This Is What To Do When Bad Things Sprout Legs
I had something crappy happen to me recently. On a scale of bad stuff it falls smack in the middle – not earth-shattering, but certainly earth-rattling.
When the news arrived, I immediately: discovered all the ways that the crappy thing was somehow my fault, thereby stoking that ugly voice inside to remind me that I truly am unlovable. Once that was accomplished, I then logged onto Goodreads and ignoring the positive reviews that the advanced reader copy of my novel, LITTLE LOVELY THINGS, has received, I honed in on the specifically not-so-flattering ones, thereby confirming that I am indeed a terrible writer.
I even went out of my way to take offense at my thirteen-year-old cat napping indifferently at my plight.
Once all that was accomplished, I made certain this percolated in my head along with some choice miserable moments from my childhood and the reminder that my after-Christmas holiday five pounds was lingering even longer this year.
This nasty brew of thoughts basically constitutes a finely designed search and destroy mission aimed at my self-esteem.
Keep in mind I said that this was my immediate reaction.
My Love Of Creatures With Legs (Well, Most)
I love creatures. I’m also a huge Sy Montgomery fan, who if you are not familiar, writes about creatures lovingly. I took entomology in college. As an elective. Insects are, if nothing else, fascinating. But spiders are a whole ‘nother thing. Let me repeat that. Spiders are simply horrible. Don’t try to tell me they look like insects. Not buying it. If my arachnophobia ties back to a repressed early childhood memory of some sort – then so be it. I am not interested in resurrecting any part of it.
Spiders. If only they didn’t have THOSE LEGS. They would just be immobile blobs of hair.
Still disgusting, but pretty much impotent. It’s the weird way their bodies suspend threateningly between their eight knobby-kneed legs that creep me out. How they live on the edge of darkness, skittering in and out of my periphery as I reach for the basement light switch. Or worse, hang out in the ceiling over my head, noticeable only when I’m about to fall asleep. You get the picture.
How do spiders tie back to the bad thing that happened to me? I’m a metaphorical thinker, and here’s what I’ve learned about myself: it’s super easy for me to take an unfortunate situation, which sits in the center of my mind like a hairy glob of unsightliness, and give it legs. Legs, of course, provide it with the mobility to seek out the dark corners of my imagination and breed or do whatever disgusting thing it chooses.
In other words, I’ve lost control. There’s a name for it. It is called, catastrophizing.
How Creatures With Legs And Bad Things Tie Together
But, drumroll: this is actually going someplace positive. Remember when I said that was my initial instinct, my first response? It took much heartache and unnecessary anxiety for me to realize that I could, in fact, do something about this.
After being chased around by so many imaginary monsters I began to realize that I was the one to placed legs on them. This was a sheer revelation. I could, in fact, try to create a view of the positive outcome, even when things seemed most difficult. It was a way to use my imagination in the opposite way of catastrophizing.
If this is a simple notion for you – then blessings your way – because it was a total revelation for me.
There are all kinds of techniques to draw on: visualizing, deep breathing, seeking out positive examples of when things actually did work out – and I urge you to find the mode that best suits your temperament. The bottom line is this; realizing that we actually do have a modicum of control in the way we react to problems, is itself earth-rattling, but in a good way. That we can choose whether to make the circumstance worse – to in effect, give it legs or not – is a powerful tool.
I am in no way diminishing the effect of bad things that happen. Nor am I saying that with the proper mindset, you can just wish them away. But I do mean, there might just be a path forward to work toward, whether it right be a smacking full-frontal confrontation with your monster or a convoluted mapping around it.
Either way, be certain that piling on the drama, like blaming yourself for everything or convincing yourself it was all your fault, or whatever, just makes everything more difficult.
We all know people like that – the dramatics – creating tarantulas everywhere. As a writer, I’m a pretty good observer of human behavior. And what I noticed is that dramatics not only make every little thing more difficult for themselves but also, more importantly, for everyone around them as well. If you are prone to this: take stock. It will improve your relationships if you can do a mental stop, drop and roll before knee-jerk reacting and creating an unnecessary hullabaloo.
Figuring Out What Matters
Little things matter. Like domestic duties. I love to cook but despise clean-up (I know, it sounds spoiled, but my mother was the same way – at least the clean-up part, and I can’t help what’s in my DNA). Given enough after meal mess, I can easily grow the situation in my head from mite-sized spiders into orb weavers in a matter of minutes.
Because, as I said this is genetic and not my fault, I invented some house rules to avoid it. I never buy nor do I allow anything kitchen-y like utensils, serving platters, etc., if it can’t go in the dishwasher. Keep your Aunt May’s fancy chip bowl for your own house. I can grow really unpleasant and whiney if I am left to scraping and soaking and hand-drying stuff that is too fancy for a dishwasher. Besides, dishwashers are much more thorough and hygienic than I am. (Can’t tell you how many times this has gotten me out of clean-up up at other people’s homes.)
This is not just a silly example. Managing small circumstances helps prepare for when the earth-rattling things do happen, which is inevitable. If you can handle the day to day irritations and setbacks with perspective, you will be far better prepared to weather the big stuff that comes your way.
And for goodness sake, keep in mind that it’s okay to react poorly at first. It’s all part of the process. I allow myself to cycle through all the bad ju-ju just as a warm-up sometimes, or as a reminder of how I used to react. I then find myself actually grateful for how far I’ve evolved emotionally.
The key is recognize what your brain is up to, and commit to stop adding any more legs to that monster.
If you do create a creepy crawlies or two, know that you have the power to undo the additional burden you may have placed on yourself. Your situation won’t be perfect. But it may be tolerable.
Update on my stuff – it fluctuates. Right now it’s down to a two-legger, which means, sorry to be graphic, that it still manages some flopping and thumping. While the attempted movement is mostly ineffective, it still gives me the creeps. Ugh.
But it is far better than scurrying in and out of dark reaches of my mind, and that, my friend, is progress!
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I am SO very afraid that I too will be huddled with my head under a pillow once I view a less than complimentary review that will confirm every single one of my self-doubts about my writing abilities.
I guess the only good thing is: we are not alone! So. I’ll stand with you, and when the time comes, you’ll stand with me.
You will be surprised how quickly you learn to turn the other cheek. I find it’s only when I am feeling vulnerable when it bothers me. Thx for sharing!
I loved this post! I have the same tendencies that you do to give unfortunate events legs, so this was a wonderful reminder that we do have other options that will be healthier for us.
Hi Lydia – Right?! It’s so easy to forget we have a modicum of power and I think it’s important to keep reminders. Thanks for commenting!
Some people have anxiety and you can’t just wish that away
Absolutely! I didn’t intend to trivialize that – I just think that in certain situations it might be helpful to catch your breath and re-think and perhaps re-analyze in an attempt to reduce the impact. As I mentioned, it doesn’t make the bad thing go away – but might just help with your own stress in relation to it. Thanks so much for sharing your comment – I never want to make anyone feel marginalized about their feelings or experiences.
I’m with you on the spiders – horrible things! They provide a great way of looking at these situations, though. So much in here to recognize about myself.
Spiders are so important to the environment – I certainly get that – but still!!!!!
Maureen you are a breath of hope to me. I not only add legs to the situation but I can weave a mighty web. Thanks for sharing this. Know that it helps this struggling writer to look at things from another perspective.
Hi Cindy! I am so glad and good luck to you, we are all struggling.