Monday, February 7, 2011

Catastrophizing

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by Laura Bickle

I was ruminating about what to write about last night. I told my husband: "I'm supposed to blog about my favorite neurosis."

"You have to pick just one?" he said.

Sigh. Yes, my neuroses are many and varied. But I will choose just one to focus on...catastrophizing.

Catastrophizing is something of a classic neurosis. It goes beyong pessimism. It's not only expecting the absolute worst, it's anticipating the end of the world. In my imagination, a light left on can become a house fire that devours everything. The cat's hairballs are a symptom of serious digestive ills. Failure to check the transmission fluid levels on the car monthly can result in a breakdown. And on and on. What if..? What if..?

My imagination can turn a paper cut into MRSA and certain death. Sure, it's exhausting. There's a whole lot of stuff to keep track of in life. Mostly, I keep my shit together and life cruises along as it should. My brain will shift gears into worst case scenario mode once in awhile. Then, it's time to take a nap, do some yoga, and get over myself.

But I have managed to find the silver lining in an overactive imagination.

It helps me write.

What's the worst thing that can happen to my protagonist? My fingers fly across the keyboard as I imagine the worst of the worst. Dragons. Fire. Radiation sickness. Broken relationships. Ruined career. I keep flinging it at her, like a monkey with a cageful of poo. I can conjure destruction from serene nothing, and I'm sure gonna exploit that ability in a way that serves me.

Feel bad for my protagonist. I sure do.

But any weakness has a flip side strength. My neuroses, to be fair, occasionally distract me from everyday life. But I wouldn't trade them in for anything. They help me create a world with a chain reaction of bad events, to trip up my heroine and send her face-down in the mud. She always gets back up.

And I know that I would, too, if the sky ever fell in on me.


Image: prozac1 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

11 comments:

  1. I actually do the same thing, Laura. Always when I'm shutting my brain down for the night though. I'll be laying in bed and I'll start thinking of what would happen "if". The ifs whirl through my brain bouncing from natural disasters to criminal elements to sickness to paranormal/theological dangers. Yeah. For a while, I couldn't sleep. Then I started writing and was finally able to rest at night after emptying my brain of all the horrible things that could happen.

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  2. I have a rule. When you're entertaining the worst case scenario, remember to give the best case scenario equal time. Trying to remember which self-help book that came from, but I've been through so many... O_o

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  3. @danicaavet...night is the PERFECT time for catastrophizing.

    @Marcella, good point. The actual outcome of any given situation is usually somewhere between the best and worst.

    I think it was Ben Franklin who said that the optimist is usually disappointed, but it's the pessimist who's frequently pleasantly surprised.

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  4. I love the image of the monkey flinging poop!

    I could so do this kind of thing. Like Marcella suggested, whenever I start to go down this path, which I'm firmly convinced leads to despair and madness, I try to turn my thoughts to the best case. Fortunately, I'm good at those happy fantasies, too. ;-)

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  5. Color me a pessimist then. LOL. I think I want to be an optimist, but the practical side of my brain tends to keep me from ever really enjoying the moment.

    One of those things where I'm just waiting for that other shoe to drop, because clearly things just *can't* be this good...

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  6. One of the things I'm trying to learn in meditation is the "silent observer" thing. Watching negative thoughts go by without attaching to them or feeling them. It's hard for me to learn, but it's really awesome when I've succeeded for ten or fifteen minutes.

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  7. Remind me to never ask you, "what's the worst that can happen?"

    Well, unless I'm stuck on how to torment my protag, then you're totally on speed-dial.

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  8. I'm just a ray of sunshine that way, KAK. ;-)

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  9. Oh, I can do this too - a kid's sore throat is leukemia before I can find the thermometer, and the world is definitely ending in 2012. And yes - it's great for writing. In general, I'm really a fairly cheerful, positive person. The Viking occasionally asks me to please stop already with the silver linings. When I let the dark side go exploring it sinks to depths that shock even me. Hey Laura - it's not a neurosis - it's a creative gift!

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  10. Hee. I agree, Kerry...sometimes you've gotta let the dark side run free...creatively, anyway. ;-)

    I think that somebody needs to plan a huge "We're Still Alive" party for 2013. Just sayin'.

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  11. I'm very good in thinking of doom scenarios. Bad thing is that I'm often right as well. Some people call me cynical, but I dont think you're cynical if you're right.

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