My husband and I are getting ready to go on our first vacation in 20 years of being a couple, and I’m super excited … or I would be, if I could get my mind to STFU. But no. My brain is doing what it seems to do best: going through a laundry list of ridiculousness ranging from possible complications to outright tragedies. It’s what I do. I’m a constant worrier, and this is my life.
Our flight leaves in two days, and any “normal” person would be like, “Wheeee! Our flight leaves in TWO DAYS!” But to me, it just means there are 48 hours in which something could go terribly wrong.
As I’m making a mental inventory of things I need to pack, I’m also going through things I’ve touched lately because I saw a piece on the news about flu season really ramping up. Did I remember to squirt on some hand sanitizer the last time I was at the gym? Did I wipe down my last shopping cart with antibacterial wipes? What if we both get sick right before we leave – or if our kids get sick? OMG, they’re exposed to so many germs at school. I can handle a cough, but what if it’s a stomach virus?! Our tickets are nonrefundable, so we can’t get out of going, but how could I possibly leave my mom to handle a houseful of barfing children?
That’s another thing: my mom. She’s watching our kids for an entire week. I know that she has seven decades of experience keeping herself alive successfully and that she has never once burned a house down, not to mention that she raised my siblings and me without too much of a hitch, but none of that matters to my worrying brain.
I mean, she’s getting kind of old now, and she has moved from her childrearing years into her cat-lady-and-book-club years. Does she have the stamina to manage four children for that long? Will they listen to her or will she be driven bananas by their bickering? What if she has trouble falling into the daily routine? Have I pre-prepared enough meals?
Then, as they always do, my thoughts take a melodramatic turn. I’m worried about my mom not handling a week, but what if … what if our plane goes down and something happens to my husband and me and she ends up raising my kids? Oh my gosh.
What if that happens? What if my life is cut short and I miss out on the rest of my children’s lives just because we selfishly wanted to go on a stupid vacation? What if she can’t do it and they have to go to someone else? Are our affairs in order? Do we have enough life insurance money to support the college dreams and the orthodontia and the obsession with expensive-ass basketball shoes?
I picture my luggage tags floating aimlessly in the middle of the ocean, the last evidence that I existed, and my kids growing into tragedy-scarred drug addicts from bouncing house to house after their parents’ unexpected demise. Then I picture family members posthumously going through my personal effects, and stumbling upon my vibrator, and I break out into a cold sweat.
I fully realize that most of these things will flat-out never happen, and that my worrying is completely unfounded. (As I typed that, my brain literally chimed in with, “The last victims of a plane crash didn’t think it would happen either,” in case you’re wondering exactly how persistent it can be.)
But some strange logic tells me that if I’ve worried about a possible scenario, then I’m somehow more equipped to handle it if it does happen. There’s less chance of being blindsided by something if you’ve already thought about it, right? It’s kind of like a worry insurance policy.
At least that’s what this flawed “coping” mechanism tells me. Which is why I’ve got it all covered – from the mundane, like getting a flat tire, to the ultimate, like suffocatingly frightening possibilities like nuclear war or something terrible befalling my husband and children.
I know that worrying about it won’t make things any easier – whether what I worry about actually happens or not – and that I’m probably just heaping unnecessary stress upon myself (Oh, great. I could get ulcers. I could have a heart attack!). And yet, the worry is always there.
It’s exhausting to be the owner of such an overreacting mind, because it forces me to live my life under a vague umbrella of nonspecific threats. It’s fight-or-flight all the time up in here. Not to mention it sometimes keeps me up at night, because the brain’s favorite time to make a racket is when all is quiet. I’m used to it, in the way you adapt to shitty situations when you don’t realize how shitty they are – I have been like this for as long as I can recall, and it’s what I know. But I wonder how much better my life could be if I got some help? It would have to be a vast improvement. I think I’ll find a therapist as soon as I get back from vacation.
As long as my plane stays in the air, that is.