Catastrophizing

I catastrophize. It has helped me ruin the lives of characters in my books. It has threatened to ruin my own life.

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Photo by John, Flickr, Ticker tape-01+

The action happens so quickly in my brain that I fail to register it until catastrophes are unspooled on the floor around me. It’s the worst kind of “Choose Your Own Adventure”.

Especially when a scrap of unexpected news, hardly enough to ponder, arrives unbidden. Especially at night as the dark creeps in and the children quieten down and I’m alone with the heaps of ticker-tape catastrophes piled on my chest and unfurling down my arms.

I jump all the way to the end. The worst end. Every worst ending my mind can conjure. I must call on so very much energy to work my way back to the present.

Grounding myself in the present has been a tool that works for me. I have a plain silver ring stamped with the words: BE HERE NOW. I wear it and run my finger across the letters. With every inhalation, I remind myself that I am okay in this moment. That my husband is okay in this moment. My kids. My parents. And so on and on and on. Until some of the catastrophes evaporate. But they are stubborn and will paper cut me into submission if I give them the smallest opening.

When I was young, I allowed myself to play with the catastrophes. I let them leap from ticker tape to the screen of my mind where the plots swelled to bursting. I wept. I screamed. I fought against every unfair, evil, and awful outcome. Then I let them go until the next time. That also required energy. And time. So much time.

I don’t indulge myself anymore. I don’t look at the scenes coming alive on the ticker tape. I don’t visit the sickrooms written there. Or look in the caskets. I don’t bury my dead. I don’t claim the fallout of abuse or illness or accident or utter fluke. To indulge was to let in all the worst possible futures without tethering myself to anything real and present. It harmed me. It harmed my relationships. It harmed my productivity.

Now I search for solid ground. I don’t yet (and maybe never will) feel that I can control the act of catastrophizing. It just happens. Without my consent. Without premeditation. But I can control my reaction to my catastrophizing. I can cut the ticker tape to bits and make confetti and throw it into the air of my real, okay life. I can let it wither, wilt, and evaporate.

And you know what? Refusing to indulge in my own catastrophizing has opened vistas of imaginative energy into characters’ lives. Unscathed by my own, I can bear to face theirs. My writing has increased and improved.

I use grounding to plant and water in the areas of my mental health, my relationships, and my creative life. The work is hard and exhausting, but it yields delicious fruit.

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