What if… what if… what if… what if…
My mind is racing at warp speed, asking variations on the same question with the bottom line answer being certain tragedy. What if… what if…, omg, what if this, what if that?
An hour of this goes by and I’m frazzled. My palms are sweaty, my thighs are tired like I ran a marathon, I’ve had nervous shits like 6 times, so I have no nutrition left in my body, my mouth is dry, I’m trembling, finger tips tingly, my heart is pounding, and I look like I’ve just seen a ghost. I’ve been gritting my teeth so hard they hurt like I just chewed through a swing set at the park. And why? WHY? All because my mind can NOT stop asking this question, “What if…”.
Dammit brain, would you just SHUT UP???
During this episode, did any of the “what if’s” come true? No. And because this was 3 weeks ago, has that situation played out and seen it’s tragic ending? No. Actually, nothing came of the event that I was so wiggy about, and nor did the thousands of other worst case scenarios before it.
So, in an effort to reduce my chronic suffering, I asked myself a new set of questions.
- First, answer the question: What if that horrible thing did happen?
- Well, I would handle it. I’d deal with it, and get through it. Nothing lasts forever.
- Second, what could I have been doing other than quivering like a scared chihuahua, and chopping years off my life span?
- I could have been working, napping, cleaning, exercising, reading, playing with the cat and the laser light, painting beach sunsets, etc. Anything productive, creative, fun or beneficial.
- Third, does my life belong to me, or to the worry?
- It’s mine, dammit! Life is for the living. I want all my time left to go toward enjoying it, not dreading it.
- Lastly, what can I do next time to avoid getting caught in this whirlwind of what-if’s?
- This required some investigation into how our brain works. Knowing how it works and why I started down this path is a small part of the solution. I found this article very helpful. It’s such a fascinating article, I’m now a bit distracted from my what if’s, but I know they’ll be back. I already know that part of the foundation of my asking “what if’s” is born from an earlier trauma. So if the memory has less of a hold on me from the start, maybe I don’t have to freak out about it. Now I’ve got something to research. Cool, we’re off to a good start.
- The next task is to completely redirect my thoughts. Telling yourself, “just don’t think about it” is useless. And when someone says that to a person like me, (with PTSD and GAD), they are in danger of being punched in the nose. When I begin my whirlwind of what-if’s (wowi’s, for short), I need an immediate and much stronger distraction. Something big and/or very intense needs to take it’s place. So here’s what I do:
- First, I leave the room I’m in, and get another view for my eyes and brain to process. I mass text a bunch of friends, “How you doin, what you up to?” I focus on waiting for their reply.
- If that doesn’t redirect my mind, I begin the “live in the now exercise”. I focus on that. If my mind wanders to the “what-if’s”, I go to yet another room, or stand outside.
- If no one texts back with anything distracting enough, I listen to my peace and calm affirmation and mantra MP3’s, that I recorded for myself. They really work for me a lot of the time. I focus on the meaning of each message, and breathe slowly. I usually close my eyes. I must listen to them 3 times before I am allowed to give up. That’s my self-imposed rule.
- If none of this works, I grab my journal. (And yes, it’s a real notebook, made of paper. And a black ink pen. I’m not talking about blogging, and you’ll see why.) I begin to pour out my every thought and emotion. I describe how I feel, how I think things might play out, and how I feel about that. I allow myself to get angry about it. I write impossible scenarios. I get nuts on purpose. As I write more and more, I force myself to get even more angry and more ridiculous. Keep going, let it all out. Don’t filter a single thought, no matter how shitty and unjustified it is. As I become intentionally more livid and outrageous, the pen presses harder in to the page, and I write long-running tirades of colorful expletives. Now, I can’t even fit my writing on one line, or even write straight. I’ve taken up 3 pages already, like a lunatic. It’s GREAT!! I’m cursing and blaming and insulting this situation, myself, people who have nothing to do with it, commercials, politicians, whatever and whomever I please, and I continue do this until I become amused. OK, now Stop. Take a deep breath, now look back at some of the writing, mostly the last parts. Ha ha! I have now given myself a chuckle, or even laughed to tears, while effectively trivializing the whole situation. And even though those feelings of amusement and triviality are thin and weak, while the what-ifs are still just around the corner with all the power of a black hole waiting to suck me in, I hold on to them as best I can, rereading the parts of my scribble I find most amusing. It is at this point, I can almost always say, “Oh fuck it, I don’t care about that (whatever it was) anymore… it’ll be fine.” My brain has finally shut up.
Please let me know if any of this helps you – or what YOU do to redirect your thoughts. : )