I have a vivid imagination. This is what I tell myself when I worry. I worry so much I even worry about being worried.
I’m a natural-born worrier, from a long line of worriers. I actually don’t know if anyone besides my mom was a worrier, but considering how much she worried I would expect her ancestors were, too. Some of her concerns:
That there would be an earthquake while I was out and there’d be no way for me to come home.
That every time you see a restroom, you must pee because there might not be another chance even if you’re at, say, the zoo where there are at least 10 bathrooms, even in the 1970s (I think that’s why my current-day bladder is so jumpy)
That I should not go whale watching with a group because the ship might go down and everyone else would only save their OWN children and leave me to drown. They wouldn’t even throw me a life jacket.
That washing one’s hair during one’s period was useless (or was it that you should wash hair? I can’t remember which)
I’ve dismissed most of these worries and come up with brand spanking new ones. I could pretend that my worries are merely trying to answer many what-if questions. Be Prepared! Come up with a Plan! Yet even I admit I don’t need to spend time thinking about most of these things.
I divide my worries into several categories. First, there’s the unlikely what-if category, where I think about what I might do when faced with extreme danger. For example:
What if there’s an earthquake while we’re on Space Mountain at Disneyland and the entire structure collapses? (My dad brought this up when I was little and while I was ON THE RIDE. Thanks! I still don’t know the answer to that. Hopefully it’s pretty sturdy, being retrofitted and steel and all. I don’t think there’s much you could do).
Then there are ethical dilemmas.
What if I am required to be on the show Kate Plus 8 to somehow promote my novel and then I have the moral dilemma of acting like I think the show is okay?
And what-ifs of home protection:
What if an intruder breaks into my home? Should I shoot first? What if it turns out to be the drunken celebrity neighbor? (The answer to this is apparently yes, shoot first, and also we don’t have a drunken celebrity neighbor).
And what ifs pulled from the news:
What if a plane hit my house as it happened in the University City area of San Diego a few years ago, killing my entire family? What would I do? What if I was INSIDE the house with my kids and saw the plane bearing down on me? Would I have time to do anything?
What if a strange crazy-eyed man appeared inside a high-end dessert eatery, stared confrontationally at a stranger, was told to leave, then reappeared with a gun and shot the stranger? This also really happened. In that situation, what would you do when the man reappeared and the gun was hidden at first? Would you think he was harmless, or dangerous? How could you tell?
And unlikely health what-ifs, like if I read an article about someone with some disease and think, HEY I’VE HAD THOSE SYMPTOMS, do I have that? And then there are likelier health worries, like the fact both my brothers have a similar heart condition to my mother. The doc says I’m fine but it’s something I need to watch for.
Just worrying about something can stress you out more than the thing itself.
I attempt to not infect my children with my worries, but sometimes I do, accidentally. The other day, we hiked to Pele’s Chair, which is a natural rock outcropping on a cliff by beach. On a ledge below is a sailing mast or pole which someone stuck into rocks. People jump off into the water below. People being mostly teens.
No one was swimming. It was evening and high tide and the waves were around 10 feet, crashing into rocks on both sides of the outcropping where we stood. Cadillac climbed over the rocks and then down out of sight, and then out onto the mast. He scooted out several feet above the water, and I yelped unintentionally, imagining him slipping on the mast and falling into the water and getting swept into the open ocean. “Don’t go out too far!” I called. He scooted out further.
“I’m fine. I’m perfectly stable,” he said.
I tensed up anyway. Little Girl sensed my worry and began to cry. “Daddy come back! Come back! You’re going to fall OFF!”
Our oldest yelled, “Get back here! Do you want to give your wife a heart attack?”
“It’s okay,” I said. “Daddy’s fine.” But the girls had already commenced their worry like they’re connected to my internal turmoil with a wire.
Our son decided he’d better go out with Dad, too, so he popped down out of sight while the girls called to them to come back.
“We’re perfectly all right,” Cadillac called. “I’m made for this stuff. Why are you making everyone worry?”
See, if you look at this photo, taken from actual stable ground across the way, it doesn’t look so high up or dangerous as it did from where we were. And it was seriously high tide. Okay, so I do tend to worry. I’m admitting it.
I try to take the advice of my mother in law, who’s also a legendary worrier. Worrying doesn’t really do much good in the end. You could spend all day worrying about your heart and get hit by a bus. You can’t control either one.
But as I said at the beginning, I do have a vivid imagination. And many times those what-if worries work their way into larger scenarios, which turn into stories peopled with characters. I put myself into the character’s positions, playing out that first theoretical worry into a whole tale. I like to think of my worries as the price I pay for these stories, if only because it puts a positive spin on my neuroses.
And next time my husband goes out on a ledge, I’m going to trust him and pretend I am not worried that he’ll fall. Because I can’t really control that.