I’m not sure what to write about today. I’ve got plenty of things on my mind, but I always imagine the best thing for me to do with these blog posts is to write about something else, something that has nothing to do with my “ultimate goal”*. So I’m going to try and think of a personal story and try and see how it might relate to something else.
In the summer of 1981, something terrible happened in my home town. The Wikipedia page refers to it as the “Hyatt Regency walkway collapse.” I think it about it every once in a while because I was old enough when it happened to realize how traumatizing it was for my parents and for me. Until the World Trade Center collapsed two decades later, it was the deadliest structural collapse, 114 people died and 216 were injured when elevated walkways in the lobby had a structural failure involving steel tie rods.
In my memory, I was in the car with my parents when the news came over the radio. My father was the general manager of one of the local news radio stations and I believe he had a car phone at the time. A novelty for sure, but my dad loves gadgets and liked to be connected to the station where ever he was. I remember him calling the station or being called, rushing us home and then heading in to work to help his team cover the tragedy. I was young, I may have invented the details of how we personally dealt with what happened, but I remember the sorrow and the fear. I remember my mom telling me that some kids had lost their parents.
I internalized that fear and made it a part of my mind, like a parasite. I was now keenly aware that at any moment a similar tragedy might happen to our family. My parents might be out for the night and something terrible and unexpected might kill them. I often think this is the origin story for my anxiety. My predilection for imagining any and all possible scenarios, no matter how gruesome, in order to avoid being surprised by bad news. If I imagined the worst, perhaps the worst would not come to pass.
The problem with this is, of course, I am constantly worried. After years of practice, no one really knows I am doing mental acrobats nearly every moment of the day. I have an agreement with my husband that he’s not allowed to tell me he’s leaving work and driving home unless he’s physically in the car, about to turn it on. Too many times he would tell me he was on his way and get stopped in the hall, and as the minutes ticked by I began to imagine him in an accident, his broken body crumpled on the side of the road. And then I imagine the phone call from a police officer and getting in my car and driving to him in the hospital and identifying the body. It’s a lot. I must confess, that is only one of many possible scenarios that play out in my head if he’s late coming home from work. If your brain doesn’t work this way, it must sound absurd to you.
It is better than it used to be. I have worked hard to minimize my brain’s ability to rapidly cycle through terrible doomsday scenarios. It’s not as if I don’t still do it, I just limit myself to one or two, and in some cases, I can head the circling thoughts off at the pass.
But when I was a little girl, and 114 people died in my home town, I spent a lot of time imagining my own parents dying. Secretly staying awake until they came home, trying to cry quietly, while I begged my stuffed animals to let them live. They’re still alive and well and living in Florida, so using very faulty logic, that means I should always ask my stuffed animals for favors.
Worrying does not help. It doesn’t. I try not to worry, but I still do. And so I try and lesson the damage it does to me by allowing a pre-set amount of time in which to worry. When the time is up, I say STOP and then I force myself to think of something else. If I don’t feed the parasite, it won’t get larger. It doesn’t always work, it’s often a struggle, but it helps. Also this tweet below is good advice.
* ha! I gotta say, this wound up relating to something I’m working on, so that’s a lesson right there. Trick your mind into thinking you’re not thinking about the thing you’ve been thinking about too much, and you’ll wind up coming at it from a different angle and find a little solution.