Monday, January 30, 2017

So What's The Worst That Could Happen?

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published February 1, 2017] ©2017
Every family needs a family worrier - a person who worries about everything from world peace to whether we’re out of lunch meat.  Someone, after all, has to worry about whether the house will get robbed, sea level is rising, or one of you will get sick the day before you leave on vacation. I have always been the worrier in my family.
Being a family worrier is an extremely demanding job. Not only do you have to worry about the likely things that can go wrong, but the unlikely things as well.  Of course, in my view, there is no “unlikely.”
To be a successful family worrier, one must subscribe to two fundamental principles.  The first and most crucial is that no matter what anybody else tells you, nature abhors a confident person. The second: Let one disastrous possibility go unworried about and you can just about guarantee it will happen. 
For example, I never worried that the failure of the city to maintain sewer lines after the passage of Proposition 13 in 1976 would result five years later, on January 7, 1981, in a trunk line sewer block in front of our house that routed the entire neighborhoods sewage through our home for almost two hours. Or that the day before Thanksgiving in 2015, hours before the family was descending on us for the holiday meal, a possum would die under my kitchen creating an odor not unlike a barrel of rotting barracuda. Now, of course, both of those are on my regular worry list.
Anxiety disorders run in my family. That’s why I was interested in an article in the San Diego U-T a few weeks back entitled “Mulling the worst: One therapist’s anxiety fix.” Her solution for combating anxiety is to imagine the worst that could happen and then, she’s decided in her inexplicably delusional way, you will realize that even the worst isn’t that bad.
I’m sure this therapist is a very nice lady but I can only assume she’s been out of graduate school for a matter of days. We worriers are world-class catastrophic thinkers. In all modesty, it’s where we excel.
For example, she says, if your kid is anxious about missing the soccer ball during a game, you should sit down with him and ask, would that so terrible?
Hell yes! The other kids on the team will probably never let him forget it, teasing him about it in perpetuity.  If they lose the game, it will be his fault. His teammates will nickname him Klutzoid, a moniker that will stick with him until his octogenarian years.  The coach will stop playing him, and any hope he will ever have at playing up to the next level is permanently shot. Someone will post it on Facebook where it will be immortalized forever and played at his wedding. So, “not so bad”? Hah! I don’t think so!
Another recent article about anxiety in the U-T recommends “motivational self-talk” like “I can do it!”, or “I’ll be fine!” to give yourself the whole ridiculous illusion that we actually have some control in unexpectedly anxiety-provoking situations. I don’t think this therapist travels on airplanes where they make it abundantly clear you have the power of a gnat.
So herein lies the problem.  There’s just too much to worry about these days, and we’re not even counting the new administration.
From time to time Olof has tried to convince me that the worrying itself was not the reason an event went well but my thorough (some have unkindly called it massively obsessive) planning. But then, what does he know?
May I add that being the family worrier is a thankless job.  There you are worrying your little heart out for people, and are they the least bit grateful?
 “Olof,” I said, “I’d like for you to start doing some of the worrying for a change.”
“But I’m not worried,” insisted Olof. Olof says he doesn’t have to worry about anything, not that he’s inclined to anyway. He knows I’ve got everything more than covered.
“That’s exactly my point.  Of course, I’ll still take charge of the global worrying  and the prevention of major disasters.”  I wasn’t sure I’d trust Olof to worry enough to keep the post-earthquake tsunami from dragging our house out to sea anyway.  “But I do think you could take over some of the routine worries, like whether the airport will be fogged in, the stove will crump in the middle of cooking Christmas dinner, or another possum will die in the crawl space under the kitchen the day before everyone is coming for Thanksgiving.
“Really,” he insisted, “what are the odds the possum thing would ever happen a second time?”
And that, of course, is exactly the kind of thinking that guarantees deceased marsupials under your house.

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