Catastrophizing (yep, it’s a real word) is something at which I am a master; in fact, I’ve spent years perfecting my technique and as such, can now successfully apply it to ANY area of my life, for example: doing exercise (but what if I run out of breath and die?) or walking the dog (but what if he chases a doe-eyed deer/rabbit/bird and it dies?) or going to the Supermarket (but what if a Covid-realated incident happens and I die/have to kill someone?) I know, impressive right! Ok, it’s not that impressive, it’s a damn nuisance and has a habit of preventing me from doing things for the fear that something truly awful may happen (it never has, unless you like doe-eyed deer…)
So, the recent Covid Lockdown situation gave my catastrophizing a platform on which to produce an Oscar-winning performance, so here’s my take on Lockdown catastrophizing and the lessons I’ve learned.
I’m speaking from personal experience, as this is how I feel when my head becomes consumed with ‘The Darkness’ (not the band, that would be weird) but how I feel when the fog gets hold and basically renders me incapable of pretty much anything, other than crying and catastrophizing, yep, I always seem capable of those two particularly unhelpful things.
This year has been a testing one for us all, when I think back to New Year’s Eve, sitting with my husband, Steven, reflecting on the highs and lows of 2019 and discussing what we hoped 2020 would bring (praying for plenty of highs), I don’t have any recollection of us mentioning a pandemic in our ‘wish list’ for the year (or maybe he just whispered it REALLY quietly) Had I known what lay ahead, well, I’d still be firmly ensconced in my pit, cocooned in my goose-down duvet with my industrial-strength ear plugs rammed so tightly in that not even the sound of Boris saying ‘stay in, no, go out, no, stay in” could permeate. The panic would have risen up inside me, adding to the already intense hourly Menopausal anxiety-ridden flushes that make growing old such a joy.
And then, it happened, Covid19, Lockdown, the full shebang.
And my catastrophizing went into overdrive. The fear of so much uncertainty made me feel anxious, scared, vulnerable, helpless and nauseous. The thought of losing loved ones induced dreams which I would wake from, crying; I stressed about how I was going to be able to coach my run group, what if people thought the on-line stuff was rubbish? Surely they would think I was letting them down? I fretted (great word!) that the group that I’d thrown my heart and soul into building would all disappear off to join Joe Wicks and become obsessed with making meals in 15 minutes; that the opportunities I was excited about pursuing would no longer be viable; that my children would not be able to complete their academic journeys and as a consequence would NEVER LEAVE HOME! And that Northern Italy would be in permanent Lockdown and I’d never get to see my Lake Garda-based sister again or devour Italian cherry ice-cream (Ok, I admit it, the ice-cream drama was the one that REALLY kept me awake at night…)
But what actually happened? Well, I did have to have a word with myself as I was exhausted, not sleeping, not eating just worrying and worrying and when I’d finished worrying, I’d worry a little bit more. Steven had quite a few words with me too, kind ones of course, where we talked about the importance of being present. This is not always easy, particularly when the present is a little bit pants. But getting myself ‘back in the moment’ (which I did by painting the entire house grey) and focussing on the things I could control, like speaking to my loved ones, developing the on-line coaching, creating routines, exercising and eating well (I’ve found a great recipe book…Meals in 15 mins…) helped me manage those mental monsters who had taken my rational thought process hostage
And you know what? Opportunity did arise, just in other guises, (yes, on-line coaching gave me the opportunity to hoover my sitting room twice-daily), I’ve built closer relationships with many friends and family, we’ve talked and listened and learned about each other; I learnt how to dig tunnels to escape from my garden (OK, I cut a hole in the hedge, but it created a portal for a much needed escape during the height of Lockdown), through on-line quizzes I’ve realised exactly how little I actually know about anything but I’ve laughed a lot; I’ve seen how resilient my children are, creating their own opportunities, Olivia launched Liv Deliciously (which gave me more opportunities to hoover and don elasticated-waisted trousers) with energy and vigour and Elijah continued his path way to becoming a professional Overwatch player by moving his ‘shouty gaming’ into the garage so he could play and coach in the north American league (the move to the garage was so as not to disturb us in the night, you see, a considerate teenager is not an oxymoron)
I’ve learnt that I can cope, that catastrophizing is a waste of my time; it uses energy that can be much better channelled. That however bad I have felt in any given moment, that moment passes and is generally replaced by something less hideous. I’ve learnt that routine, exercise, friendship and family play a fundamental role in keeping me sane; that talking to the right people is key. I’ve also learnt that although you never know what lies around the corner, with the right people and mindset you have the best chance of getting through the toughest of times.
So, reflecting on the past few months I know that very very rarely does the fear of something happening match up to the reality. With this in mind, I’m off to have a tooth removed next week, so rather than projecting forward to me sitting in the chair, bottom clenched, digging my fingernails into my palms, with the dentist looming over me, wielding a pair of industrial sized pliers while laughing menacingly telling me that ‘I won’t feel a thing’, I’ll bring myself back into the moment, take a deep breath in, look around me, appreciate how clean my twice-daily hoovered floor is and admire the fact that my grey house now blends in perfectly with my grey dog.