Anxiety is a funny thing. It has, at times, ruled my life. It can ruin your life, if left unchecked. But what if I told you that some of my best personality traits exist because of my anxiety? It’s true. Some of my most “hire-able” qualities are nothing more than excellently honed coping mechanisms. For example, I am probably one of the most detail oriented planners that you’ll ever meet. This comes in very handy with the type of work that I do, and my skill in anticipatory planning is one of the reasons that I was hired for, and have since excelled at, my job. It is funny then, to realize that my skill at planning is mostly just a coping mechanism, and my ability to foresee problems is not really a skill at all – it is anxiety itself. I always see problems. I see danger around most corners. I live on a precipice of anticipation. It’s actually quite awful. What I’ve done though, is become skilled at prioritizing possible obstacles and outcomes by their likelihood to happen, and preparing accordingly. Does this mean that I cease to fear the outcomes which qualify as the most unlikely and irrational? Nope… that’s sort of how anxiety works. I just learn which ones to fear more. I find comfort, however, when I am able to make a plan. A solid plan feels like a shield. It is my security against the things that life might throw my way.
Planning is a fickle friend, though, masquerading as a solution to anxiety the way that it does. While it can be a very useful tool in managing anxiety (anything that gives comfort and doesn’t hurt anyone is a useful tool), it isn’t always available. Some of my biggest, most irrational, persistently recurring fears are things that I simply cannot plan against. For example, since the moment my youngest son was born, I have been afraid of losing him. Since losing Clara, I have been full-on terrified of losing him. But how does one plan against unthinkable tragedy? My reach only extends so far. I feed him healthy food, take him for regular check ups with his pediatrician. He is under the care of a trusted, experienced care provider who loves him. I keep him out of dangerous situations and parent like a responsible, competent and loving Mother. This is all that I can do. But, is it enough? Does it shield him completely?
…No. It does not. Admitting that is like ripping my heart out and offering it up on a platter. You see, planning gives you control, like a clock gives you time. It doesn’t. It only gives you a sense of it. Sometimes that sense is strong. Like when one of my kids comes down with the stomach bug and so we enact what I like to call Operation Quarantine – the sick child is given a little recovery haven in our second, downstairs living room and for a short period of time, we try to keep the kids as separated as we reasonably can, in order to avoid the illness spreading. We wash hands even more diligently than we already do, and I move through the house like a bleach tornado. Does this plan guarantee that no one else will get sick? No, but it does work most of the time. We know that this plan gives us a pretty good hold on the spread of germs and so the sense of control is strong. However my plan to raise healthy, happy children who will long outlive me does not give me the same sense of control. I know that terrible things happen, despite our best efforts. So all the carrot-loaded dinner plates in the world are not likely to make me feel strongly in-control of my children’s futures.
Planning has a place in my anxiety management tool box, but what I am really working on (and have a long way to go with) is accepting that there are things that I cannot plan for. There is so much that is out of my control and I believe that one of the most important things that I can do in order to free myself from anxiety, is to learn to be okay with that. I’m far from being there, and the path appears steep, but I am beginning to climb.
Peace and love to you all.