I was reminded this morning of something that happened to me one day at my parent’s lake-house last summer. It was a warm day, but dark clouds were looming, and the kids were anxious to get in the water before the rain came. I was hesitant, because we had seen a snake swimming in the water the last time we were there. And that had been the second snake sighting in a few months. If you think a snake slithering on the ground is creepy, you should see it slithering through the water. They’re fast.) But that had been last year, and no one had seen anything since, so I cautiously climbed into the water. I wasn’t scared of fish, because my point of entry was probably 100 feet deep. So I knew that any fish (or possibly piranhas) that might be in the water would all be congregating down at the bottom, not up here by us swimmers. I looked down at my white legs in the water, though, and could picture how they looked from below, like from the shark’s point of view in Jaws. But, it wasn’t really fish I was worried about. After all, my husband had just tried for HOURS to lure a fish to him to catch it, but there wasn’t a single one around. The kids were having a blast, and I was enjoying watching them play.
Suddenly, though, I felt it. The very thing I feared. (This just doesn’t happen! The things you fear never actually happen! They always turn out to be just your imagination, or a shadow cast from a laundry rack or something.) But it did happen. I screamed. And screamed.
“SOMETHING JUST SWAM BY ME!” I desperately attempted to make my way to the ladder while waving my kids in. “IT BRUSHED UP AGAINST MY THIGH!!!!!” I panicked and splashed around like an idiot willing myself to move faster through the water. My kids freaked seeing me behave in such a manner. Something must be really, horribly, terribly wrong. I continued screaming, “WHERE IS IT?!? WAS IT A SNAKE? WHAT WAS IT? WHERE DID IT ….?”
“Heh heh heh… my bathing suit string. Yeah. Heh heh…” I sheepishly smiled.
Don’t they say something like 80% of the things we fear never actually happen? I was in a full blown panic, and what I feared still wasn’t really happening. No snake or piranha was actually swimming against my thigh, but I believed it to be so, and acted on that belief. I wonder how many things I worry about that advance to the phase where I’m acting on that worry?
We’re not supposed to worry. But we do. And some worry is good. Some worries, you should act on. You put sunscreen on your kids because you worry they will otherwise get a sunburn. You take your kids to the doctor when you are worried they might have caught strep from the neighbor. So when is it harmful to act on your fears? Where’s the line between beneficial worry and destructive worry?
I think maybe it becomes destructive when it takes over your rational thought. When it consumes you. When it SHUTS DOWN your normal thought process, (ie you’re not able to stop and think long enough to remember that the swimsuit you were wearing had strings on the sides.)
I guess the bottom line is a worry becomes destructive when it interferes with your ability to enjoy your life. It’s worry that consistently steals your joy. Of course, the joy it gives my children to now look back on this event and laugh hysterically at Mom is the joy that keeps on giving. It’s irreplaceable. Immeasurable. Priceless.