The domino effect

At the bakery yesterday, I began worrying about money. For someone who is almost pathologically cheap (except inside book, yarn, and bead stores), this is a fairly common worry. My income is pretty minimal, and I began to have serious doubts about my ability to move out on my own and support myself. Although these doubts are somewhat rational, where my brain went with them was decidedly not.

Each worry spawned another worry, each more outrageous and freaky than the last. It was as if my initial worry set off a series of dominoes, each worry knocking into yet another worry and soon any bit of rational sense and positivity had been knocked over.

The worries about money
Begat worries about my ability to live on my own
Begat worries about where to find freelance writing jobs
Begat worries about my ability to make it as a science writer
Begat worries about my skills as a writer
Begat worries about whether I was in the right career
Begat worries about whether I would ever find a suitable career
Begat worries about my abilities, period
Begat worries about being dependent on my parents for the rest of my life
Begat worries about what was going to happen as my parents aged
Begat worries about...

And so the dominoes fell.

This didn't even count all of the "what if?" statements that accompanied these worries, like "What if I'm being too selective about the jobs I'm looking for?" or "What if I'm just not cut out for adult life?" All too quickly, I was distressed, freaked out, agitated, and pissed off. This is not a good combination.

The important thing about realizing the domino effect of my worries is that removing one domino would have stopped the cascade. Is it rational to be concerned about finances in my position? Well, at least somewhat. That being said, I didn't have to let these worries spiral so out of control that I had visions of myself at age 60, my bloated corpse being plucked out of my parents' house with a cherry picker, along with a horde of cats. The thing is, I suck at pulling myself out of these worry spirals. Usually I just get sucked in and end up drowning in anxiety. I need to remember what worries are rational and what aren't, what worries I can address and what I must leave up to the universe.

I never really understood that I could stop these worries. I thought they existed as an independent entity, one that I had no control over. Most ironic thing: I felt I had no control over my worries that were about things I felt I should have control over but didn't. Life, you're too much for me, sometimes.

It's much easier for me to think of these worry spirals as a series of dominoes because then I can remove one, and the worry stops. I don't have to get rid of all of the dominoes to stop the cascade. I suppose my next task will be learning not to have so many dominoes that they can start a cascade.

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MissBlueBird88 said...

It was interesting to see this "spelled out" like you did. It was actually really helpful, because I do that crazy what if game all the time and worries just spiral out of control and before I know it, I'm getting to the irrational ones and I don't know what I'm doing anymore! Next time this happens, I think I'm going to write them all out like you did and see if that helps at all. said...

Nice Self AWareness!!!!

Flannery said...

Hey, were you in my head today? Creepy. Because, aside from the whole being-in-a-bakery thing, that was pretty much my entire day.

Nicely put.

Cathy (UK) said...

Wow, I can identify with so many of these worries... as well as the concept of "the domino effect". Fortunately, many of these worries are worries of the past, but this list of worries (+ some more) were at the forefront of my mind in my teens and 20s.

This tendency for neurotic worrying about coping with life and doing all the things we feel we 'ought' to be able to do is one reason why I play down the role of body dissatisfaction as the cause of AN. Instead, I believe that people with AN focus on weight and shape (and rules around eating, exercising etc.) because by focusing on these more controllable issues the person is able to dissociate their mind and/or physically remove themself from the pressures of life that cause them such grief. AN is, in effect, a full time occupation - and it is also an 'excuse'. I (subconsciously) used my AN as an excuse for disengaging with the pressures of life.

For me, recovery has involved a lot of self acceptance. I do have naturally high levels of anxiety and an obsessive-compulsive, perfectionistic personality. That is how I am. Fortunately I have found that I have, unexpectedly, been able to cope with some things I never thought I'd cope with. However, some other of my fears have come true and I've had to accept them and my life for what it is.

The death of close friends with AN (or cancer) led me to recognise that I spent too much time worrying about the future. Nowadays I prefer to value each and every day for what it is - and live in the present.

James Clayton said...

I heard someone recently talking about the domino chain of anxiety but I've never tried to put it into practice when those downward spirals of worry come out of the blue.

Like you Carrie, I struggle to put a stop to those negative thoughts that spawn further negative thoughts and start a chain of anxiety that ultimately leads to 2you are useless and grim death and disaster awaits" (after passing several ridiculously irrational places on the way).

Nicely put, indeed. I think I need to look at 'removing the dominos' a little more to get a grip of those out-of-control anxiety streaks.

From Here to There. In Purple. said...

i love thinking of my thoughts/feelings/behaviors as a series of dominos. bc yes, all it takes is just ONE to break the cycle <3

lovin it.

Amy said...

Thanks for digging inside my brain for the first half of this. Likeness rights? (;

Eating Alone said...

Since I got my cat I worry that she will end up eating my bloated corpse. I know she would, if I don't feed her in the morning she will nibble my toes.

Next time pull out those domino's!

Sarah said...

This is a really helpful concept. I know that I can get really stuck in a downward spiral of anxiety and I like the idea of challenging just one thought -- pulling out one domino -- and seeing what happens. Thanks Carrie. Great post as always.

Kim said...

I completely relate to this. I get a little whisper of a worry about something and then, suddenly, I'm envisioning myself homeless on the side of a freeway eating a Cheerio I found on the ground. Somehow, the dominoes stopped falling as much for me (maybe it was medication?) and now they don't really stack up that often either. I do have days with anxiety spikes, but they seem to pass on their own. I think it does come down to trusting our ability to handle life. I still struggle with this. I kind of live on edge, expecting something to come along and totally crush me any moment now. I think that's why I'm always striving to overperform, to fend off things that may go wrong. It is really hard to have faith in some abstract concept that things work out. But, they do... I think :)

Claire said...

UGH I can relate, and then I have a very hard time trying to figure out whether the worries are realistic or not. So then, I proceed to worry about worrying,and worrying about worrying about worrying! Dominoes indeed. Lately I just say outloud to myself "NO!" when it starts, in hopes that I can shut up my brain. Sometimes that's the best way to go when all else fails. But, every anxiety always passes eventually. That's what's important to remember.

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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