I’ve always been very sensitive, but I thought that by the time I’d get to the age I am now, my life would be simpler and I’d have less to worry about. Silly me! On the contrary, my life is more complicated than ever, and it’s overwhelming me.
I’m quite sure that the explanation is simple math. There are just way too many people in my life to worry about — the more people, the more problems! Whereas at one time I had just my husband, children, parents, siblings, and a few friends to think about, now the list has grown enormously to include my in-law children, grandchildren, and many, many more friends. And it seems that at any given moment, someone is having a crisis! Am I imagining it, or has life gotten more complicated for everyone lately and there is always a disaster waiting to happen?
I also think that as I get older, I take things even more seriously, get even more invested in everyone, and worry so much more. The stakes seem to be higher, and I have so much on my plate that it’s hard to get out of bed sometimes. I wonder whether I’ll have the strength to deal with the next disaster that comes my way.
I’m not depressed, and I don’t think I’m depressed by nature, but I am having a hard time feeling optimistic and confident about life. Just this past week, my daughter told me that she and her husband have been fighting a lot lately and that their marriage has never really been great. How did I miss this? They are married for over 10 years, and I had no idea that there were serious problems between them. When she started talking about not loving him anymore, I found that I couldn’t catch my breath. Of course, now I’m waiting daily for the shoe to drop— for her to tell me that they’re getting divorced — and worrying that I would never be able to survive such a thing.
Recently, one of my closest friends was diagnosed with cancer. When she told me this, I practically fainted just thinking about what she is going through and, G-d forbid, what could happen. My friend is dealing with this situation much better than I am. She seems positive and is doing what she has to do with a great attitude. I, on the other hand, worry constantly, and I can’t help myself from thinking that if the worst scenario plays out, I’ll never survive it. The possibilities of bad outcomes are constantly torturing me and keeping me up at night.
I doubt I’m the only one who has some grandchildren with all sorts of issues, or the only one with aging, ill parents, or children with less-than-wonderful marriages, or friends with real-life challenges. I don’t think most people really share all the issues that they have on their plates. I know that I don’t. But the people I see around me seem to be managing better than I am. I just always have this nervous feeling about what terrible news I’m going to hear within the next five minutes, and then a doom-and-gloom feeling that I won’t be able to survive the next piece of bad news.
I’m finding it to be a very hard way to live. Life just seems scarier and scarier to me, and though thankfully I’m OK, so many people about whom I care deeply are not OK. Maybe as I get older, I’m getting more tired and so my ability to resist worry is no longer effective. Whatever the case, how does one deal with the various real-life threats that are happening, not to mention the imagined possibilities that are always lurking in my mind?
I feel too much, maybe I love too much — I certainly worry too much. I don’t want to become callous, but I do want to be able to protect myself better so that I don’t wake up each morning worrying and lie in bed at night worrying. Not to mention jump when my phone rings, thinking I’m about to hear something awful. How do we live in this world with more confidence and security?
To some degree, most people can probably relate to your letter. As our lives get more complicated and we find ourselves interconnected with so many more people — through DNA or friendships or community in general — the odds of hearing bad news are great and getting greater all the time. Social media doesn’t help, nor does our ability to shoot off a text in less than ten seconds, sharing our latest crisis with everyone on our contact list, even though maybe many of those individuals don’t really need to know about every bump we encounter.
Despite the complicated world we now live in, it is in our best interest, and even incumbent upon us, to be able to manage the bad news being thrown our way in an effective manner so that we can still enjoy a quality life, despite very real concerns and disasters. I have yet to meet anyone whose life is so perfect that they have nothing to worry about. Obviously, not all lives are equal (despite such rumors that say otherwise), and some of us have way more to contend with than others, but nobody has been granted a free pass to get through life without facing challenges.
An underlying theme of your letter is the fear you deal with, worrying that you will not be able to survive the next blow. There’s the recurrent thought that “It’s just too much,” “I’ll never survive if such and such takes place,” or, simply, “I can’t.” Many people worry that they won’t be able to face themselves — let alone others — with the shame, pity, feelings of being victimized yet again, and worry that often surround bad news. And, of course, there’s actual fear that they won’t be able to rise above the latest crisis.
The fact of the matter is that (obviously, aside from actual life-and-death possibilities, G-d forbid) you will survive, with the right attitude, despite whatever comes your way. But it’s your attitude that needs to be revamped so that you truly believe you will manage, and can even thrive, despite what is happening around you. That is not to say that you don’t still hold on to your deep levels of empathy and your desire to help. Rather, you understand that the keys to your happiness reside in your pocket—and no one else holds those keys.
If your grandson is kicked out of school, or your daughter does find herself single once again, or some other horrific reality enters your life, you will be sad—very sad—but as you do what you can to help, while you offer a sympathetic and wise shoulder to lean on, while you share their pain with them and your optimism that things will eventually work out, one way or another, you continue to live your life with gusto and goals to be your best self. There is nothing to gain in falling apart or even defining yourself by other people’s pain. Again, I have to stress that I am not suggesting that you care any less or help any less or stop being present for whoever needs you. What I am saying is that only you possess those magical keys to your own happiness and, equally important, that whatever may come crashing down, you will survive. You can survive and there is nothing to gain by not standing strong and hopeful.
I realize that it’s a tall order I’m throwing at you. But I’m suggesting that it’s possible to be that person. Yes, it takes a total attitude readjustment. Often, a therapist is needed to help get you there. But I hope you agree that it’s where you want to be. Life will probably not get any simpler for you. Bad things will happen — and wonderful things will happen as well. You must own your attitude because that is probably the only thing you can fully control in this crazy world we live in; it’s the only thing you can truly fix. So take the attitude challenge and your life will suddenly feel more manageable and, hopefully, more beautiful.
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Hewlett. Esther works with individuals and couples. Together with Jennifer Mann, she also runs the “Navidaters.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 516-314-2295.