Imagining Fear: On Worry
It would be fair to say that I have an active imagination. It’s good. It helps me think up stories, brainstorm new ideas, write, create, express myself. Imagination is the spark that makes life warmer. It is humanity’s unique gift to the world. I am grateful for my imagination. Sometimes though, my imagination runs away with me.
Worry is an act of imagination. I am an A+ worrier, and have lately found myself imagining all kinds of worst case scenarios. I can have an entire argument with someone, or create a full-blown catastrophe in my own head. I can feel my blood pressure rise over this thing that never actually took place. I am capable of projecting all kinds of imaginary conflicts into the lives and relationships of others without a damn thing actually happening.
That which lives at the center of worry isn’t bad. It’s a behavior that points to our love for others, our own vulnerability, our past trauma that we’re still working through. It’s a sign that we’re a human with important human relationships, ones that we don’t want to lose or damage.
And, worry wears us down, like an old marble staircase that has been winnowed away by thousands of steps made over hundreds of years. We grow accustomed to the path of worry, until it is second nature, and instead of being moved from an instinct of love or gratitude, we are moved out of an instinct of fear.
When I find myself caught up in worry, I’ve been asking myself two questions that have helped. One. Is what I’m feeling real? In other words, has it actually happened? Is what I’m fretting about true? Two. Even if it did happen, would this worry make me better prepared for it? For me, I’ve found that even if the first one is yes, the second question is invariably no. Worry is our imagination working out its greatest fears. Conditioning us to keep an eye out for the worst—in others, in the world, in ourselves. There is enough heartache, enough injustice, enough brokenness in the world. Worrying about it doesn’t make me more prepared, it just makes me less open to the creative possibilities of change. Makes me feel like I’m acting, when I’m not. Instead of worrying about what is broken, I’m trying to fix what I can. Instead of worrying about those I love, I’m trying to just love them.