New Castle News

Lisa Madras

March 12, 2012

Lisa Madras: Go ahead, prepare for tomorrow — just don’t worry about it

NEW CASTLE — How can I keep myself absolutely safe?  

There is really only one reason to ask yourself this question, and it's to hear the ugly truth: You can't.

We've talked before about about the futility of worry, and yet I'm still one of the biggest offenders of this cruddy habit. Having the misfortune to be the unlucky recipient of several big kicks in the hind end from life has me constantly wondering what I can do to keep myself and my children safe from further harm.  

And I hate having to admit that I can't.

I'm only truly coming around to accept this fact just recently. For quite some time after their father's death, I felt a huge burden to keep myself safe for my children's sake. Silly as it sounds, I quit doing things that I loved, like riding roller coasters or motorcycles, going anywhere by myself at night, or even going anywhere in the car that I didn't deem absolutely necessary ... anything that had any type of risk involved and that had the unthinkable possible outcome of leaving my children orphans.

I did manage to take a trip to Maui during that time with some girlfriends, mainly at the insistence of friends who understood that I desperately needed a break from real life in order to return and be a better mother to my kids. I did so only after hand-selecting the only person I would trust to raise my children in the event of my demise, and preparing a meticulously detailed binder containing every conceivable legal and financial document I could come up with.

I hoped that I would return from that trip, but I was fairly certain I wouldn't. After all, the way my life was going, if I boarded a plane, it was certain to crash, and if I swam in the ocean, I could rest assured that the deadliest shark would have already received a text message from the universe disclosing my scheduled swim times and would be anticipating my arrival with several of his closest friends. (Don't laugh! They make waterproof cell phones now, you know.)

But I did return from that trip unharmed. Unharmed, but also with the realization that I hadn't fully experienced that excursion because of my incessant worrying. I didn't go on the helicopter ride over the volcano, didn't venture far into the bamboo forest, and only swam out far enough in the ocean the ensure beating any frisky fishes back to the shore. And not only that, but I'd spent the entire time worrying that I was too far away to protect my children from harm (even though they were in the loving and capable care of the woman I consider my adopted mother.)

This was such a far cry from the girl who used to used to be the first in line to hold a boa constrictor and body surf until I'd lie exhausted and happily bruised on any beach with waves big enough to terrify me. I felt like I should bury my "I Rode the Beast" coffee mug and "Supergirl" T-shirts in shame.

It turns out that what I was experiencing wasn't normal concern for me and my children's safety (yes, I'm aware of that now, Captain Obvious!) but was instead an aggrandized breed of anxiety. "What if? What if? What if?"

The difference with "what if" thinking is the focus. Trying to anticipate something that MAY happen at a POSSIBLE time in the future IF certain conditions exist is about as useless a practice as I can think of. (Not to be confused with a real concern for safety, the focus of which is on the present, and if you're actually IN the water 15 feet from Jaws, then fear is a good thing. It'll make you swim fast.)

The thing is, while what we do today certainly has an influence on tomorrow, there's absolutely no way we can control the future. Trying to do so only makes you feel more out of control, and then, unfortunately, you end up like me — bat-poop crazy and second guessing yourself as you're looking over your shoulder. It's exhausting, and about as useful as banging your head into a wall.

Life is inherently uncertain. But worrying yourself into a pale shadow of what your life should be out of fear is no way to cope with that fact.  Don't trade your happiness for a "what if."

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Lisa Madras
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