*Spoiler Alert: Very, very little.*
I am a worrier. Even if you discount the anxiety that I struggle with, I still spend far, far too much of my life worrying. And most of it is about dumb stuff, or stuff that there’s no point worrying about because I can’t control it. (My biggest source of worry in the, “But you can’t control it department,” is the weather. Having been through too many hurricanes, tornadoes, and other severe weather dramas, I’ve got a bit of PTSD and any mention of bad weather sends the worry machine into overdrive.) It’s not a pleasant way to live.
Okay, fine. So I have a problem with worry. Why am I telling you about this? What does it have to do with writing, you ask? Well, not necessarily much, although I do worry about my writing career. Long term followers of this blog know, though, that I don’t stick to writing as my only subject and anything is fair game. This is one of those days. Hell, I think this may be one of those years where you hear a lot more from me on non-writing topics.
2018 was a banner year for worry. In addition to all the bad weather we had, it seemed the whole world was one step away from the threshold of hell. (Yes, I’ve tried staying away from the news and it does help. Just not enough. The crap still manages to leak in somehow.) Oddly, instead of worrying about a lot of the big stuff, I turned my worry inward and smaller and spent insane amounts of time obsessing about trivial crap. (Is that crack in the ceiling getting bigger?)
I know it’s crazy. And I probably have a little obsessive-compulsive disorder because I can’t stop. Once the worry kicks in, I cannot turn it off, much to the annoyance of those close to me. (Which, incidentally, gives me more to worry about because I’m afraid I’m bothering them too much.)
Do I need professional help? Probably. But I know from experience that there’s very little the pros can do for me. Any drug is guaranteed to make everything worse because I’ll either be allergic to it, or the side effects will be debilitating. My body is intolerant of anything except the mildest painkiller. As for talking it through, I’ve tried it and it doesn’t really help. At least not with any of the therapists I’ve tried.
I have found one thing that does help, though, and it’s this: To consciously stop the worry train and ask, “Is this thing really worth worrying about?”
I actually began by asking the question, “Will this thing that I’m worrying about matter when I’m dead?” But that didn’t work because the honest answer is, “No, it won’t, because nothing matters after I’m dead.” I won’t care about anything that did or did not happen. So going by that question, absolutely nothing in life is worth worrying about. Which is liberating, but untrue. Of course there are things in life that one should worry about. It’s learning to distinguish the legitimate worries from the crap that’s problematic. At least for me.
So I changed the question to, “Will this thing that I’m worrying about matter greatly in the grand scheme of my life? And if it does, what’s the worst case scenario?” Pondering these two questions greatly reduces the pool of things that are “worthwhile” to worry about.
The crack in the ceiling I mentioned earlier? It doesn’t matter greatly in the scheme of life. So I die in a house with a crack in the ceiling. That’ll be the new owner’s problem. And if it does get bigger before I die? Worst case, it signifies a foundation problem and we call somebody to fix it. Expensive, yes. Insurmountable, no.
Weather? Well, it does make a difference in the grand scheme of life. It may determine whether or not I have a home, get injured, or even killed. It’s been that bad around here. And it seems like most places are just as bad, or getting there, so moving won’t help. But is it worth worrying about? Worst case, I get killed. Well, I’m dead so it doesn’t matter. Worst, worst case? Someone I love gets killed. That would be horrible and is worth possibly worrying about.
I circle back to the, “Can you control it?” thing. No, I can’t. Beyond taking precautions when bad weather is coming, there’s not much I can do. Worrying about it just costs me happy time with the people I love. And I know that in the event of a worst case scenario, I’d regret that lost time.
Writing career? If it tanks, if I get no sales, if my publisher drops me, what happens? Not much. I keep on working on the freelance end of things and life goes on pretty well as normal. I may still write books, self-publish, or shop for a new publisher. There are options. Worst case, I never write another word of fiction in my life. Well, it won’t kill me.
Just asking these questions and working through the answers helps me to clarify what, exactly, is worth worrying about. And the answer in the end is, “Not much.” At least not to the extent that I worry about things.
I’m sure this is second nature for many people. (Hell, I’m sure many people are blessed not to even have to think about things like this because they just don’t get torqued up about stuff like I do. I wish I could be one of you.) But for me, it’s game changing. Especially in a world that seems to be living on the threshold of hell. There’s so much to fear, so much to worry about, so much to get in the way of living life. It’s important to remember that certainly none of it will matter when I’m dead, and very little of it matters even now.
What matters is today. People I love. Work I enjoy. Experiences that make me happy. Incredible things that can only happen and be appreciated when you stop worrying and participate in life.
Worst case scenario: I end up dead. But that’s going to happen anyway, at some point, so there’s not much point in worry about that, either.
(Photo by boram kim)