When the first “Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook” came out, my husband and I noted them in a bookstore and I joked how I’m thankful I’m not one of those people; they are awful! My husband chuckled and promptly wiped the rose off of my glasses, faced me into a mirror and said, “You are the epitome of a worst case scenario person.”
Gasp. Who me?
Initially, I interpreted his comment to mean I was a pessimist, but this was not his intention. I defend that I am a steadfast realist, often misinterpreted as a pessimist. Instead of discounting it, though, I gave some introspection to my worst-case scenario tendencies and I admit I may garner enough credit to be Vice President of the club. I understand this is closely tied to my generalized anxiety disorder and I also recognize this isn’t the most helpful thought process for helping resolve my hypochondriac tendencies. In fact hypochondria is fear of the ultimate worst-case scenario: DEATH.
My worst-case scenario speculation is my default setting; I am programmed to automatically assume the worst extreme before the logic police in my mind arrive to calm me down. Unfortunately, by the time I’ve rationalized that a worst-case scenario is just as likely as an unlikely best case scenario, I’ve already secreted too much “fight or flight” hormone and am on my way towards a panic attack.
I imagine the worst because somehow this makes me feel in control. If I can imagine the most horrible outcome to any situation, I pretend I can somehow prepare for it in advance. Of course, this is utter bullshit since life has schooled me time and time again that I can never brace myself for the awful things life doles out. I can imagine sad stories in my head thousands of times yet none of them will get me ready for when the sad story happens comes true in real life.
When I was younger I always imagined it would be my father. Every phone call I would get I envisioned it was the police or hospital notifying me that my father was in a car accident. I would meditate on his potential death like a Samurai because losing him was one of the scariest thoughts I could conceptualize. Luckily my father is still alive but to this day, if I go a day or two without talking to him, I imagine a heart attack or emergency surgery and a broken cell phone.
Note: This has never happened in real life and I have never been traumatized by a catastrophe (other than 9/11) in this way. This is my mind’s own doing.
I moved on from meditating on my father’s death to my husband’s. Every time he leaves the house I imagine the countless car accidents he can get into or even walking through the city and a brick falling on his head or a taxi can run him over on the street. When I call his cell phone and he doesn’t pick up, I can come up with a dozen storylines for his demise in the five rings before voicemail. A strange caller ID also paralyzes me; it could be a stranger who found my husband dead on the street.
This week my husband had a slight cold. I wasn’t actually worried about it at all. One evening we were driving in the car and out of the periphery of my eye, I thought I saw him blink for a second too long. I was driving so obviously I didn’t even see his face. In a split second, something I didn’t even see sent my brain into hyper worst-case scenario preparation mode. I imagined he was having a heart attack and instantly realized I wasn’t sure where the nearest hospital was and then I pacified myself by realizing I could plug it into my navigation. I calculated how close I was to the hospital and how much time I had if he was having a heart attack before he would be actually dead.
All of these calculations and preparations and imaginary plans happened within a span of two seconds; no exaggeration. Because within three seconds of the misconstrued non-blink, my husband was talking about kitchen cabinets.