Of all the things in my life I’ve ever worried about being bad at, worrying isn’t one of them.
Most of my life I’ve been a chronic worrier with an amazing ability to over think everything. If I was going to chose a super power I think I’d have probably chosen something different.
The first thing I remember REALLY worrying about was when I was about 11 and I was terrified of the end of the world (though in retrospect, that’s a pretty valid worry, right?). My parents would wave me off to school in the morning, and I would be convinced that I would never see them again.
I did exactly the same in my mid 20s after ill advisedly reading the book Swan Song by Robert McCammon which had me sick to my stomach for weeks.
I’ve never confined myself to merely worrying myself sick about issues on a global scale, though. Oh no. I’m perfectly capable of worrying myself into illness about regular things as well, such as whether I remembered to lock the front door before I walked into town and whether there is enough money on the electricity meter and all my food is going to defrost while I am away for the weekend.
When we were camping on Valentines Day I became obsessed for about an hour with the idea that the potboiler stove was leaking Carbon Monoxide, even though I knew we had an alarm. I only got over it when I decided to worry about whether I was, in fact, completely ruining what should have been a very pleasant evening by worrying about dying.
I realised long ago that I don’t seem to have the ability other people have to just let things go, let them wash over me without grasping onto the worst thing that can possibly happen and obsessing about it constantly. If someone mentions something that people are doing wrong without mentioning names, I will be convinced it is me and analyse all my most recent interactions for signs of wrong doing. Hangovers are appalling opportunities for me to obsess about what stupid things I must have said or done the night before, even though everyone else was equally badly behaved. I can over analyse every social interaction I have ever had. Sometimes I still wake up in a cold sweat about that time I said goodbye to someone weirdly when I was 14, and I can worry about everything from the Zombie Apocalypse to how much money I do, or don’t, have, all in the space of a day.
The weird thing is I can be incredibly calm and in control while in the midst of a crisis, I’m not a person who goes to pieces. If things are going really well, however, I completely fall apart worrying about when the cosmos will force me to pay for it with global apocalypse or merely a domestic apocalypse.
(You can get these self care temporary tattoos here on Etsy)
There have been times when I’ve ended up at the Doctors on the hard drugs, but these days I mostly manage to keep my obsessing to a low-level background of worry and I try not to let it interfere with my every day life.
When you’re a chronic worrier people often offer helpful advice. While well-meaning, some of it isn’t very helpful at all. Here are some particular favourites of mine, perhaps you’ve heard, or given them, yourself?
Will it matter in 10 years time?
This is a particular hated piece of advice that I read for Chronic Worriers all the time. Now not only do I have to worry about whatever thing I am worrying about, I also have to worry about whether it will still matter in 10 years time.
Do you know what, sometimes it will. If the world had ended when I was 11 I think we’d all have been pretty bummed about it. I mean, we’d all be dead, so maybe we wouldn’t, but that wasn’t really a consolation. And what if it was a nuclear holocaust type end of the world and I survive and in 10 years time I am fighting off giant mutant rat people with a stick. Yeah, that might matter.
You can’t do anything about it, so what is the point of worrying?
If it were that simple to stop, I wouldn’t have started. Anyway, maybe I can do something about it, maybe I can turn around and walk 2 miles home to check I locked the back door. Except I know that wouldn’t be rational, so instead I will just worry about it till I get home, like a normal person. Also, what if there is something I can do about it that I just haven’t figured out yet? Maybe if I worry about it for another few hours I’ll suddenly realise the answer?
Just think about something else
Good plan. The problem is that you actually CAN think about more than one thing at once, and I am more than capable of sitting down and mentally planning an entire weeks worth of outfits and watching an episode of Buffy whilst simultaneously worrying about how I am going to die of Swine Flu.
So What Does Help?
Just in case I am speaking to any other chronic worriers, I shall put my sarcasm aside momentarily and share some things that genuinely have helped me control my obsessive worrying and kept me out of the Doctors office.
This is like a massive buzzword right now, everyone loves mindfulness meditation. I used an app called Headspace, and it taught me some of those skills of letting go that seem to come so easily to other people. The problem with thinking about stopping thinking about something is that you can’t do that without thinking about it (Whatever you do, don’t think about a pink elephant). Headspace uses the analogy of your thoughts like passing traffic. You can run out into the road and try and stop the cars as they pass, or you can just acknowledge that they are there and let them go. I can’t do it all the time, but it’s really helped on a day-to-day basis.
For me the key was to practice these skills when I WASN’T worrying, rather than waiting for the time when I was obsessively thinking about something, because then I can’t let it go.
I’ve been using a combination of St Johns Wort and 5-HTP for years. I buy them from Natures Best. I take St Johns Wort all the time, and 5-HTP if I’m going through a bad patch. I use the depot contraceptive injection and have found I get worse as it starts to wear off, so I will use 5-HTP and also a vitamin B supplement at this time.
Ok, not just Roller Derby, it’s not obligatory to take up Roller Derby to deal with chronic worry, and yeah, sometimes Roller Derby gives me whole new things to worry about obsessively (Am I too rubbish? Will I make the A team try outs? Does everyone think I’m an idiot secretly? Am I going to get hideously hurt? Do I have the right colour leggings for an upcoming game?). It’s partly exercise, and partly having a hobby that has helped. Before Roller Derby running helped too, but I was never as obsessed with running.
Turns out all those people who told me to “just think about something else” were a bit right, but you need to find the right thing to think about. Having a hobby means I can spend time planning workout and training plans, setting goals and scheduling my busy life and suddenly I haven’t worried about the end of the world for a whole 2 hours.
A tired Retro Chick is a worried Retro Chick. These days I try and make sure I get a minimum of 7 1/2 hours sleep a night, and I turn to Nytol One-A-Night tablets for a while if I’m finding that my nights are disturbed by anxiety dreams, or I’m just not sleeping well.
Over the years I’ve learnt to start controlling the things I can. I try to keep money aside so I know if something goes hideously wrong I can at least buy a train ticket, book a hotel room, buy food or pay for an emergency plumber. I used to be incapable of planning ahead to do anything nice as I’d spend the whole run up worrying about it not happening, now I just plan it anyway and deal with my brain.
Anyway, now I’m off to worry about publishing this blog post.
Any other chronic worriers out there, or is it just me?