DON’T WORRY BABY: Living in the Present in Grief
“Do not anticipate trouble, or worry about what may never happen. Keep in the sunlight.”
Worry is defined as “giving way to anxiety or unease.” Worry is allowing one’s mind to dwell on difficulties and misfortunes. It is the state of fretting, stressing out, stewing over something, and tormenting oneself. Simply put, it is getting your panties in a bunch! When you experience the death of a loved one, the trauma of that momentous and horrible event unleashes a torrent of worries that take the person facing the loss, to new heights of anxiety. The worries you are facing are not inconsequential or trifling. Your apprehension and misgivings are more than valid, since your life has been uprooted and turned completely upside down.
With the death of a spouse, you suddenly you have to figure out “how can I go on alone?” You ponder “what will happen to me?” You wonder “wtf will happen when I get sick and have no one to care for me?” You want to know “do I have the finances to make it?” You need to know “how can I deal with the sudden loneliness?” You must evaluate how to start your life again as a single person. When Peter died, I worried about all of this. I went down the road of catastrophizing on many an occasion, and broke into an unbearable sweat. I created my own storm and then got really pissed off when it rained. Worry was a catalyst to negativity and I had to head it off at the pass and stop looking to the future. I had to put the toxic worry out of my head, and figure out a way to face my new life without added stress. I had to trust in the process that my life would evolve organically, and that looking ahead to this new different life, had no positive value. Basically, I had to stop agonizing about the future, and pay proper homage to the present.
I am not good at meditation. I really wish I could utter “om” and chant, but the chattering monkeys in my brain keep my mind whirling with ideas. To help with my distress, I decided to “worry efficiently” and set aside a limited “worry time” in a hand-picked “worry place.” The place I chose was a hot shower. I read that the heat of the warm water would unleash dopamine in my brain and create relaxation. I figured if I worry in the shower, maybe I could relax into the anxiety and find some sanity in my angst. The other place for me to worry was walking, particularly with a friend. Exercise is my ticket to rational thinking and lucidity. Talking the problems out with a friend was an ideal way to put my worry to bed, or at least tuck it in for the night.
Writing was also a way for me to face my worries head on. When I wrote down my fears, I could look back and face them fully until they became less terrifying. I could tackle them, one by one, and as I typed away, they seemed to dissipate. Maybe it was putting them on paper that helped to visualize the anxiety, and therefore make the fears seem less scary? When you write about the worst-case scenario, you can devise concrete plans to discuss with your friends, a counselor, or just put a positive spin on your apprehensions. I was still petrified that something bad would happen, but writing it down gave me the capacity to know that I was powerless to change it. This process released my worry a bit, not completely, but it made my worries abate and seem surmountable.
When I go down the path to a place I call “worry mania,” I know that if I take deep breaths, it can slow down the avalanche of fearful thoughts and bring me into the present. Another trick I have used is to make a collage. I go through magazines and pick pictures that depict my thoughts and put them together until the trepidation and apprehension have abated. I sincerely promise that I won’t exhibit these odd collages, but they have helped me to put my terror into perspective, and keep my mind from going down the road to the futile land of catastrophe.