Why I worry, and how I might possibly stop worrying for a bit

It is not a secret that I spend a lot of my time worrying. Most of the time I meet the outside world with fear and anxiety, and my brain is forever spooling off all kinds of horrible possibilities and consequences. I have written before how I always think that others know everything so much better than I do, and that, if they looked closely, they would see how incompetent and sloppy I really am. I have zero confidence in my own knowledge and skills. And so I worry.

I’ve been worrying for days about a visit from colleagues from another museum. They were to bring over objects on loan and install them. There had been a lot of communication in advance, they had seen our facilities, and they had pronounced themselves satisfied with everything. And yet I dreaded this visit, because somehow I imagined they would see me do things and recoil in horror: “What do you think you are doing? That’s bad! Don’t you know you shouldn’t…” etc. etc. The likelihood of this happening is of course exceedingly small. After all, I’m hardly a beginner in my job. And yet…

So I worried and fretted for days, until this morning, when the visit happened, without any of the dreadful things I had envisaged. In fact, everything was fine.

But you know why it was fine? Because I had worried beforehand. This time I tried to observe myself and get to the bottom of why I do these stupid things, and realised something: I have to worry. It is actually my worrying that staves off disaster and makes things alright. No, I don’t mean in a rational way, as in being super prepared because of the worrying and therefore having everything planned out so much that it can’t go wrong. No, this is more like magic. I think that if I don’t worry, things are going to turn out really bad. It is my duty to worry, and if I slack off that duty, I will be punished.

This weekend, I was actually in a pretty good mood. The unspecified cloud of doom that often oppresses me had lifted, and I was getting anxious about something concrete for a change. So these two moods were warring inside me. Because I was generally in a good mood, I managed to push the worry aside. But then that in itself became worrying. I thought, there’s something wrong if I don’t worry. I’m not doing it right if I’m not anxious. I have to worry in order for things to be okay. To not worry is surely to tempt fate. Has anything ever turned out as bad as I worried it would? No, of course not. And why not? Because I put in the worry work beforehand, propitiated the universe,  did my duty and was therefore rewarded with a positive result. Yes, it really is some kind of magical thinking. But it doesn’t matter that I know this, I still can’t stop doing it. The risk is too great. And so, even if I manage to clamp down on straightforward worry, I will still worry about not worrying enough. Clearly I can’t win.

I know I’m not the only one doing this. In fact, I read about this elsewhere – a book, a blog? It might have something that a famous worrier, like Jon Ronson, has said. I’ve just read a book called ‘Anxiety for Beginners’ (more on that story later), it might have been in there.

Seeing that I am constitutionally unable to stop worrying, perhaps I shouldn’t fight it. One thing that has come out of my private self-identification as autistic is this: you have to pick your battles. Don’t try for massive changes. Accept that you are the way you are, and then (only then, after you have accepted yourself!), try to gently nudge yourself in a slightly different direction. This is part of self-care as well: don’t get into a fight with yourself.

Since it is almost a year since I reached my private, secret self-acceptance and self-identification as autistic, I’ve been thinking if this has actually changed anything for me. On the whole, probably not a lot. But there are a few little things, and a few things that I am only now in the process of learning.

One is this: I’m no longer ashamed or embarrassed if I have to stick my fingers in my ears in public, say when a noisy motorcycle goes past, or some street performers have turned up their loudspeakers beyond a bearable level. I just do it, and to hell with what anybody might think. In all probability, they’re not thinking anything. A tiny thing, but a step forward for me.

One thing that I am slowly learning is the pick-your-battle strategy alluded to above. Let me give you an example. Sometimes the closest available parking space when I go to work is on a parking strip alongside one of the main roads into/out of the town. Easy to put your car there, and parking is unlimited and free, so no problem. The problem is in the evening. There is always a traffic jam on that road leaving town during rush hour. To get away, I would have to insert myself into this slow moving queue. Easy, you might think. Indicate, slightly stick out your nose and wait for someone to let you in. Except I can’t do it. I can turn out of a side street into the queue, in fact I do that almost every day. It still gives me that sinking feeling, but I do it. But from the parking position I can’t. It gives me such a degree of anxiety that I start to shake and cry. And then I’m angry with myself for my stupidity and cry some more. It was in that state that I messaged my sister one day, and she messaged back: just wait. Put on the radio, sit back, pretend your partner has gone to get some coffee, whatever. And she was right. There was no reason to force myself. There was no parking time to run out. There was nowhere else I needed to be. There was no one waiting for me at home. Even if I waited for half an hour or more, it wouldn’t impact on anyone else. What could possibly happen? I would get my dinner a bit later. That’s it. And that’s when I realised that this is battle I don’t have to fight. I just accept that I’m too anxious (and yes, too stupid) to do that particular thing, and there is no reason to force myself. I can save myself a lot of worry, heartache and mental energy by just waiting, sitting it out, waiting for the traffic to thin and then drive home at my convenience. It was such a revelation to realise that I don’t have to do that thing, it was like a weight taken off me. I now keep a book in the car to pass the time when the situation arises again, and I keep my mental energy for the battles I do have to fight.

As to why I can’t do such a thing that everybody else does without thinking about it, I have an explanation for it. An online acquaintance of mine said recently (not entirely seriously) that he was born with a genetic quirk that means that he can’t take precedence over anything or anyone. Clearly I was born with the same genetic make-up. I can’t help it! But with my new coping strategy, and thanks to my sister who nudged me in the right direction, I am finding new ways of living with it.

 

Yes, I’ve used that image of clouds and rainbow before. I’ve painted myself into a bit of a corner with these featured images. Sometimes what keeps me from posting is the lack of a suitable relevant image. So now I say to myself, who cares about suitable or relevant? That’s really the last thing that should keep you from putting up a post. So I stopped worrying about suitable or relevant and concentrated on the ‘image’ bit. Expect a lot of random pretty flowers and such here in the future.

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10 thoughts on “Why I worry, and how I might possibly stop worrying for a bit

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  1. It’s wonderful to see a post from you!!
    Choosing your battles is very wise. That’s something every parent learns. You’re kind of at a disadvantage not having children. You would have learned this much sooner. Of course, there’s all kinds of other stuff that goes with raising children, so overall, maybe learning to pick your battles later may be the winner of the two options 😂
    I wish you didn’t have to worry! But if you’re going to worry about not worrying, it’s better just to go ahead and worry.👍 You’re the only person living your life, so your’s is the only opinion, desicion, choice that matters!
    As to the image…use whatever you want. Use nothing. I don’t have pictures on most of my posts. I follow your blog for the words and the person typing the words. Pretty pictures are nice, but they’re extras IMO.
    🌻😎💌

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yes, I’ve been a bit slack with the posting, I’ve been on holiday as well. I don’t see having no children as a disadvantage 😃 but of course each must do what they are suited for. I think I was born to worry, I’ll never be able to stop, but learning not to sweat the small stuff and to differentiate between the small and the big stuff is an improvement. And to be more forgiving towards myself – I just hope I can keep it up!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I’ve heard that people who experience a lot of anxiety are often at their best during times of actual crisis. They’re wired to foresee problem situations and come up with solutions, so they feel better prepared than less-anxious people, who are caught off-guard. During such crises, the anxious people actually experience less stress than the ones who thought everything would be fine. It seems to me that finding an acceptable stress level is one of the keys to living well. If worrying about things ahead of time reduces your overall stress, or allows you to maintain an acceptable level, then it’s a good strategy.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I wouldn’t say that worrying more reduces my stress levels. And with my flawed logic it is plain to see that I must never stop worrying even if I could because then the sky would fall on our heads or something. 😁 It’s like a meta layer of worry that I don’t need. What I need to do more is learn to choose what to worry about. If it’s looking stupid in front of no one but myself, it’s clearly not worth it.
      I think you are right about the ‘good in a crisis’ thing. For me, after a minute of sheer panic, the adrenaline, or my logic, or the part of my brain that pretends to be MacGyver kicks in and I start to think of solutions and evaluate possibilities.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. “It is actually my worrying that staves off disaster and makes things alright.” I so completely relate to this; for me, uncertainty is absolute hell, I have to know everything, sort it all over in my head ahead of time, worry my way through scenarios, to make sure I don’t have to think on my feet. Because, of course, I can’t, or at least, I don’t trust myself to.

    Oh, and I plug my ears in public all the time. 🙂 Hugs, TGA

    Liked by 3 people

    1. There is quite a difference between ‘can’t’ and ‘don’t trust myself to’, but if you don’t trust yourself to, then arguably you can’t. Whereas if you did trust yourself to, you probably could. But that trust it hard to come by.

      Like

  4. After reading the first paragraph of this post I decided to follow your blog. I felt it was my words on the page (screen).
    Worry! Ugh. For me, it’s preempting any possible disaster and being ready for it.

    Liked by 3 people

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