I have always been a worrier. Not quite as much as my sister, but still—I constantly stress myself out about things that I have no control over whatsoever. In the third grade, I used to get so sick with anxiety about the timed spelling tests I took once a week, that the worrying would start the week before, usually the day after I finished the previous test. By the time I put my pencil to the paper and my teacher started her stopwatch, I thought I would be so violently ill that I could barely remember how to spell my name, never mind “motorcycle.” I remember thinking that my future was dependent on whether or not I would ace these tests, and that if I missed one spelling, a series of events would unfold: One, my parents would no longer love me. Two, they would kick me out of the house. Three, I would die homeless.
Colleen has a headache. A bad headache.
It must be a tumor.
Colleen is also unemployed and can no longer afford a decent health insurance plan.
Colleen dies homeless and poor from the cost of brain tumor treatments (whatever those are)
This is what I like to call The Cyclone, and I have spent my life taming this storm. I start by checking that everything around me is standard and working and then I start imagining the most tiny thing that could go wrong. It’s always something very tiny and insignificant, but by the time I have finished analyzing it in my head it has turned into the Worst Case Scenario: small A leads to small B leads to very awful C jumps straight to homeless and dead. (See Example A)
The boyfriend! got me thinking about why I do this, and at first I thought it might be hereditary. My father and sister are stereotypical A-type personalities. Everything needs a plan. Every plan needs a schedule. And every section of the schedule requires a specific and carefully thought out time slot and escape route. As a kid, I knew our evacuation plan thoroughly. I knew where to meet if a disaster ever hit Lancaster, PA. I knew where the ladder was kept (under my parent’s bed) and what to do in the case we were all trapped in a fire.
But if this incessant worrying IS hereditary, then how do I explain my mother and brother? Because they are the exact opposite. Very “go with the flow” which I can be…but there’s always that voice in the back of my head (which sounds curiously much like my father’s voice) telling me to create a back up plan JUST IN CASE.
So, maybe a little bit of the reason I worry so much is because I am my father’s daughter, but I realized that the root of it is a singular feeling that has followed me through my life. This is the feeling of guilt. I have always had a wonderful life in so many ways. I have a fantastic family, I’ve never known what true hunger or danger is and never for a second did I think I’d have to sleep without my blankie. And the thought that other people in the world do not have a warm place to sleep, food on their plates and a DVR to record every episode of The Bachelorette invokes a feeling of guilt. I need to worry about something… anything. I owe it to those who have a harder life. The feeling that because I am very lucky, I need to suffer crippling angst to even the playing field out a little bit.
And of course, the exact opposite rings true as well. I owe it to those who are not as lucky as I am to appreciate the crap out of my life. But it’s also this overwhelming feeling that if I am not a stressed out wreck, everything will be taken away from me. And then I realized…that the way in which I worry about things is so mesmerizing that it causes me to walk directly into that which I fear.
Colleen’s Third Grade Spelling Tests -
I would make myself sick with worry to the point where I wouldn’t even be able to concentrate and on more than one occasion, I failed these tests.
So, I’ve decided that I should start worrying about developing really big breasts or about how to spend the six figure salary I’ll be making whenever I get a new job.
For about an hour, I felt totally renewed and I kept smiling when I thought about how much better my life will be without The Cyclone. About how I can channel all the energy that I used to spend worrying into more productive things, like charity work or writing or art or chugging Irish Car Bombs while dancing naked in the house. And I was still feeling this jolt of exhilaration that evening when I walked the dogs to the yard to let them perform their nightly duties, still reeling from the possibilities of what a stress-free life would be like. And as I let the dogs go trampling down the stairs, I noticed our downstairs neighbors left their front doors open.
Do you see where this is going?
Sure enough, within seconds, both dogs were out the front door. All because I was daydreaming about not worrying and I didn’t anticipate this. Had I been in my normal state of mind, I would have been forcing them to walk behind me. I would have gone downstairs PRIOR to opening the dog gate. I wasn’t being responsible. Luckily, for everyone involved, the gate leading to the sidwalk was closed, so both dogs were just mulling around on the front stoop. But it could have been so, so, so much worse.
Bottom line, I’m pretty convinced that this only happened because my head was in Lala Land dreaming of a perfect stress-free existence. Which, this just doesn’t exist (for me). I will never be the person who can split up from a group in a public place and NOT have a set time and place to meet back up. I will never be the person who can walk into a room and not notice where the emergency exits are. And I will always, always be the woman who carries extra tampons with me because YOU JUST NEVER KNOW.