My son’s therapist handed me another tissue as I sat sobbing in her office. Once again, the therapy appointment turned out to be much more for me than for my son, who was waiting outside in the waiting room. Another shoe had dropped in our ongoing saga of raising a child, and I was utterly convinced I knew what the future held. It was not pretty. It was not the future anyone hopes for their child. Just because I could imagine a future, didn’t mean that it would come true, no matter how convinced I was that I was right.
My newsflash: My crystal ball was irreparably broken that day, and yours is, too.
I am the queen of worry and imagining worst case scenarios. For instance, once when one of my sons called to me, “Mommy! Come and see what this weird bump is.” In the two or three seconds it took me to walk from my bedroom to the bathroom, my imagination had him diagnosed with some extraordinarily fast moving cancer, and I was well on my to planning his funeral. As you probably guessed, my three-second panic was for nothing, and now I can’t even remember what the bump was. But I do remember my reckless imaginings. The small, rational part of my brain knew I was overreacting, but couldn’t stop the rest of my brain from running headlong off the rails of reason.
At various times, inside my head, my children have also contracted other various deadly diseases, I have visited children in jail, we’ve lost our home and become homeless, I’ve died, my husband has died, cars have blown up, and invaders have held my family hostage. And that just names a few of my imaginary scenarios. I will add that it’s not all dire inside my head. I’m equally able to win the lottery, be awarded the Nobel Prize, become fluent in 8 languages, and populate my backyard with a herd of horses. The point is, not a single one of those things have come true, the good or the bad. I am terrible at predicting the future.
I haven’t actually met anyone who is great at predicting the future. Life is a little crazy in the way it zigs and zags and takes us to unexpected places. As I get older, I get better at reminding myself that the panic I feel at the edges of my brain is unnecessary.
Other than the fact I’m wrong about the future 99.9% of the time, why else have I discovered that I need to stop fearing the future? I may be wrong about how miserable the future will be, but in the meantime, I’m certainly making the present pretty rotten. I don’t know about you, but when I’m worried about the future, there is little time to enjoy what I have in front of me. If I am too busy worrying about what my daughter will be able to do in the future, I won’t be able to enjoy the child right in front of me. I don’t see the progress she is making right now. I don’t enjoy her as a person because I am so busy worrying about the person she is yet to be.
I lose twice when I fear for the future. I lose first when I waste time imagining a future that will never be. I lodge those thoughts in my brain, and like that little instance with my son and the bump, there they stay lodged. I lose a second time because it robs me of my present joy. I lose a small bit of my child’s childhood that is actually happening while I am so busy worrying about losing either of them in my imaginings.
There is one more reason why I’ve learned to not fear the future. In the rare instance when something I’ve imagined has come to pass, the reality rarely matches my expectations. I get through it. Some things really can be rotten. It hurts. But I survive; my family survives. But in my imaginings, what I don’t imagine are the times of joy which are intermingled with the pain. Those bits of joy which make hard things bearable. It’s rarely all or nothing.
In other instances, when my fears have come to pass, there was actually nothing to fear in the first place. When I was pregnant with my first several children, one of my biggest fears was that there would be something wrong with them. I desperately wanted healthy babies, both in mind and body. I couldn’t imagine parenting a child who had physical or cognitive challenges. It scared me. Considering the level of fear I felt over that, it slightly amuses me that I have several children who do have such challenges now, and life is just fine. In this instance, my fear proved unfounded because the thing I was afraid of turned out to not be that scary.
It takes practice, but you can control your fear of what the future holds. First, identify the emotion that you are experiencing. I’m not always aware that my irritability is really just masking fear about something. It’s difficult to deal with unidentified emotion. Second, you need to remind yourself that your crystal ball is broken (or however you want to tell yourself that you’re probably wrong). Third, focus on the present in front of you and be grateful for this moment and that you didn’t miss it. And fourth, don’t ask for trouble. There is plenty of time to deal with something scary in the moment, and chances are, it just might not be as scary as you had imagined.