Woo Intro: Skip if you're not ready for some spiritual pre-ramble.
For the past month or so, everything has been hard. Too hard, at times. And when I say "everything," I mean even the most menial, mundane things have just not been fucking working out.
Car and Doctor appointments? Keep getting fucked up. Communication issues? Only snowballing. Desperate attempts at social media bullshit for the site? Exhausting and ineffective. Frustration central.
Today, I think I realized why.
I hypothesized for a while that my energy must be off. That I'm creating resistance around every corner by operating on the wrong wave length. These are some of my usual "woo" beliefs at work... but they weren't quite landing, no matter what I tried to do. This morning, I think I finally named it.
I've been operating out of a place of worry. Running on the wavelength of "everything's about to explode."
Namely, I fell back into the familiar hole of forward-facing-catastrophic thinking and started PUSHING for all of these random little things to be accomplished from a center of fear and "preparation." Always the precrastinator over here.
Dude, that doesn't work.
It gets me all riled up, tense, and frustrated. And then that shitty, resistant, energy pervades everything in my life.
Why did the doctor fuck up my blood sample? Because I was worrying about the potential of having bad blood work results and needing to rush several additional appointments before my health insurance expired.
Why did my car alignment make the steering worse? Separately, why did the Ford dealership literally just go AWOL halfway through repairing some dumb computer programming? Because I was freaked out about getting my car fixed and rushing back to Atlanta, where I assumed my world was burning (I mean, the city kindof is).
Why did the eye doctor actually refuse to give me my own prescription? Because I was panicking, trying to order new glasses in 2 days (again, before losing insurance) in case my old pair... spontaneously combusted? Idefk.
When I set out for Illinois, I began a journey of worrying... which I had reframed in my head as being proactive and responsible. Taking advantage of my health insurance. Making sure my car was cared for before I lost extra income. Checking all the boxes for being a good, upstanding, adult.
And as a result, it's made my life dull, difficult, and infuriating. I've felt defeated many times. I've gotten kicked off my high horse of feeling awesome, and fell down into the stanky mud of assumed doom when nothing worked out.
This is the effect of worrying in my life.
When I can recognize it, I know deep in my gut that it's wrong. I know better. I've lived through obsessive worrying and had it completely diminish my life.
When you're convinced that the worst is coming, even if you're doing it from a place of "preparation," you're going to fall stagnant. You're going to create more trying situations. You're going to create the very things you're actively trying to avoid - whether you believe it's 'Woo' or it's just human psychology.
I know, I should have been chill about this. Let things happen with less of a dumpster fire under my ass. Bitch, it'll all work out one way or another. Even if your glasses break, your car drives off the road, and you wind up with a massive medical bill. No use freaking out about it now and making it into a reality before the event even occurs.
I fucked myself, as I have before, and as I will time and time again, with letting my catastrophic thinking create annoying, illogical, pessimistic, realities.
And motherfucker, the merit of worrying must die.
Okay, enough woo-world. Back to the real story.
Worrying must Die.
Fact about me: until two years ago, I was afraid to drive. Petrified. For a few years, I refused. I also barely left the house and would consider myself to have been agoraphobic.
I worked at home. I freaked out if I had to go do anything outside the house. Even walking around the block was an impossible feat I was afraid of anything outside the backyard. Me and my dog in a basement, basically 24/7.
The fear of outside didn't help my driving anxiety. I had anxiety attacks when I needed to. Even if it was five minutes behind the wheel. Even if someone was following me. I shook from head to toe, my heart raced, my vision closed in. I cried. I yelled at whoever was making me do this, let alone the things I shouted at other drivers. I probably spent a total of 2 hours behind the wheel over the course of 2 years.
Last week, I drove 12 hours from Atlanta to Chicago by myself.
Just like I've done a dozen times now.
It was no big deal. I actually looked forward to the trip for the opportunity to listen to podcasts uninterrupted. If anything, it was a bit boring and muscle stiffening.
So what the fuck changed? How did this former agoraphobe, driveaphobe, personaphobe become an independent, functional human again?
You're going to hate this, but... a big part of it is that, I just stopped worrying about it.
Building a phobia
Here's another interesting fact: before I was afraid of driving and leaving the house... I fucking loved it.
When I was a teenager through my early twenties, I enjoyed driving more than just about anything. I was the friend with the car. I was always driving. I enjoyed the experience of helping and having control - musically and otherwise. I was supremely confident in my driving skills. I never had an accident. I boldly took everyone and their friends to shows in the city, to taco bell two towns over, and to Woodfield mall (that parking lot alone is enough to cause me anxiety now).
You know what fucked me up a few years later? It wasn’t the actual driving. There wasn't a single experience that caused me acute trauma in a vehicle. People weren’t throwing things at my car or running me off the road. I was never stranded in the middle of nowhere.
The thing that caused me so much grief was… myself.
First, I lost faith in myself. I started feeling unsure of my driving abilities. After a few long bouts of insomnia, I had difficulty seeing the road straight or reacting rapidly. From these experiences, I genuinely stopped trusting that I was a capable driver.
Then, I lost faith in my support system. When I went away to college, I was alone in a new city with all my loved ones 200 miles away. I knew no one in town. My poor, abused car felt unsafe and I couldn't afford a new one. I grew fearful that I would be broken down on the side of the road with no one to call. It didn't help that the size of my college town was overwhelming in comparison to my tiny, 2-stop light hometown.
From these two points, I believe I started building a habit of worrying about my drives. And with enough focused worrying, I built a phobia all on my own.
The trouble with worrying
During these early days of growing fear, my brain was reacting to things that hadn’t happened yet… and never would.
I fell into worst case scenarios and expected challenges any time I considered leaving the house. If I had plans in 5 days, I would be thinking about all the shit that would go wrong for 5 days. I developed morbid obsessions with considering all the things that could fuck me up. In my head, they became so likely that I dreaded every single drive (or step out the front door).
In response to the very"real feeling threats," my body was lighting up like a Christmas tree. I was under enough mental distress that my body activated. The nervous physiological stress reaction was sending even more “oh shit” feedback to my brain while I shook, hyperventilated, and got dizzy. Now I feel out of control of my vehicle AND my body, which seems to be headed directly for passing out no matter how much I whisper, "no, no, no." It was an endless neurological-physical loop of building anxiety and fear.
And it was all for no reason.
The simple, embarrassing, difficult to swallow truth of the matter is:
I created all the obstacles, dangers, and monsters for myself to worry about.
None of it was based in reality.
None of it ever happened.
All of the time and energy was spent fearing a fake boogie man.
All of those years were completely wasted staying “safe” inside.
My misery was created in an attempt to hide from the world.
By letting my thoughts get ahead of me. By refusing to acknowledge all the drives I had made without running into issues. By imagining the worst with fervent dedication... I created my own prison.
The answer was... going to piss you off.
You know how I finally got my ass on the road? It's not fancy.
The key to my revolution was (infuriatingly simple) - doing instead of thinking.
Okay, okay, okay, don’t leave yet. I have more to say. I know that's a highly reductive way to put it, bound for "fuck yous" in return.
The point is, I stopped indulging in my anxious tailspins, even though it felt so wrong to push them aside. I realized I was obsessed with this preemptive fear, like it was a necessary part of daily life. I honestly felt as if imagining the things that could go poorly was a good thing. I always wanted to be "ten steps ahead," prepared for the worst. So, I had to think about all the ways. Right?
I finally got it through my head; imagining terrible circumstances won't make you more accepting when they happen to you. In the moment, you will react the "right way," or you won't.
You can never, ever anticipate what's really coming your way or how you'll respond in that moment. So, why does it help to think through the most terrifying scenarios you can dream up after watching a night of Forensic Files?
It doesn't. "Preparation for the worst," AKA incessant indulgent worrying, only hurts.
The key to overcoming my irrational fears was... thinking less and just doing the fucking thing. I realized, I couldn't change whatever was about to happen. The universe would send flaming bags of poop to my porch whether I expected them or not. And when I started moving before I started worrying, I quit creating shit monsters outside my front door.
I literally just quit thinking so fucking much.
How to stop worrying and get moving.
Necessity is a funny friend.
At a certain point I had no choice when it came time to get in the car.
After leaving my toxic ex in Atlanta, I was suddenly stranded in a city where I knew no one and needed to drive. And... I'm not sure if you've heard about driving in Atlanta. Woo boy, it's like the grand prix of aggressive drivers in unpredictable traffic. Plus, there's no public transportation (functionally, anyways, it would take me ~2 hours to get to work by train/walking), and my fear of humans was actually greater than my fear of cars, anyways.
When I left the suffocating household with my SO, I had to get to work, to doctor appointments, and to community abuse advocates for legal help. No one was going to drive me, I didn't have any friends or family in the area. I couldn't afford Ubers all over the gotdamn city. Plus, I was going to need to go back home to see my family 1000 miles away at some point.
Clearly, all of those things necessitated the ability to keep a car on the road. I HAD TO enough times that the sting eventually dulled.
Secondly, after my life implosion, I stopped being so worried about life, in general.
I guess, the worst had already happened, so that took a lot of pressure off whatever was coming next. When you've lost it all... you have nothing left to lose, yeah? "Really want me to have a car-totalling accident with my busted up minivan that my ex is extorting me with, universe? Fine. I give up. I have to go to work or I have bigger problems to worry about."
Third, I started to see driving as a mundane activity, rather than a terrifying one.
The roads aren't dangerous... they're boring. Traffic is a complete suck on your time, energy, and mood. Atlanta drivers are a shitshow, but, truthfully, you learn to be one of them and it just becomes a funny anecdote everyday.
In a way, I always could anticipate what would happen when I put the key in the ignition... I would be annoyed with other drivers until I arrived at my destination. I stopped wondering what might happen and let my brain go on autopilot based on all my past experiences where absolutely nothing happened.
Lastly, I built a little confidence in myself again.
Over and over again, my therapist told me "Jess, you make good decisions. You are highly functional. You need to trust yourself." And that took a long time to accept. But I realized at some point, I had already seen that the future was completely unpredictable, and in the "worst case scenario," I would still manage to figure it out.
The unthinkable had already happened when I moved to a new city for a relationship that turned out to be a nightmare... and I was figuring that out, despite having no one and nowhere to go. Who fucking knew what was coming next, but I was going to be okay. Bring it on. Bring hell or high waters, I would still have my wherewithal and I would find a way out - I just needed to accept that I was reliable and capable.
Stop worrying yourself.
It's actually not that hard, even though I know you're yelling "fuck you."
I get it. I didn't think my brain could quit entering endless preemptive fear spirals, either. But here the fuck I am, chilled out and ready to do everything after years of being too worried to do anything at all.
Here's what I've got for anti-worrying advice, if you want it.
Believe in only “now.”
You know what probably isn’t going to happen? Whatever you’re dreaming of when you consider the future.
Not trying to be a Debbie Downer, just saying; you have no clue what’s coming your way. Ever. Did you ever imagine that you’d be where you are today? Did you foresee all the random circumstances that brought you to this place? Were you planning on any of this?
Maybe, maybe not.
But, do you know what’s a fact?
Right now I’m sitting on my bed in pajamas, eating muscadine and drinking day old coffee while I send annoyed boundary-establishing text messages and write this little diddy to you. In this tiny moment right here, that's a fact.
I can look around, I can touch my surroundings, I can feel the bed under my butt. I see the phone next to my computer. It’s here, it’s happening, and it’s real. Right now.
What will happen when I get up and walk out of this bedroom?
No clue. Maybe the cat will be standing on the other side of the door, like usual. Maybe a hoard of Gremlins will be hanging from the ceiling, like in my childhood nightmares. Maybe a masked figure will be standing down the hall with a knife, like a show on the ID network. Or maybe he'll break into song and serenade me about unrequited love, like a member of Masked Intruder.
Who the fuck knows. I have no idea. I can’t predict it. Some of those scenarios seem more likely... but anything is possible in this universe and the next one.
And therefore, I can’t start worrying about it.
Frankly, it would be selfish, wasteful, and weak to waste all my energy trying to anticipate what might happen next. Especially when your brain is programmed to expect the worst all the time.
Motherfucker, there is no merit in worrying.
Accept: THERE IS NO MERIT IN WORRYING.
You really, truly, aren't a better person for being "prepared." It might feel good to consider yourself "ten steps ahead," but the path changes direction without warning. Keep walking your brain at full speed straight ahead, but the trail took an unexpected left a while back and now you're wading through poison ivy, righteously telling your hiking buddies they're fools.
No one wants to be caught off guard... but you aren't superior for filling your head with negative predictions.
Everyone has that friend, family member, or coworker who’s just a bit too cautious when it comes to… fucking everything. Afraid to go on a date, afraid to speed, afraid to go to the store, afraid to be 2 minutes late to work. Everything is the end of the world.
Hell, maybe that’s you (sorry).
The question is, do you respect that person? Do you want to be around them? Do you ask them for perspective and advice? Or do you find their unending fears to be a bit… Overdramatic? Exhausting? Avoidant? ... Pathetic?
Yeah, they probably aren’t your favorite person to be around. (Again, sorry if it's you we're talking about.) No offense against worriers, personally… but that energy is draining for everyone, and that mindset is impossible to work with.
When someone is too busy living in the “what ifs,” they can’t really coexist with the “what is.”
They're going to be lost in their own fearful world. They're going to deny the facts right in front of them. They're going to be too convinced that shit luck is making a beeline for them to try a single thing. They will be... (sorry)... a boring, miserable, stagnant person.
You don’t want to be that person. Other people don’t want you to be that person. Don't be that person.
Stop judging folks who have a greater handle on "going with the flow," and see the value in their open-ended, multidimensional living. There is no merit in worrying.
Learn your worrying roots.
It might help you to examine where your worrier tendencies were born. There’s a reason why we turned out this way… And you know how much I like narrative trauma healing.
So, the problem for me is, I grew up being taught that worrying WAS a moral issue.
Being prepared was a necessity of life in my childhood home, and correlated to value as a human. Just another part of my bullying, shaming family’s need to create “order” in a traumatic world. Their lives all sucked, their families' lives all sucked, and it had to be someone's fault. Blame the victim.
If you didn’t foresee some random occurrence, well, you were the fucking idiot. Why didn’t you have a backup water bottle? Why weren’t you ready for a flat tire? Why didn’t you come to school with two extra pairs of pants that day?
For my family, the world can’t be unpredictable because that’s way too frightening and uncontrollable… so everyone must be fucking stupid not to anticipate future events. Thanks generational trauma!
Cool, so I learned that life is all my fault and I should be ashamed for whatever happens.
Throw in a tumultuous, unpredictable, and violent early life to teach a child that no one should be trusted and danger lies around every corner… and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a chronic worrier. Hell, give that girl a role model - my mother - who functions on avoidance and neuroticism, and see what else happens!
Answer: you create a holier-than-thou-because-I’m-always-on-my-toes, hypervigilant, miserable, stressed out, shut down, bitch.
Or, that was me for many years of my life - don’t be “dark ages Jess.”
Examine your thoughts, rewire your trauma brain.
Next time you’re feeling drive-anxious or future-fearful… ask yourself some anti-bullshit questions.
What’s happening right now?
What are the facts?
What are you fearing?
What’s the likelihood of what you’re fearing?
What can you do to prevent it?
What do you know will happen, for sure?
So, what’s real?
And, therefore, what’s worth thinking about? Expending energy on? Devoting time to?
When I have to answer these questions, I usually find that I’m worked up and ruining my day about NOTHING. About bad dreams in my brain box. About all the things I can’t prevent, change, or anticipate.
After I write it out, my answers stare me boldly in the face. I can’t keep arguing with myself. I can live in unreasonable fear and avoidance, or I can take a step outside and see what happens. Most likely, it'll be boring, at best.
Redirect your energy.
During this exercise, it becomes clear for me that there are two categories of things.
Real, tangible, and fixable things… and imagined, indefinite, abstract premonitions.
What CAN I prevent, change, or anticipate? Plenty of REAL STUFF, happening RIGHT NOW. (i.e. getting dressed, eating breakfast, making sure my car tires are inflated, driving carefully)
What CAN’T I change? Everything I’m dreaming up about the future. (i.e. avoiding car accidents forever, having a flat tire, getting hit by a falling airplane, gremlins cropping up again...)
So, what should I pay attention to? Uh, pretty fucking clearly, it's the stuff right now. Where should I place my attention, energy, and focus? On the tangible, controllable things that I can influence. Right in front of me.
What’s driving me crazy and making my life infinitely small/scary/depressing? The stuff that could or couldn’t happen. The shit I'm imagining.
Get in the car, put the key in the ignition, and drive, motherfucker.
Keep your head on straight, start doing instead of thinking, and see what happens.
Wrap up on Worries
Still not impressed with my “method” of not worrying? Sounds too similar to “just look on the bright side?” Throwing out garbage thoughts not exactly in your wheelhouse right now?
Dude, I feel you. I would have said the same back then. "Git fucked, flowery bitch."
The fact is, it’s a practice.
KNOW, you aren’t going to feel better today, tomorrow, or next week. But if you DO THE EXERCISES, ASK THE QUESTIONS, and QUESTION YOURSELF CONSTRUCTIVELY… EVERY DAY, you will feel a slight shift.
You can convince yourself to turn your attention elsewhere. You can organize your thoughts to cut out the useless fat. You can begin to rewire your brain. You can see evidence that good, bad, or boring things can happen at any point - regardless of premonition.
Keep at it, and you’ll make massive progress. But you have to try, every day.
Just be straight with yourself and understand where your own brain has held you back. If you want to see the world as a chaotic and dangerous place, you fucking will. If you want to open up new possibilities and start to live peacefully again, you really can.
You decide how committed you are to the life you want to lead.
Start living, start doing, stop worrying.
See you next time for more trauma tales.
If you got something to say, discuss below!
I gotta hit the road.