A Dangerous Life

        Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway: “She always had the feeling that it                                        was very, very dangerous to live even one day.”

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I used to say that older parents are more neurotic than younger ones, because they are more aware of life’s risks.

When my son was very young and went on his first field trip I obsessed about the things that can go wrong on the bus – from “What if he needs to go to the bathroom”, all the way to images of a horrific accident and certain death.

That day was the day that started me thinking of all the dangers in life.  However, and counter-intuitively – focusing on ALL the risks shifted my energy from fear to a place of letting go and surrendering.

From that day on, including the time when my sons started driving, I practiced the by then long-followed mantra of, “There’s nothing you can do.  You have no control, so you can just relax.”  This was helpful most of the time, with a few exceptions here and there.

I realized throughout the day of the first field trip, that life is full of dangers, and that whenever my son wasn’t under my supervision, something could happen to him. I realized that – in a way, every day is a miracle of survival.

I became aware that he could fall off the swing, or get thrown off the merry-go-round while playing with friends. He might be pushed by a child and fall and break his head.  He could play in the sand box and someone could throw sand in his eyes … or someone who’s highly contagious with some unknown disease could touch him or…

Need I say more?

I could go on like this forever, conjuring up parental nightmares; and I do the same (obsess about potential disaster) about myself, but you’ll have to read further …

There were many years when I thought I was invincible.

When I was in Jerusalem during the Six Day War, we were instructed to stay in the bomb shelters at various times, but I dragged my roommate out so that we could see what’s going on.

I went to work the day of the Northridge earthquake, only to realize that all my clients had cancelled their sessions.

I immediately went to work after hearing the news about 9/11, not even stopping to check my messages to see who might have canceled. The parking lot of my office building was deserted. There were three cars there including mine. The other two belonged to our Hispanic maintenance man; and the other one to an Israeli dentist who was probably trained just like me – i.e.:

“You don’t let terrorism interrupt your life, this is how they win!”

Everyone cancelled of course, except for a Middle Eastern client who told me the Americans “deserved it”, but that episode was already described in a previous blog…

Lest you think I’m brave, dear reader, based on the last couple of paragraphs, please modify this impression. Sometimes I’m stupid and I engage in magical thinking (“nothing will happen to me”), but most of the time, I consider life quite dangerous.

Remember the Ten Plagues God brought onto Pharaoh and the Egyptians? Well, here are mine:

  1. Let’s start with cars: Accidents happen all day, every day. We have the 405 and the 101 freeways. Enough said.
  2. Illnesses: Disabling and terminal.
  3. House: Plumbing, roof, termites and leaks … and this is the short list.
  4. My family: Anything less than optimal is a cause for anxiety.
  5. Natural disasters: Come-on, I live in LA! Earthquakes, my friends.
  6. Political hazards: Terrorism, chemical warfare and wars.
  7. Neighborhood Crime: Until joining our neighborhood watch, I was not as aware of all the thieves, robbers and killers nearby.
  8. Relationships: People can hurt your feelings and you can hurt theirs!
  9. Global Warming: I should probably move to Colorado or Alaska, as it’s getting warmer here by the minute!
  10. 10. Poverty: I could lose all my money and subsist on food stamps.

And there you are – My Ten Plagues.

How much time do I actually spend thinking about the above?  Hardly any.

As mentioned above, I know that there’s not much I can do, except to bug my husband when he’s driving, and he’s a really great driver : )

But because I spend the bulk of my life surfing the internet instead of doing something useful, I happened to read the quote from Mrs. Dalloway, and it reminded me of how dangerous life can be when you stop to think about it.

And that, my friends, is the best reason to stop thinking so much. And yet, it’s a great reason to write a blog.

Which reminds me of my mother (hey, I’m a therapist!)…

When I was a child, I used to sit and ponder the fate of the world, mankind … why people hurt your feelings and so-on.  And, then I would get moody.  My mother would look at me impatiently (and I don’t blame her for that), and say: “Why don’t you help me wash the floors and stop thinking, and I can promise you that- if you’ll clean the house, your mood will change instantly!”

She was probably right.

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About rachel bar

Psychotherapist and supervisor.
This entry was posted in 9/11, Magical Thinking, Therapist, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to A Dangerous Life

  1. ShimonZ says:

    No question about it, your mother was right.

  2. Amy says:

    I love that you came up with your own list of 10 plagues/areas of worry! ;D I think it has to be evolutionarily hard-wired in us to worry about potential dangers & threats…and it must benefit us in some ways. I look forward to the day when we can all effectively worry. We’d worry just enough to actively avoid some of the fears you mentioned in your blog…and then turn off the worry switch. You mom was very wise. It’s amazing how much expending physical energy or focusing on a constructive task can diffuse worry. Rachel, I love how your blogs always make me think (but not over-think)! 😉

    • rachel bar says:

      Yes, my mom had a lot of common sense, but unfortunately I realized it only after she died. I think that without my mantra I would worry all the time about something. As it is I cannot stop thinking. Glad to hear that you don’t over think, Amy. Go for a run.

      • Amy says:

        Oh, I over-think plenty! ;D BTW- I hate running. For whatever reason, I can handle power-walking even though it’s pretty close to a jog. When I was browsing in a Barnes & Noble store today, I peeked inside a book written by a neuropsychiatrist called The Female Brain. I read women have a larger anterior cingulate cortex than men & that area of the brain is the “worry wort” region. So maybe many of us are simply hardwired to worry about something all the time and the people who say they don’t have just become really skilled at brainwashing themselves into not worrying… or in convincing themselves they don’t worry. ;D

      • rachel bar says:

        Very interesting research Amy. For years I thought that women worry more than men and that there is a genetic component to it. Now there’s proof! Yeah!

  3. Barbara Cooper says:

    There is a saying…”Worry is wasting time thinking of what has not yet happened, and probably never will”. I try to live by this. Also, being a student of metaphysics, I know that what you put your attention to (both positive and negative) is what you attract to yourself. That being said, as a Libra, I wear permanent rose colored glasses so thinking positively comes a bit more easily to me. I trained myself to stop my negative thoughts by saying “delete!” to myself whenever I find my thoughts wandering towards worry. If I’m not mistaken, Pollyanna lived a happy life. That is not to say I am unaware of bad things, I do watch the nightly news. I just don’t allow myself to imagine myself in the middle of the crises, whatever it may be. I empathize with those who are ill or suffering, but I don’t want to “put myself in their shoes”. I don’t have to experience it to understand it or to want to help. And I don’t ever want to claim it as my truth. I will deal with whatever comes up for me as it appears, I don’t spend time thinking of all the bad things that might or could happen When I spend time anticipating, it is always for something wonderful!

  4. David Bar says:

    We don’t think enough or feel enough.

    If you can’t make it to work you get fired and the whole world will fall apart.

  5. rachel bar says:

    Or you marry a rich man or a rich woman…

  6. ermigal says:

    Great post, Rachel! I’m a sometimes worrier, my Mom (96 years young) continues to worry about everything, and I made up my mind not to dwell on all the awful possibilities. It really is wasted energy…but hard to stop doing! By the way, I loved the book Mrs Dalloway, I read it after reading The Hours, a great, great read!

  7. rachel bar says:

    Thanks, Ermine! I read Mrs Dalloway when I was 21 years old, and it was very powerful then. I should revisit it. Yes, worrying is a waste of energy, if we could just stop it at will!

  8. If only we could jut stop worrying at will. That would be wonderful..
    For the past two years I have been studying Mussar. It helps me to live a more conscious life.
    Adding tools to my armamentarium of coping skills.
    BUT, I still do my share of worrying…

  9. I really understood this being the queen of catastrophic thinking and all, but then I went into a 12 Step program and the first thing they teach you is, you’re powerless over people, places and things. What a surprise that was. I still worry though – those 3 am panic attacks when I think someone is trying to get in. It’s really just wind or my avid imagination. I worry about illness, destitution, the apocalypse.

    Didn’t know you had a son. Kids, that’s when all bets are off. I get that too.

    Very well written and thoughtful essay Rachel.

    • rachel bar says:

      Hi Susannah,
      I’ve been away from blogging and reading the last four days or so, had my first grandchild, but it was not as simple as anticipated. So I’m trying to say that there was a good reason for not reading your blogs as I usually do.
      And, I’m worried again. OK, I’m starting to say the words of the serenity prayer while I’m typing:)

  10. I just read this again after reading the other and enjoyed it even more second round. After the hurricane horror I really got a great glimpse of powerlessness. I made the conscious decision not to push against what was happening, a 12 Step trick I’ve never managed to master before. I see you on that highway making that choice but calmly, not frenetically. Why, I have no idea. That list of yours may become mine. It certainly covers everything. I notice 9/11 in your tags. See, that’s a great barometer for me. I always think, what were those people worried about that day when they innocently went to work. It straightens me right up. Nice writing, as always.

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