Very little is the end of the world.
Focus is an amazing thing. The mind can take a tiny detail and zoom in so tightly that it seems giant. This is how a minor annoyance can overtake our awareness and, for instance, overcome deep love for a person. It’s about what we choose to focus on.
I’ve often had a tendency to catastrophize. I’d take a current situation and blow it out of proportion, applying ample meaning to minuscule things. I can create an entire story line in my head, and then seek out evidence to back it up.
I can also do a graceful belly flop into catastrophizing about a non-existent situation in the future.
You know how this goes, right? It’s what happens when we see the “…” of someone texting us back but then the ellipses disappears. Or if a person isn’t as engaged in a conversation or has to abruptly end a call.
They’re bored of me. This is it. The end is near. This moment was inevitable, really.
They’re mad at me. There’s something they’re not telling me. (Cue searching through the brain’s memory bank to collect all the ways something could have potentially gone wrong… And then shaming self for being so careless)
I’ve realized through this self-love journey that most of my suffering doesn’t come from the actual happenings of life; suffering comes from my stories about my life. About my place in life. About how event A or B clearly means I’m a failure / worthless / boring / unwanted.
Cause and effect, thinking the tiniest misstep can cause an explosion at any moment.
When I try to apply meaning or a story to something, it’s in an effort to label or control it. It’s like trying to catch water in a cardboard box. It’ll just make a soggy mess of things. The key is to accept what is without needing to fit it into any old mold from my past.
I know this comfortable pattern of catastrophizing is something which kept me safe through a variety of unhealthy relationships spanning my lifetime.
I also know now that I can be safe without the constant anticipation of a worst case scenario.
I’m learning to catch myself in the stories. I can stop myself the moment I feel panicked and say, “What am I making this situation mean? What importance or story am I applying? Is that story true? Is it absolutely true?” (99% of the time, it’s not true.)
Pausing and inquiring helps me disengage from the overreaction.
There are times I don’t catch it in time. That’s okay, too. I’m learning to allow the roller coaster to run its course, and I’m also learning I don’t have to react to what I’m feeling. I can feel panicky without blowing up all the relationships around me and hiding in a cave where my only friend is a stick.
I’d name it Stan. Probably.
I’m merely a supporting actor in other people’s lives. In fact, more often than not I am an extra in people’s lives. Occasionally I have a speaking line and, if it’s someone close to me, we’ll exchange a good deal of dialogue throughout a given day.
This is still a teeny portion of their lives, of their own individual movie.
That’s what I’m learning. I’m not that big of a deal.
And not in a mean way. I’m saying it in a freeing way. In a… “Yo Jen, tame that Super Ego and realize these folks have way more going on than interactions with you” kind of way.
This helps me disengage further from old stories. If my boyfriend is cranky, for instance, I can pause myself at the “OH NO IT IS ME AND I AM BAD” story and I can say, “Do I absolutely know this is true? Nope. Great, what do I know is true?” From there, I align with reality: He’s tired, he’s had his kids for a long span of single parenting, he doesn’t feel well, etc.
Everyone has way more going on in life than their relationship with you.
HOW FREEING IS THAT.
I say this with hope that the next time you find yourself panicking into a catastrophized frenzy over someone else and what you think they think of you based on the meaning you’ve applied to a situation / reaction / lack thereof, that you can say: Wait. It’s probably not me. And if it is, I can choose to trust that person to tell me when they’re ready. I can choose to live my life freely without feeling confined by all these dramatic story lines.
This applies to our place in the world as well. I can get so zoomed in on my life that I begin applying MASSIVE importance to what I’m doing. If I brush my teeth with the faucet on for too long, for instance, I suddenly feel guilty about all the people dying of thirst and become certain that I’m somehow adding to the problem. I’ll interact with a cranky cashier and become convinced it’s my fault. Or I’ll think that I’m failing the world by not having pursued my gifts or shared enough.
I’m not failing the world. The world is fine with or without me. I’m not going to single-handedly change the world, even if I was at my best and most energized every day. Just like I’m not going to single-handedly ruin the world if I’m feeling PMS-y and want to introvert and watch The Hunger Games all day.
And that, my friends, is deeply freeing.
I’m not advocating to go be an asshole to people. Obviously little interactions all add up and create a ripple. But I am recognizing that I don’t have to force myself to be what I’m not. If I’m cranky and feeling like an introvert, I can choose to honor that. I am not obligated to go out of my way to interact with others and try to better their day. No. I am allowed to feel what I feel when I feel it.
And I don’t have to worry about that fucking up other people’s lives. Because… I’m just not that big of a deal, folks! I can let myself breathe. I can let myself be human.
Let’s give ourselves a break. Let’s take it easy. Let’s try to see the vacation-esque aspect of living a human life rather than the obligatory sense of all we “ought” to have done by now.
Let’s lay off the stories and instead zoom out as far as we can… To realize just how tiny we are… Just how tiny life is.