In the circles I find myself in, worry and pessimism seem to get confused and tangled up in a ball together, and I don't think it's entirely fair. See, I'm a really good worrier. I've had ulcers eaten in the lining of my stomach at an astonishingly young age because of my propensity for worry. And I've been accused of being a pessimist because of my worrying. That just isn't true. Bear with me.
"Worry is just borrowed trouble," I've heard it said. Sometimes, it's true. If you're worrying about things you can do absolutely nothing about, like what if a giant asteroid hits the earth and wipes us all out in an instant, that's just silly to do. Not much we could do about it, not much aftermath to clean up. No point in worrying about it.
I do my share of worrying about stupid stuff like that. But I'm trying to be better about it. Other things, though, I don't apologize for "borrowing the trouble." Instead of looking at it that way, I like to think of it as thinking through all possible scenarios and figuring out ways of handling them. Escape plans, contingency plans, avoidance plans.
Think about it. What's the first thing they do when you're on a commercial flight? They go through the escape plan. They tell you where the emergency exits are. They let you know your seat cushion is a flotation device. They show you how to put on the oxygen masks if they come out of the ceiling. They're not saying the plane's going to be involved in an emergency, but in case it is, they want to make sure you know what to do.
When I stay at a hotel, the first thing I do when I get in my room is eyeball the Fire Escape Plan on the back of the door, and you can bet that while I was on my way to the room, I had my eyes peeled for where the stairways and red exit signs were. I do the same thing in theaters and auditoriums and the arena when I go see hockey games. I want to know how far I am from the nearest exit, and I spend at least a few seconds visualizing how I'll get there if I need to.
I think it’s smart to think through situations other than potentially life-or-death, though, too, so I'm not caught so flat-footed. By nature, I'm Emotional, capital E intentional. High-strung. It's a ginger-thing. We wear our hearts and nerves out on our sleeves. I do think we're more sensitive than the rest of the population, we redheads. It's not really a flaw or a shortcoming (it can be useful sometimes), but I do think it's something in myself I need to recognize and acknowledge and plan for, especially when dealing with people who have an inability to empathize or people who get off on pushing other people’s hot buttons. If you leave your hot buttons all out and exposed, they’re going to get all kinds of pushed. Believe me. It’s best for me to be prepared before it happens, to handle it.
It’s not just about trying to avoid fights with a certain set of people, though. It’s also about being prepared for making decisions. To some people, it looks like I just haphazardly decide things, but if it’s something I’ve seen coming for a while, I slip off by myself, do a lot of reading, a lot of paying attention, form my case, and start laying the groundwork for a plan. It makes me less indecisive and more confident in what I need to do. I don’t like to deny something, as unpleasant as it might be, and convince myself that it’ll all be okay, and then find out that the storm of crap is every bit as awful as it could be, and instead of having an idea of which way to jump ahead of time, a lot of hard decisions are needed to be made while inside a dense cloud.
I just don’t understand people who choose to ignore the warning signs of something Big coming, who hope that by not thinking about it, it’ll go away, and then have the audacity to be shocked when the result of ignoring warning signs comes around and hits them smack in the face. Then they’re left to scurry like rats on a sinking ship, flailing around wildly, trying to process everything, a tall enough order before you even add in trying to make rational decisions in the face of all of that shock. I really don’t understand when this happens over and over in some people’s lives, why they don’t start thinking a little bit farther ahead, even if it means thinking about things that are unpleasant.
I don’t mean dwell on potentially bad situations. I mean just think far enough ahead to have phone numbers at the ready, and a contingency plan or two in place, for when things happen. For instance, I don’t sit in my house and dwell on “What if something happens to Shane and me, and we leave Zoe behind?” But I’ve thought about it enough to have talked it over with Shane, and to have measures in place for where she goes if something awful happens to the two of us. It was unpleasant to think about it, but now we know where she’ll go, and that she’ll be in good hands, should anything happen to us ever, and my sister and her husband wouldn’t be Shocked to find her on their doorstep in the event of the worst. I sleep better at night, knowing that this is in place. I think it’s the same idea when people write out their wills. Unpleasant to think about, yes, but much better than leaving everything up to guess work and then spending the afterlife all pissed off because the fam didn’t know your last wishes, therefore didn’t carry them out right.
I think that thinking a little bit ahead to what COULD come about makes me feel more empowered and less hopeless, less like the universe is picking on me. I’ve noticed that a lot of times, people who choose to curl up in a ball and deny, deny, deny have kind of a ‘woe is me’ air about them when things do go south on them. Everything is suddenly terrible. How dare this happen? If I’ve done my job, I see the storm coming and I have the flashlight and enough jugged water ready, figuratively speaking. In the event of a real power outage, I usually lose my stuff altogether, at least for a couple minutes. I’m working on it.
You know the cliche. Optimists see the glass through their rosy-colored glasses as half-full. Pessimists see the glass all gloomy and half-empty. I don't hang out in either of those camps. I really don’t, no matter what my husband says. I see the glass for what it is. A glass that's either half-empty or half-full, either way, there's room for more, and I make a plan to fill that glass on up. I’m not usually a gloomster. I don’t like to hang out in the murk at all. I really do fight to see a bright side to things, but it doesn’t come naturally to me, rose-coloredness. I don't know what to call myself on this one. Not a realist. A Worrying Warrior? Maybe a Pessimist With a Purpose: Preparedness.
Yeah, I can live with that label!