Monday, November 17, 2008

Who? Me? Worry?

“So, I’m happy tonight.  I’m not worried about anything.  I’m not fearing any man.”  (Martin Luther King, Jr. in an address the night before his assassination)
      I am a recovering “worrier” (among many other things).  I think I was a born worrier.  One of my early memories is of me worrying about dying (I think I was about 5 years old).  I justdidn’t want things to ‘stop’ for me.  I didn’t want to miss the next episode of The Waltons; Ididn’t want to get buried in a little box that I couldn’t sit up in; I didn’t want to be under all that dirt.  It must have come on the heels of some relative’s funeral…possibly the one when my grandfather acted like he was going to put me in the coffin with my ancient, dead great-great-aunt.  He was such a 'jokester'…
     As a teenager, I took to worrying about things like the sanitation of the handling of various recreational drugs that passed from linty pocket to dirty hand to linty pocket throughout my high school; drinking out of my can of soda after some random friend grabbed it and gulped down a mouthful on their way out of the cafeteria and THEN wiped the pizza grease off of their lips; the lack of opportunity to wash my hands before eating lunch (that would have involved going into the smoky, scary bathrooms…).  I can’t say that these worries were in any way debilitating, but they were always in the back of my mind.
     As a new parent, there were always plenty of things to worry about:  SIDS, pink-eye, chicken pox, biting, nose picking, toilet training, “normal” development, etc.; so I never lacked for things to keep me awake at night, if the babies were sleeping.  My pediatrician made me stop reading the pediatric nursing text-book I acquired through a nurse friend, when I would vehemently debate his diagnosis’s, or offer suggestions for treatments or recommend particular testing (I am not talking about merely discussing something with the doctor, I debated with him, throwing around medical terminology I really knew nothing about).  I had to quit reading Reader’s Digest, cold-turkey, after (incorrectly) self-diagnosing several digestive disorders, a heart ailment, and some various skin and liver conditions-all within a period of a few months, thanks to that magazine’s thorough medical articles, with titles that usually began with words like, “What YOU Should Know About…”
     I totally believe in the power and benefit of being your own medical advocate, as well as not taking good health for granted, but I was REALLY overboard during that time in my life.
     Thank goodness for one of my closest friends, who was also going through the same Reader’s Digest-induced self-diagnosis issues as me.  At least I had someone to laugh at myself with.  We helped each other put things into perspective and encouraged each other to give up the “Digest” once and for all.  We became each other's 'sponsors'.  That is when my recovery began.
     I would love to say that I USED to be a worrier, but I think I will be a worrier all of my life. What is important is that I continue to live a normal, highly functioning life in spite of it.
     Recently, after a string of difficult events in my life, and the lives of people close to me (illnesses, deaths, a car wreck, stirring up some painful situations from my past, a child living on the other side of the world, some screwy/stupid choices), I fell off the wagon.  Much like an alcoholic returning to the bottle in an attempt to deal with a stressful time, I began to nurture that giant bottle of worry that sits on the shelf in the back of my mind.  You name it, I most likely worried about it.
     At one point my extremely patient and understanding husband gently suggested, “Do you think you ought to talk to somebody about this?”  
     I realized that I had been pretty neglectful of my girl-friendships lately, and I had not been taking much time to “nurture” myself.  One of the first things I did was set up a standing date with one of my girl friends to meet for breakfast once a week before work.  For too long, I have been at the mercy of my after-work schedule of exercise/dinner/house hold stuff/sleep and didn't see how I could possibly fit in one more scheduled thing 'to do'; but I realized that I could add in time at the beginning of my day instead of the end.  That regular meeting has become a great oasis of ‘girl time’ for me.  I have also started meeting with some fellow classmates from my school every other week.  It is great to get together with other people working toward the same goal as me, offering ideas and support as we go along though our schooling.
     I asked myself, during the really ‘high-worry’ time, what a therapist might tell me to do, as a coping mechanism for dealing with the irrational worry that seems to crop up (I HAVE watched Dr. Phil and Oprah a time or two…).  My answer was to make a list of the things that I worry about, that I know I can do absolutely NOTHING about.  I am slightly embarrassed to admit that over the course of two days I came up with over 100 things, that took up space in my head and time in my day, that I’ve worried about; things I can do NOTHING about.  My list ranged from global warming and the price of gasoline to wrinkles and gray hair.  It was helpful for me to get all of those things out there; for me to look at them and acknowledge that I can’t do anything about them (well, I CAN color the hair, I just can stop the whole aging process); and then move on.  After making my list I slept better than I had in weeks.
     I don’t think I am the only person with worries, I am just sometimes more open about them than other people may be.  I am not a bed-ridden mess (right now), instead I am a ‘functioning worrier’ (and now back ‘on the wagon’).   As someone recently pointed out, “I think you have more ‘issues’ than anyone I know, yet you are so stylish, too.”  A criticism or a compliment?  I don’t know.  I'm not going to worry about it!

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