The traumatic what-ifs happen. They happen to very nice people. They can ruin sleep and even ruin life for people who basically did nothing wrong.
Sometimes we think what if about the future.
We call those what-ifs “worry”. We can make great use of them if we take notes, plan for the future, and then forget it. We stock the basement with candles, drinking water, maybe helmets, and then we relax. We lock the door or place a chair under the knob and then go on to sleep. We take our maternity vitamins and trust our medical pro. Etc. We do, in other words, whatever we can to avert disaster, normally, and then we go on to the next topic.
We call that preparedness.
We are bringing the scary future worries into the present, actual, factual preparations. Dealing with them in the present is wisdom. When we acknowledge actual, possible disaster, it does not seem so scary. When we use known fact to make ourselves safer, we actually benefit. We plan to succeed, maybe update now and then, and let the plan be enough.
Or we fixate on it and go through life abnormally worried about everything. What if the tornado sucks me out of the basement, what if the burglar comes down the chimney . . . We can drive ourselves crazy. We can have nightmares (if we’re not losing sleep.)
We suffer trauma when nothing has actually happened!
PTSD changes from POST- to PRE-traumatic stress disorder.
What a shame. How avoidable. What a waste. We all agree on that.
However, sometimes we look back.
We look back on our past traumatic experiences and think too much.
We actually worry about things in the past.
Things that only might have happened.
But did not happen.
They are “what-ifs” from the past. There is no way we could ever go back to the past and be in danger from these what-ifs, but we go back there, mentally, and worry about what-if they had happened.
Now, I will grant that once we have experienced actual trauma, our brains are shuffled a bit. That is true. We do not walk through true danger without knowing it. Without adrenalin, without fight-or-flight, without some sort of harm or terror.
But we sometimes do not stop there. Sometimes we worry most irrationally: We worry about the future, but we go back to the past to do it.
How do I know? I know, because I’ve done it, and I’ve seen others do it.
When my son fell out of the rolling car, I was sleepless many nights. He was fine. He was not crushed. The car did not roll into the street causing an accident. Someone was there to help. We all lived happily ever after.
But I worried.
What if my baby had been crushed. I’d have probably had to go to court. I could have had my children taken from me. I could be in prison. My poor baby would probably have died. Or worse. My poor teenager would have felt guilty. What if the car had continued rolling into the street, and had struck another car. Or another child. Two children could be dead right now. What if my teenager had to go to court. He was old enough to drive. He could have lost his privileges to drive. What if he became suicidal.
This is only the tip of the iceberg, and if you’ve ever gone down this path, you know it’s really a maze that keeps taking you back to the beginning. You never get out. The end of all this is either such weariness that insomnia is impossible, or else the end is insanity.
Oh. An added bonus is that some get to enjoy substance abuse. Why we don’t worry about that is a puzzle to me.
Okay. I did stop worrying about the past-future-what-ifs and I’d like to share with you how to do it, in case you find yourself needing to know.