“What, me worry? Puh-lease,” I scoffed nervously as the petite blonde sitting across from me furiously scribbled in a small notebook, probably jotting down words like “denial” and “paranoid.”
“Carry a note pad with you and write down every time a worried thought creeps into your mind,” the woman, my therapist, then calmly suggested.
“I’ll try it,” I mumbled, “but I don’t think it’s going to help.” She discretely added “stubborn” to the list. I left the comforts of that office extremely worried about what glaring inner faults the exercise would reveal – yes, I’m aware of the irony – but I also knew I didn’t want to live in the dark anymore. I desperately wanted to see the light, the bright, glorious light that comes with a worry-free existence. As night fell on Day 1 of “My Road to Freedom,” I took stock of my progress. I didn’t start worrying until 10 a.m. So far, so good. Over the next eight hours, though, I logged eight “worry moments,” from 11 a.m. when I worried about mentoring a fifth-grader in writing, to 5 p.m., when my mother, usually a chirpy songbird, spent the evening wallowing in a funk. The verdict was clear: I had turned into the Queen of Worrying. But is it possible to free yourself from the tentacles of fear, even when they’ve become so ingrained in your personality?
Worry and I became chums by the time I turned 3 years old. It seemed intriguing, and my little self was drawn to it like bees to the honey hive. From that tender age, I learned to equate tall, white buildings with hospitals and descended into fits of whimpers the second I saw them looming over the horizon.
And just like Indiana Jones tried to outrun the gigantic, rolling ball in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” I spent the rest of my childhood attempting to outrun the worry. The walking hypochondriac – that was me. I was sure the spot on my arm was skin cancer. The pain in my head had to be a tumor or aneurysm. The tightening in my throat could only be a reaction to my medication. And every night before I went to bed, I had my mother listen to my heart with a stethoscope – the good kind that all the doctors use – because I could feel my heart mis-beating, and I grew certain that I wouldn’t live to see another birthday.
I’ve since lived – and enjoyed – some 25 birthdays. And although my days as a hospital-gown-clad patient are but a distant memory, that internal fear has stayed with me, planting itself for an endless winter hibernation.
It’s not that I particularly like this worry. I don’t. In fact, I hate it. But for some reason, I clung to it like a security blanket. Worrying had become my drug of choice, a way to numb myself to the realities of life. So I fed the addiction, not really knowing why, but innately feeling like I needed it, like I somehow wasn’t complete without it. For awhile, I even craved i t. Like a smoker who craves one puff on a cigarette, I craved the adrenaline that coursed through my body when I started to worry. The kinetic energy left me with a palpable high. But the low I felt when the adrenaline left my body somehow didn’t make it all worth it. It left me empty.
I wish I had a microscope to see what exactly this worry looked like. I pictured it sitting in the pit of my stomach, waiting for a vulnerable moment to pounce. For the longest time, I waited for this worry to magically vanish. If I didn’t think about it, I reasoned, worry would climb back atop its horse and gallop away into the dark, quiet night from whence it came. And I would be free once again. But the prospect of a new life failed to bring the joy I thought it would. Instead, I found myself scared to finally let go of something that had become such a part of me. Worrying had ingrained itself in the makeup of my DNA, and it was simply a part of my personality. Who would I be without it? The little girl in me didn’t even want to find out.
That’s when the light bulb flashed above my head. Worrying had become my crutch. It turned into something I could easily fall back on – a convenient way to explain something I couldn’t change.
The truth is, we all can change – if we’re motivated.
We spend so much of our lives consumed with fear, letting two little words – “What if?” – reduce us to closed-off people afraid to take chances.
I’ve always envied those people – like my Aunt Elaine – who are able to so effortlessly turn their minds off. They have a thought, ponder it for a moment and then let it fly away. They don’t let worry turn them into helpless creatures, the fear washing over them like a hailstorm. They put up a fight. All my life, I’ve been willing to surrender.
Today, I’m going to put on my boxing gloves and step in the ring with my friend-turned-enemy, Mr. Worry. I don’t need it anymore. It may have made me the person I am today, but it won’t have a say in the person I become. Only I have the power to decide who I shall be, worry-free.
[Photos via Sparkles and Crumbs]