The worst that could happen

the thinker

I have what you might call an overactive imagination.

As a writer, that can be helpful in coming up with ideas and tying correlating themes together. But sometimes, it can make for a lot of unnecessary anxiety.

Case in point: I go to the doctor’s office for a routine check-up. “No news is good news,” as they say, meaning if I don’t hear from them in a week or so, I’m not dying, or worse, pregnant. (Kidding.)

So when I miss a call from the doctor’s office with a voicemail saying to “please call them,” my brain goes into overdrive imagining all the possible ways I could be ill or dying. I call back within ten minutes, hands and voice shaking. But the doctor has left for the day. I’ll have to call back in the morning. So how do I spend my evening? Worrying incessantly, WebMD-ing that shit, and determining that it could very well be nothing, or, you know, cancer. The next morning rolls around. I call again. A cheery voice responds: “Oh, I’m sorry, honey, we called you by mistake. Didn’t mean to make you worry.”

Didn’t mean to make me worry. If only she knew.

Problem is, I have the tendency to imagine the worst-case scenario more often than I’d like to admit. It’s usually an involuntary process—I’m not even fully aware I’m doing it, much like how we’re wired when a violent or dramatic scene is playing in the background on TV, and we’re not paying attention. It’s when I’ve envisioned my car mid-air going off a bridge that I snap out of it and wonder, What in the hell is wrong with me? And then I go back to driving on autopilot.

No one who knows me would describe me as melodramatic. I’m calm and collected on the outside, and reasonable enough to know when I’m thinking ridiculous thoughts—but that doesn’t stop me from letting terrible things sometimes play out in my mind.

But other times, to change it up (and to counteract the negative vibes of the previous moment’s morbid daydream), I envision the best possible outcome. It’s less dramatic, but way more interesting. What if I live to be 100? What if things work out better than I expect them to? What if I’m really successful? What will happen then?

Maybe the worst thing that could happen is what follows when we let negative vibes thrive by feeding them with our overactive imaginations. The worst thing could be that we’re actually hindering our health, success, and happiness by letting our minds wander off to the dark place, rather than fostering optimism with the sunny alternative. Likewise, maybe the best thing that could happen is what results from saving our overactive imaginations’ resources for the things that fulfill, propel, and enrich us. Think of how much more productive we’d be.

So from now on, I’m going to work on not giving so much power to the dire what-ifs and morbid fantasies. From now on, I’m going to store that energy for something creative. In the meantime, I’m drinking to having survived the illness/death sentence that never existed in the first place—despite the mistaken phone call from the doctor—and the new lease on life I never lost. Now let’s go skydiving.

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Comments

  1. I always, always envision the worst possible outcome. Plus I’m the queen of jumping to conclusions, which means I’m mighty fun to be around most of the time, let me tell you. (I kid… I hope?) Part of it is because I’m more pessimistic than optimistic, but I also work in PR and do a lot of crisis management – if I’m not prepping for the worst possible outcome, I’m not doing my job!

    • HA! Yeah, I guess the job requires it of you. I can imagine that would make it especially hard to turn off that part of your brain once the day is done. I’d probably have crisis management dreams all the time.

  2. Oh man, yes. I ALWAYS do this, and I hate it. Even when I stop worrying I snap back and I’m like “but what if I become all weird and naive about stuff and then bad things happen and I wasn’t even thinking about or expecting them because I was all busy being fluffy and don’t know how to act?” DUMB.

    I’m glad you’re not dying or pregnant, though.

    • I do the same thing. Like, if I imagined the worst-case scenario, maybe that means it won’t happen, right? But if I slip up and forget to be paranoid, suddenly I’m paranoid about my lack of paranoia. Da fuck?

      And thanks, me too. 🙂

  3. I too am guilty of this. When I was eight, I began panicking because my mom wasn’t home from work yet. She was running 15 minutes late, and I assumed that she had been abducted and that I’d never see her again. I cried to my grandpa, who was watching me, but I was inconsolable.

    I don’t freak out quite as much now, but it seems like worst-case-scenario is my go-to thought process. I hate it.

  4. What a fantastic idea. I will remind myself of this the next time my mind spirals out of control… which will most likely be in the near future! It’s so funny how the natural tendency is to imagine of the worst, and that we have to actually exercise thinking positively. It’s a real workout… gotta’ keep that brain in shape!

  5. I do the same things! Usually mine starts off pretty innocent and I just think about a situation I know I’ll be confronting — like if I’m going to see someone the next day, I imagine how the conversation will go and what we’ll talk about. But before I know it, my mind has gone on a runaway train of possible outcomes — sometimes the good ones and sometimes the bad ones.

    I think it is normal to a degree to do this kind of pondering, but you’re right. If we continually focus on the worst things, we can dampen our own success.

    Also, congrats on being healthy!

  6. I’m usually optimistic…except when it comes to medical things! Then I always think the absolute worst. I eat healthy, exercise, etc., but I’m always afraid they’re going to tell me I have six months to live. It’s awful!

    I’m glad they just called you by mistake, though!

  7. Ha! So funny! This exact thing has happened to me.

    I too, have a hyperactive and vivid imagination but I actually find it really comforting to imagine the worst case. I let myself go there for a minute and then I ask myself, “OK, so if it turns out your whole family has indeed been eaten by a zombie-bear or whatever, what will you do?” Planning out a strategy, even a vague one, for the worst case always calms me down.

  8. This is a huge problem for me. I’m definitely a worrier, and it’s difficult for me to push worst case scenarios out of my mind. I also have rather awful social anxiety, so this tendency really comes out in social situations, where I’m sure that people are fixated on any minor misstep I make. I don’t even want to know how much of my time is spent worrying about the worst possible situation and then planning how I’ll react to it!

  9. This is so me. I cannot help it. While I drive I always expect to witness the most horrific accident. I’m talking about turned over burning mess of gas explosion and despair. It’s truly awful.
    Sometimes if I don’t get an immediate text back from a friend I know is always glued to their phone I picture them impaled on some sort of pole. I AM INSANE.

  10. I’m such a worrywart. It’s actually one of my goals this year to try to be more positive and optimistic as opposed to negative and pessimistic. Even when it comes to small situations like an important meeting at work, I’ll worry myself to death the night before and fail to get any sleep because I’m too busy thinking of all the ways I could screw up and make a fool out of myself. I’m way too neurotic sometimes…

  11. I can be like this, too, thanks to my mother’s worrisome influence. For at least the past three or four years, I’ve been trying not to be like that, because it causes so much unneeded stress, which leads to stomach aches and migraines and crummy moods and anxiety, and “ain’t nobody got time for that!” Whew. So, yeah, I understand how you feel, though, because I actually haven’t been able to exorcise myself entirely of the overreacting – well, for me, over-thinking, trait. I’ve been wanting to do several experiments with altering my usual disposition – instead of worrying, focus on the bright side and be hopeful; instead of slouching my shoulders, focus on holding them back; instead of letting my voice crack when I talk, focus on talking from my diaphragm and making my voice stronger.

    • Those are all good goals. Slouching shoulders is a big one for me… and remembering to breathe. Need to work on my oxygen intake.

  12. A game to play with yourself when you are imaging the worst is to talk yourself through it by saying “and why”. for example, “the doctor called and I’m freaking out”, and why? “beacuse I think something bad happened”, and why? “because I’m afraid of everything” and why? “because I tend to overreact” and why? “because I forget to breathe” so bad voice mail = breathe. Xo Inna
    Baking in Couture

  13. Oh my gosh, I do this ALL the time! I had a weird bump on my head a few weeks ago and my Mom/the internet freaked me out thinking it was a tumor or something! Turns out, it’s a harmless cyst- whew! I always jump to the worst like you mentioned- but now I try to think of the previous times when I was proved wrong and get into THAT mindset 🙂

  14. Glad to hear you’re okay and not pregnant. (Hahaha!) I actually don’t think it’s bad to consider the worst possible outcome – when you’ve faced the worst that could happen, it usually makes the actual outcome seem amazing. 😉 But you’re right, dwelling in the gloomy is no way to live. I’m pretty content with being an pessimistic optimist – prepare for the worst, but hope for the best.

  15. Let’s do ourselves a favor and never have a “worst case scenario” conversation, mmmkay? I think if we combined forces, we would explode.

    I do the same thing, all the time, every day, and unlike with you, I’m pretty sure it’s incredibly obvious that I am a huge bundle of anxious nerves. Part of me wonders if I’m addicted to that rush of relief that sometimes comes at the end; the part where the doctor’s office says they called you by mistake, or the respective version of that for whatever scenario pops up. The problem is that sometimes that moment never comes, so then the worrying just kinda…hangs on forever.

    Luckily, immersing myself in the real world (and not letting myself sit in my room and ruminate for hours) usually helps take the edge off. A good walk in the sunshine cures all =]

  16. Geez, y’all. This really struck a chord. Which means I’m either perfectly normal (unlikely), or we’re all just a little insane (more likely). Either way, I’m in good company. 🙂

  17. Living to 100 would be a best case scenario for you? I am terrified of getting old. If I make it to an age where I can no longer take care of myself then I am just going to off myself. That sounds depressing, I know, but getting old, like really old, seriously worries me.

    • HA, okay, I should’ve thought that one through a bit more. I meant to use that example to counter possibly dying a very young, very tragic (“she had so much life ahead of her!”) kind of death. But yeah, unless I’m able-bodied and happy, I don’t want to live to 100. I would absolutely off myself if I couldn’t go to the bathroom without a bedpan or assistance.

  18. I have just found your blog and I am loving it!! Thank you for making this Sunday morning amazing for me :))

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