Setting up a fretting




I try not to worry, I really do, but sometimes you just can't help it. Things are difficult, they go wrong, they promise to be a trial and I'm only human. It's natural to worry sometimes and, for some of us, it's natural to worry a lot of the time.

I am aware of this trait in myself and must admit to feeding it at times. I don't want to suffer, but I don't want to be caught unawares either. I'd rather see trouble before it comes than find out, too late, it's already here.

I wouldn't want you to think I have a bleak outlook. On the contrary, fretting to one side, I have quite an optimistic frame of mind. I put this down to hope as much as experience: I hope things will go well and celebrate when they do.

So where does this leave me as a natural worrier? Well, the urge to worry is tied up with not being surprised. Surprise, above so many things, is to be avoided. If I can avoid surprise, then I feel I have accomplished something and my natural anxiety is taken off the boil.

Even if I avoid surprise by anticipating trouble, it is still an achievement because I won't have to wonder what is coming. It may sound odd, but an aspie would rather know the giant troll is waiting behind the door, ready to eat them than not know and be eaten unexpectedly. It doesn't matter that both scenarios end in being eaten and it doesn't even matter that most people would think it preferable to be eaten without expecting it, thereby avoiding a dreadful anticipation.

Seriously, knowing you are going to be chowed up by a giant troll is much better than just having it happen. You can plan ahead, finish what you're doing, feed the cat, have a cake and, finally, go through the door and be eaten by the troll. As you pass through the ragged teeth, you don't want your last thoughts to be, 'Gosh, what a drag, I do wish I'd eaten more cake.'

And, in case you hadn't realised it, having this foresight and the ability to plan out a bad event means you perhaps have the chance to avoid the event altogether. You may decide that you're not going through that door and maybe, by the time you've done all your jobs and stuffed your face with cake and biscuits, the troll will have got bored and eaten the neighbours instead.

So, worrying about a thing can be good, you see. It takes away the sting of the unexpected and helps you to work out what you will do and how you can make it all seem better, even if it isn't. But it is also a rotten weight on the mind at times too.

Last night, I was thinking about taking my cat, Jeffrey, to the vet. He's had bad teeth and needed to have most of them taken out a couple of months ago. Since then it's been one thing after another and I have now seen most of the vets at the practice. He's had antibiotics, anti-inflammatory, special diets and so on.

I've paid one bill only to realise days later that I'll be paying another. And with no pet insurance, Jeffers has been responsible for a fair bit of worry, besides the anxiety over his health.

So, last night I started thinking, 'What if his remaining teeth need to come out? What if the antibiotics haven't worked? What if it's something else?'

I realised, then, that I was ready to worry, primed for and expecting trouble. I imagined arguing with the vet and wanting to know why they didn't just take out all his teeth, or take the last few out two weeks ago instead of sending him home with super-strength antibiotics. I imagined disputing the bill if I had to pay out another lump sum for a second operation. I imagined writing to the regulatory body for vets, in the hopes of reducing the cost. And on, and on.

Then I looked at myself and, in an indignant way, realised this wasn't normal worrying, with planning mixed in; this was bona fide fretting. There is a big difference. One has some purpose to it and can help you plan ahead, the other is one small step from a good old wallow in self-pity. And I just detest self-pity, readers, especially when I'm the one indulging in it.

I sat up a bit straighter, visualised a finger wagging and decided to put the worry to one side. I was still concerned about the whole thing, as much for Jeffrey's health as the bill, but I could see that by fretting over it, I was helping nobody and just setting myself up for bad dreams or a sleepless night.

It might all come to nothing and Jeffrey would be fine, or he might need more treatment and extra expense. Either way, I was not going to help by going over and over it, building up an immense story in my mind when what I was supposed to be doing was putting out the cat basket for morning and then taking him in for his check-up.

Anything else would have to wait, I decided. I needed to forget about worrying and, in doing so, also forget about planning and working things out. Sometimes, to avoid the extra anxiety, it's necessary to forgo the usual planning too. Unnatural as it felt, I had to let things be and see what happened.

So that's what I did. Changing my usual habits, I realised with some relief that all I could do was go to bed, get up in the morning and take Jeffrey to the vet without planning the detail beforehand.

And relief was the word, readers. How strange, when I love to plan ahead and not be surprised to find that by not doing so, I felt some freedom and relaxation. The surprise was on me there. I didn't know it could be a good thing to push aside the worry and decide to let things play themselves out. Is this what it's like for most people? To accept life as it comes and not always look ahead?

I'm not saying I could do it permanently and I very much doubt the relief would happen each time. I think I am a creature who likes to look ahead and needs to see what is coming. But it's good to know that, once in a while, I can do it another way and things still work out.

You'll be pleased to know that Jeffers is home and still in possession of some teeth. The antibiotics worked, though he now has to stop them because they're making him feel sick. He has to build up his eating again and, hopefully, not be back at the vet for much longer.

Now my planning can lay dormant for a time, put to one side while I carry on with the things I am used to and which don't need effort put into them. Next time that a worry comes up, I know I won't be able to resist looking at it and working out how I'm going to approach it, but I hope I'll be able to see any fretting that creeps in and threatens to take over.

I would like to think being able to step back and relax a little is not a one off and that I can, in future, worry like other people do, with less drama and more shrugging of shoulders. I'm not saying I'll turn into a lovely relaxed person (my imagination is not that good), but perhaps I don't need to be climbing the walls either, looking for a way out past the ogre.

It turns out that, just sometimes, there is no ogre and I could have just walked through the door. Now that is a surprise.

Amanda

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