I never wore flip flops out of the house until recently. Previously, I always wore laced-up shoes or running shoes. I had a motive: Caution. Preparedness. Readiness. If there were a fire somewhere, I could escape with shoes on. If I were mugged, I could run or show off my Ninja skills. Shoes work. No one fears a guy with naked toes.
I have absolutely no reason to worry, yet I do. I have been a worrier most of my life. Worrying is pointless. I know that. Still, I worry. Sometimes I worry about worrying. I always thought worrying prepared me for all of life’s blight - broken legs, divorces, bug bites, poorly made liverwurst sandwiches, weak coffee.
I have prepared for most everything, yet none of these things have come to pass, except the weak coffee, which wasn’t such a blight after all. As for liverwurst, you can’t ruin it. It is what it is. Live with it.
None of these bad things I have worried about all these years have occurred. That’s not to say they won’t happen, but whatever worry I invested in contemplating these scenarios didn’t seem wasted until recently.
I don’t mean to make light of worry. There are people with clinical-level worry. This is a condition Freud noticed in 1894 as a generalized, but personalized anxiety. Worry is such an elusive condition psychiatric experts considered it as a catch-all designation until 1980 or so when worry became a distinctive diagnostic category. Nowadays, worry is categorized as generalized anxiety disorder, defined roughly as worry that last three months or more. The word worry may yet make its way into the next DSM. So, there is nothing humorous about worry.
Of course, worry is immaterial unless it impacts one’s life. And it has its upside. Successful people don’t become successful without the motivation of worry. Worry also guards you against stepping into a lion’s den. Worry has its place.
I admit I consume news the way Stephen King consumes bodies. I see the crime, the poverty, the wars, the bad stuff. I often need a break to stop worrying.
Unfortunately, I have found that when I stop worrying about the world spinning off its axis, I transfer the worry to another handy topic. Which radiated creatures lurk under our streets? Did I pay enough taxes in 1998? Did I or did I not return the sweater to Linda what’s-her-face after that incident in high school? Why did Mrs. Gross hate me so in fourth grade? You would think someone with a name like that would go out of their way to be friendlier.
I have been told that this general worry, this darkness may have ethnic origins. My Irish ancestry, in other words, may carry with it the whimsy of a light-hearted spirit, wit, a literary or oratory zeal balanced by the dark baggage of a brooding soul. With one, you get the other. Could be, yet one does not have to live with that dark baggage.
Of late I’ve realized that ruminating about the same thing over and over is like tossing gasoline onto the barbecue mid-cook — everything gets blown out of proportion.
I imagine most of us worry from time to time, some more than others. When it goes into overdrive, into rumination and begins to affect quality of life, it’s probably time to visit with someone or actively begin looking at the worry from a different point of view, as I have. According to E. Joseph Cossman, a marketing specialist and an entrepreneur, here’s one way:
If you want to test your memory, try to recall what you were worrying about one year ago today.
That is great advice. I usually say this thing I’m worried about won’t matter in 100 years, but giving it only one year seems much more reasonable. How about six months from now, next week? How about tomorrow?
Even our own Thomas Jefferson offered insight:
How much pain they have cost us, the evils which have never happened.
Some of us probably worry much like Gone with the Wind’s Scarlett O’Hara, who said: “Oh, I can’t think about this now! I’ll go crazy if I do! I’ll think about it tomorrow.” But she can’t wait, and continues to worry about bringing her lover Rhett Butler back into her life after he’s already hit the road. She needn’t worry. He’s gone, man. Gone. Her rumination over unrequited love is wasted time, pointless. She should have saved her strength. She should have done what nonchalant modern women do these days when some guy dumps them — get a quart of ice cream and dig in.
If ice cream doesn’t do it for you, there’s psychotherapy and medication. Worry is something all of us do, but it shouldn’t take over your life. I no longer allow it to take over mine. I have my reasons.
I understand the Mayans have foretold the end of the world this December. These are the sorts of foreboding some people can’t just blow off. But I have. I’m not worried about the world ending. Why should I? Even if I leave the house in flip flops, I still have a darn good pair of shoes, laces and all. And I’ve already put in a lifetime of training.
Bring it on!