Friday, September 9, 2011

What’s the WORST THAT CAN HAPPEN??!!

Barbara: I was chatting with a friend the other day when it came up that this question haunts many of us on a daily, even minute-ly, basis. We wonder, we worry, we ruminate, we prepare, we stress out, we––in worst-case scenarios ( ;-) )––even sometimes succumb to a zillion nightmare answers to this question. And so, in trying to prepare ourselves for the worst, we become undone by it before it even happens. Or, ironically, our worries trigger that worst-case scenario.

A friend of mine had a vivid, emotionally terrifying nightmare: her best girlfriend was furious with her, crying and screaming, and the crux was that my friend did not like her friend’s new guy. When my friend woke up, all she could think about was the possibility that she and her best friend might actually have this terrible conflict in real life. Her worst fear was losing this friend. So she pondered all the possible reasons a scenario like this might happen, and then of all the possible ways she could avoid it. She spent so much time imagining every possible permutation of events that when she finally did meet her friend’s new boyfriend, she felt fully prepared. No one—NO ONE—would be able to say she didn’t get along with the guy. Sad twist, of course, is that her best friend believed that she was in fact trying to STEAL the boyfriend. The horrible nightmare came true because she’d been working so hard to prevent it!! (Happily, my friend was able to explain this whole mess and all was understood and forgiven.)

My whole life, I’ve tried to emotionally prepare for the worst. I really believed that if I was prepared, it wouldn’t shock me so badly or hurt me so much when it happened. Thing is—and I know we all know this, but it bears repeating––it’s never what you expect that happens (or how). I have never, not once, been able to prepare myself out of a life shock or drama or tragedy.

Deb actually helped me deal with this suffocating habit by sharing a great coping strategy. She was telling me about her dear friends’ struggle with the fact that the husband was dying of cancer. One of this couple’s strategies was to try and avoid immersing themselves in the emotional turmoil of the worst-case scenario. Obviously, a worst-case scenario had presented itself and that scenario was already playing out in the worst possible way. So she and her husband learned that if they imagined the worst, they were in fact living the scenario TWICE—once when they imagined it and then again when it actually happened. They were suffering twice as much, and wasting precious time in the grips of despair. So they decided to safeguard their present by living in it. Now if you take this logic to our often WRONG predictions of the future, then you see that we are also living the worst-case scenario unnecessarily.

Shit happens. We can only strategize when we’ve good and stepped in it (or had it flung in our faces).

Of course, we can all be prepared for bad scenarios in some kinds of concrete way––take that self-defense class, buy that alarm system, watch what you spend, eat healthily, let your friends know you love them—but having an imaginary script written for all the emotional upheavals that will or might take place in our lives only mocks us when nothing turns out the way we advance-screen it in your minds. 

Deb: This has been an ongoing struggle for me through my life, Barb. I am wired for panic. My people are panickers and I have carried on this fine tradition. But over the last years I have really worked on trying not to go to the dark side and I have made large inroads. I still have my moments, of course, but largely I find that my major knee-jerking has ceased. I stop and breath, and I don’t go there twice anymore. 

18 comments:

  1. Thanks, Barb. That is something I need to remember. I waste too much time worrying about what might happen rather than enjoying the now.

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  2. I'm like this as well, I worry what is about to come instead of what is right in front. I really try not to worry about things and instead try to stay positive when things are not going as they seem . Honestly I believe that if you worry about things and wounder If they could get any worse than they will, . But if we are positive about things and just worrie about things when they come then Then we don't have to just sit around and worrie all the time.

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  3. Thank you for posting this. Although I am a STRONG believer in a positive outlook, worrying is something I still continually struggle with.

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  4. Andy, hey, even if we can't be resolutely positive all the time, at least we're not playing random outcomes like some kind of killer nightmare, over and over. I don't think negativity is all bad (!), but I do think this habit of panic-predictions is.

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  5. I came into my sister's room and asked "hey, can I read the blog?" (my laptop is on the way to be fixed...) And she said "yes, I think you'll like it. You can relate to it, no offense. It's about worrying." And...unfortunately, yes I can.

    When it comes to my family, I am the BIG worryer! Have been since I was little, used to make myself sick worrying so much. Not the case anymore, thank God! Honestly though, I don't know why I worry so much; everything works itself out in the end.

    I do have my dear sister to thank though; usually when I'm worrying or stressing she can smack me around and talk some sense into me. :]

    P.S. mentioned you all in my blog last night briefly. Cheers!

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  6. Kelly, we ALL need that helpful reminder in our lives. You're so lucky you and Holly have each other. I have Deb. If the rest of you are missing that "voice of reason" -- find someone fast, they are worth their weight in gold!

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  7. Worrier here as well. I used to play a game with my Mom about what if and went through all angles. My worry was never as bad as the actual event. I have been so much better in my later years mainly because I don't give a shit for so many things I used to worry about.:) Great blog today.

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  8. I worry a lot, probably because everything is crazy for me these days and I have absolutely no idea what the future will bring.

    Maybe that's why I was so pleased to read the blog today - I think you've just helped me understand that I have to stop all my worrying and start living my new life.

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  9. Thank you, I needed to hear this...I just experienced "this" yesterday when my 12 year old went off to her school camping retreat ill...I worried about her getting worse, I worried they wouldn't give her her medication at the right time,I worried about having to drive late at night trying to find the camp IF she needed me... point is I WORRIED the whole time...and didn't need to... loved your post:)

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  10. It's about giving up control and allowing ourselves to connect to the present moment. After a divorce five years ago - mercifully non-acrimonious - we're still friends, I have a kept a well worn copy of Pema Chodron's: When things fall apart...heart advice for difficult times. I highly recommend it. We can't prevent bad or difficult things happening to us. It's called life. The spiritual path is to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. I liked the anecdote about Deb's friends way of dealing with worst case scenarios. I often go the other way though, and follow the fear and let it be my teacher. There's a great book by Julian Barnes called: Nothing to be frightened of. It deals with death and the loss of his parents and paradoxically after reading it I never felt more alive. We can ruminate or predict or worry about events, but the truth is we just don't know - Even with fun enjoyable things, how many times have you dragged yourself to a party and ended up have the best time!
    Peace Oooot
    DMac

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  11. It's funny how we're all kinda aware that we do it, we just need to find that way to manage the worrying. But, DMac, I find your observation about riding the wave of fear and as a result coming to a safe beach so interesting. Love that! I'll have to get those books -- they sound like effective tool-sharpeners. Like Madge says, not giving a shit as much as before also helps a lot! But I still think we need that course of introspection and effort and awareness to get us there. Thanks for sharing your experiences!

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  12. Wonderful post ladies....and so true. Of course women are hot-wired for worrying..it really has been proven its in our DNA..but that doesnt mean we can't change..can't live each day fully...It is after all ...the only absolute thing we can be certain of..and that is the present moment. The past is gone forever. and the future is yet to be.
    Melody

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  13. this reminds me of a story told by Pema Chodron:
    "There is a story of a woman running away from tigers. She runs and runs and the tigers are getting closer and closer. When she comes to the edge of a cliff, she sees some vines there, so she climbs down and holds on to the vines. Looking down, she sees that there are tigers below her as well. She then notices that a mouse is gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries close to her, growing out of a clump of grass. She looks up and she looks down. She looks at the mouse. Then she just takes a strawberry, puts it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly."
    The metaphor of being surrounded by tigers above and below represents our own predicament as human beings. While I can fear the future along with the best of them, I have learned to become a little bit like the lady on the vine: choosing to savor the strawberry rather than focus on the possible terrors. of course, being human, I'm not always able to do this, but when I can I find that sometimes the tigers slink off to find someone else to bother. I love the way you and Deb get right to the heart of what ails all of us. your honesty is both refreshing and wise......xo Lori

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  14. Thanks Melody and Lori! You both get it so well. Lori, that story is perfect. Remember to savour the strawberry!

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  15. A facinating blog today. I've been thinking about it all day long, but no time to sit down and reply. It's been interesting to read everyone's take on the idea.

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  16. Ain't it the truth, Molly? LOVE people's takes on this -- on everything!

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  17. A good post, and something we all need to be reminded of from time to time. I'm definitely a massive worrier, and it's something that'll eat you alive if it gets the chance. I guess where worry is concerned, we just have to keep fighting the good fight, as it were...

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  18. I found it impossible to comment on this yesterday. On Sept 11th, we were faced the worst-case scenario, and it was hard to remain objective. The passengers on US flight 93 faced it personally, and reacted in a way I hope I would. I like to think I would have "rolled" right along with those passengers.

    For most "regular world" scenarios, I am an "all or nothing" kind of person. Best-case OR worst-case. My therapist is teaching me to handle this. Yes, there is a worst-case scenario. But picture other scenarios. What could happen that isn't so dire? What if something milder happened?
    If I had the patience to let it unfold as it will, I might see that the worst that can happen might not happen at all.

    The anticipation kills me before any reality ever happens. If I could only just wait for the ketchup to actually come out of the bottle, maybe it won't explode all over my blouse and ruin it. Maybe the sandwich will be just fine.

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