Worrying about worrying …
The coronavirus is a real cause for worry. That is clear. But many people find themselves worrying in a way which doesn’t seem right. They are too worried, or worried about something which isn’t a real worry at all. The world isn’t really going to fall to pieces, but it feels that way. Food supplies are not going to run out (for most of us reading this), but it may feel as if they are. Everyone has their own personal anxiety, as well as the ordinary shared ones – or perhaps, instead of the ones other people worry about.
If this is you, you may be afraid you are going mad, though there is comfort in the fact that other people are feeling this too. But your partner may accuse you of being neurotic, or crazy – and you may feel they have a point. But you are not mad. You are having ‘memories in feeling.’
The problem is that current feelings can bring back older ones. Feelings from the past can be evoked by situations which have something in common with the situation today. And in the past it may have been realistic to feel as if the world was falling apart, that the food would run out; to feel helpless, terrified, in desperate need of a competent grown-up, and desperately afraid that there was no-one except ourselves to rely on: when we were children, and our parents were faced with real difficulties, such as the death or illness of another child, a parent, a partner, for example.
This might not matter if we knew we were being reminded of the past, and if it helped us to deal with the present. Being reminded of a past fear might help us decide what to do now. Being reminded of the loss of a parent might help us realise we have survived it, and can perhaps survive the loss of a second one. However, this awareness is often missing. We don’t recognise the link because it was never put into words; it never reached conscious thought. How many people say to their small children, ‘you must be feeling terrible, and very afraid, because of what is happening’? They do not say these things at the time, and afterwards they often try to forget it ever happened: ‘Children are resilient’. The child’s fear may never be acknowledged as a realistic part of a traumatic situation; the child may just be left feeling ‘bad’ in one way or another, but neither understood nor understanding.
However, if we can put these fears into their context now, recognise that they belonged to our past, connect them up with what we know of that past and separate it from the present, we may be able to recover our normal sanity and our capacity to think. Once anxiety reduces, we stop feeling paralysed and can think again. And we can stop worrying about worrying.