Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Genius for Worrying

I hesitate to tell you this.

I wouldn’t want it to become permanently lodged in your brain.

OK, you’ve been warned.

My family has a superstition. Based on the idea that it’s what you least expect that’s going to get you, we believe that if you expect EVERYTHING, every single bad thing that could possibly (and not so possibly) happen – and most importantly, if you expend a lot of energy worrying about all of them, you can keep them from happening.

I thought I had hidden this tendency in myself. I got myself down to where I’d just say, “Be careful” whenever anyone left the house.

Until my husband finally wailed, “Stop that!”

My husband says we have a genius for worrying.

I am, I’ve come to realize, anxious. It was a revelation to me that there are people who do not think the way I do.  It doesn’t occur to them to think about horrific crashes every time they get onto a plane or into a car, for instance.

According to a very good book, My Age of Anxiety by Scott Stossel (worth reading if only because the severity of Stossel’s anxiety will make you feel downright normal), anxiety-sufferers tend to be more intelligent than average. And it does seem to me that you have to actively ignore some pretty glaring facts in order not to worry. Tens of thousands of Americans do die in car wrecks every year. My husband has told me he hates to try to talk me out of my worries because I can put together such a good case that he begins to worry too.

In fact, the idea that there are people running around (and driving, etc.) who do not have enough sense to worry makes me worry more.


  1. I was a non-worrier until my brother died, then I was just a little worried, thinking that it couldn't ever happen "twice" in a family. until my sister died. Now I am a full blown worrier...put my kids in a bubble. Luckily I am married to a non worrier because they get to do fun stuff with him, while I keep them safe.

    1. I hear you. A long time ago, I interviewed a therapist who specialized in working with people who had a phobia about driving (which I have). He turned the tables and asked me a question: "Tell me: did anything bad ever happen to you when you were a teenager, like a family member died?" Yes, my 23-year-old sister died when I was 16. This man's theory was that, at the root of many people's problem with driving, was an experience like that (even one that didn't have anything to do with driving, as mine didn't) when they were teens. People bemoan the fact that teens feel invincible (because it causes them to do stupid things) but you are, he said, supposed to feel that way at that age and, if that's stripped away, it makes you *too* aware of all the dangers around us.