwen’s descent into hell—otherwise known as “what if?” disease—struck me. Before her star turn as a roller derby babe, Gwen is wracked with visions of all that could possibly go wrong and all the disastrous consequences of said outcomes. What if she gets hurt and can’t finish the match? What if she lets the team down? What if, what if, what if? Sounds like hell to me.
I have to work very hard to keep the ‘what if’s’ at bay. Without that mental discipline, my mind wonders what will happen if the Bay Bridge falls down while I’m crossing it? What if the Lincoln Tunnel collapses as I’m driving into Manhattan? Well, I would die a horrible and painful death. What if my plane falls out of the sky? What if our boat capsizes? What if my car gets pushed off the road by the eighteen-wheeler taking up too much space in the next lane? Clearly, I have issues with transportation. Beam me up, Scotty. Then I can worry about my atoms being scattered around the universe.
Unfortunately, I’ve had too many opportunities to ask myself what if recently. What if my kids get hurt or arrested during their infamous, post-graduation “Beach Week”? What if that unexplained ache ends up being cancer? What if my husband died of the bee sting that landed him in the hospital last weekend? What if he’s stung again? I can drive myself crazy with these questions. And I do. Of course, it’s not a far distance -- and I’m all about the transportation.
I have a magnet next to my desk that reminds me, “Worry is the misuse of imagination.” How true. And I have an incredibly active imagination. I work hard to channel it productively into writing rather than worry. I’m much better than I used to be, thankfully. But I have a long way to go before I can claim victory over these dark thoughts.
I have a friend who is the queen of “what if’s.” I have to be careful not to talk to her about my fears so that she doesn’t fan the flames into an uncontrollable conflagration. It’s bad enough when I have to listen to her catastrophizing; I definitely don’t need to add to it. Although, actually, it’s good for me to listen to her. I try to calm her down and encourage her to see that the bad thing hasn’t happened yet and that worrying about it serves absolutely no purpose. Sometimes I feel like I’m talking to myself.
I tell my friend not to worry. Gwen’s friends tell her the same before she hits the roller rink. Both my friend and Gwen listen, but it’s not clear that the message gets through. What if is a powerful drug. It sucks us into a maelstrom of circular thinking about outcomes and potential responses . Stupid, stupid, stupid. If the plane falls out of the sky, I’ll die. End of worry. If my husband succumbs to bee venom, I will find a way to go on. If I get cancer, I will deal with that as it comes. If my kids are in trouble, I will deal with it.
Often, the worry is worse than the event. I know this. The rational part of me knows it at least. I also know that the what if game can continue indefinitely if I allow it; my worry queen friend can talk for hours about all that could go wrong if I’m willing to listen.
I, on the other hand, have no desire to spiral down this particular rabbit hole. Instead, I seek out my friends and family who can talk me off this especially nasty ledge whenever I find myself there. And that works. Except maybe at night sometimes when my brain gets the better of me. But even then, I’m making strides toward recovery from what if thinking.
In addition, the what if disease really fucks with the law of attraction which tells us that everything we think about, we manifest in our lives. Yikes! I’d better start thinking of happy children, glowing health, and best-selling novels, stat! And I do that too. Because there is a positive side to what if thinking as well. Lots of people go there and it has its own set of pitfalls and potholes. What if I win the lottery? What if my kid gets into Harvard? What if Jason Momoa asked me out? I’d say no, of course, but what if...?
The truth is that there’s just too much to worry about, both good and bad. The possibilities are endless and such thinking can only detract from actually living one’s life. Moreover, the negative thinking can suck all the joy from life, as the happy moments are ruined by Eyore’s black clouds or marred by visions of how things could be even better.
So, let’s not follow Gwen’s example and wallow in what if’s. I will redouble my efforts to convince my friend to abandon her worry and resolutely turn my own thoughts away from the wreckage of my future. And I will remember to read the other magnet stuck on the board near my desk, “What if I fail? Oh, my darling, what if you fly?”