Pray and let God worry. -Martin Luther
Naturally, I have always been a worrier. I had a stomach ulcer as a child which I can only assume is due to this predisposition. This situation was certainly not helped by becoming a teacher and then a school administrator. A few years ago, I had a massive MS relapse. The way it presented itself was through panic attacks and living in a state of constant anxiety and worry. Due to identifying already as a worrier, I as well as my doctors assumed that it was anxiety and didn’t even look into it being MS related. I was in such a bad place that I didn’t even argue against all of the sleeping pills, antidepressants as well as some stronger stuff that I don’t even remember what it was as I was living in a constant fog for several months. After months of having to live with my mother (thank goodness for her), my neurologist recommended an MRI. Low and behold there were three new and very active lesions in my frontal lobe which definitely could partially explain the anxiety. Once that was dealt with, I returned to my “normal” worrying existence.
It was around this time I started to really question the way I had been living my life. I always was thinking “what ifs?” and trying to analyze every possible outcome of all situations to feel that I had control of the situations if they arose. During my trip through the fog I had just passed through, I was very blessed to meet a kinisiologist that was visiting from Australia. My husband and I went to see him and he taught me a life lesson that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Two actually. The first was to ask why I was so afraid. I thought about it for awhile and said I felt like a “dumbed down” version of myself and that what I identified most with was being an intelligent woman. He then turned to my husband and asked him what he loved most about me. The word intelligent never even came out of his mouth. Words like resilient, kind, and loving did. That helped me start to realize that there was actually more to me than being the person who could figure out all of our bills and the woman who could keep climbing in my career. It was OK if there were times when I wasn’t on my A game of intelligence. My husband wasn’t going to leave me over it and my friends wouldn’t stop liking me. I also realized how much I wasn’t giving myself , my husband or friends enough credit. Although I still definitely like being an intelligent woman, the idea that everyone would leave me if I wasn’t always, was one less thing I had to worry about.
The second lesson learned was to not always worry about the “why.” At the time, I continuously worried and would ask myself and others why something was the way it was. Examples: was I not sleeping because of MS or because of anxiety? Did I not have an appetite because of MS or anxiety? Did I feel like I couldn’t breathe because of asthma or because I was anxious? The kinisiologist asked me a fantastic question. What difference did it make? It just was the way it was. Would it make any difference if I wasn’t sleeping due to MS or due to anxiety? Would it change the course of action either way? The answer was usually no. I realized I was only trying to hang on the fact that I had control over this situation and to some level, I absolutely did not. This was a monumental moment for me. To give up worrying over whether it was this or that was an immense burden to lift off my shoulders.
Does that mean I don’t worry anymore? Absolutely not. Does it mean I don’t still plan out things that could happen to try to feel in control? I absolutely still do. What it has done is allow me to put checks and balances into place so things don’t get out of control as often. A very frequent phrase I tell myself is “Who cares what it is? It just is the way it is and I am strong enough to get through it.” My husband is really good at playing the what if game with me now. He will often ask when I am worry about something “What if that does happen?” and we go through the multiple options. Usually death or horrible disfigurement is not one of the possibilities. Both of these are very freeing exercises for me.
With illness, it is easy to get caught up in the worry game. What I have found is that it usually just robs me and those around me of energy and enjoyment in the present moment. I try to live my life in the present now as much as I can where I am not worrying about the future “what ifs.” I live in the present moment because it is usually a pretty fantastic place. Try it out and see what happens.
What if statements throw fuel on the fire of stress and worry. Things can go in a million different directions, and the more time you spend worrying about the possibilities, the less time you will focusing on taking action that will calm you down and keep your stress under control. -Travis Bradberry