On worrying

Since I was a kid, I’ve been a worrier.

The first time I remember worrying a lot was in the second grade. In reading class, we often had to do book reports. At first I didn’t understand what a book report was. I probably wasn’t paying attention (often the case) when the teacher explained it, and since that teacher was very scary – often yelling out of nowhere at a few kids, including me, she decided she didn’t like – I was afraid to ask for clarification.

For some reason I thought the report had to be on a book kept in the classroom. I read my selection once but couldn’t remember it enough for the report.

On the day it was due, I scribbled a few words on a page – “The book was weird” – and handed it to the teacher, who immediately said, “You have to write more than this.”

I worried and worried without telling anyone. (My mother, like my teacher, was rather scary.) One night I couldn’t sleep – insmonia at age 8! – my insides in knots. Crying uncontrollably, I told my father my stomach hurt, and he was finally able to pry out of me what was really wrong.

My parents, being new to the country, didn’t know what a book report was either, and took my word that it had to be on one in the classroom. My father wrote a note asking the teacher if I could read the book again.

“Of course,” she said. “I’m not that mean.”

I can’t remember the details, but presumably with with my father’s help, I was finally able to write the report.

From then on, I was filled with dread every time she mentioned a book report, though I got to be quite good at them later on, especially when I had teachers who didn’t hate me for no reason.

The point of all this? Just trying to understand why I worry so much. I’m tired of it, especially when it’s about something I can’t do anything about it. Maybe it’s a passive way of trying to control a situation. If I worry, at least I’m doing something. Taking action means meeting up with obstacles and possibly failing.

I don’t think I have something like
generalized anxiety disorder. While I do at times exhibit the behaviors listed, it’s by no means on a daily basis. It’s hardly ever about nothing. But when I’m faced with a stressful situation – deadlines at work, a new relationship, a possible health crisis – I find my worrying overwhelming. I can’t eat, I can’t sleep. I get that same twisty feeling I did at 8.

Last night I couldn’t sleep. My mind was racing though there’s nothing in particular that’s wrong. It’s the unknown that scares me and, like the linked website says, and feeling that my worry “will keep tragedy from occurring.”

I also worry about making mistakes and coming off as imperfect. I assume that everyone will react the way my mother does: like it’s the end of the world, that making a mistake confirms what kind of person you are, assuming a malicious intent behind pure accident.

I have to realize everyone makes mistakes. No one is perfect, and not everyone will react like my mother. Some will be understanding. Some will realize you’re human and that human beings are complex. Some will understand there is no malicious intent, only fear and presumptions.

I’ve decided I’m tired of worrying. Life is short and I don’t want to waste it being stressed out and thinking about stuff all the time. So what can I do to turn off my brain?

Since my worries and anxiety aren’t daily occurences, I don’t want to head down the medication road, though that’s tempting. So it’s cognitive behavioral therapy for me, which sounds a lot like Buddhism. According to this website:

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy is a form of psychotherapy that emphasizes the important role of thinking in how we feel and what we do. Cognitive-behavioral therapist teach that when our brains are healthy, it is our thinking that causes us to feel and act the way we do. Therefore, if we are experiencing unwanted feelings and behaviors, it is important to identify the thinking that is causing the feelings / behaviors and to learn how to replace this thinking with thoughts that lead to more desirable reactions.

According to Brother Thay, Zen master and poet (whom I’ve quoted from before):

If you tarnish your perceptions by holding on to suffering that isn’t really there, you create even greater misunderstanding. One-sided perceptions like these create our world of suffering. We are like an artist who is frightened by his own drawing of a ghost. Our creations become real to us and even haunt us.

Basically, “we suffer because of wrong perceptions of ourselves and others, which is why communication is so difficult and so important.” Even more bascially, it’s not the situation itself that causes our suffering, but our perception of the situation, as well as how others might react to it. This is something I need to drill into my head again and again.

Maybe I’ll get a book on it.

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