“Here they are,” my husband said as he laid the folder holding our wills on the dining room table. The piece of paper with my hand written lists of websites, passwords and other emergency information was already sitting there. Even though it was well past dark, the room’s oversized pendant light cast a bright glow over everything. I could hear the kids playing videos games and laughing upstairs. “Great, thanks!” I said.
We were about to leave our two kids at home for their first overnight alone. I had every confidence they could handle it, but I wanted to be sure things wouldn’t be more difficult than necessary if we met with an accident and never returned.
One of the awesome powers we have as humans is to think ahead, imagine possible future scenarios, then put plans in place in case any of those things do happen. On the flip side, we can wield that power unwisely and torture ourselves. I’m sure, like me, you’ve done this more than once.
I’ve laid in bed at night, wanting to fall asleep, but my mind took a one way journey to worst case scenario land and explored every back alley and dark corner. Because my mind is powerful, not only did I get to think about each scenario, I got to have the experience as if it were true. My heart rate increased, my palms got sweaty and sleep eluded me for hours. I’ve even done this imagining scenarios that couldn’t possibly happen in the next 12 months!
These ghoulish fantasies, brought to life by my creativity, may help me plan or strategize, but only if I see them for what they are. When I understand they are creations of my mind I can choose which ones to address; I can let others (or all) go, and most importantly, I don’t have to be afraid of any of them. When I don’t see these imagined scenarios for what they are, when I think what I’ve imagined is a true representation of the future, then they swirl and fester, causing me anxiety and worry. It also becomes more difficult to take action or put any kind of plan into place because each action, each step, each decision feels heavy and critical. It’s easy to become overwhelmed.
It’s like when I took my son to the movie theater... “Here, put on your glasses, it’s starting,” I said to my son Dylan. His 4-year old legs with their yellow sandals dangled from the edge of his chair. We were at the 3D-Imax theater to watch a film about coral reefs. He slid his glasses on.
We were both looking at the screen and it flashed to life with the first trailer. “Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk” the screen said and all of the sudden we were sitting in the bow of a raft careening over a boulder on the Colorado river with canyon cliffs closing in on either side. Waves splashed up around us and people on the boat started yelling.
Dylan started yelling too! Tears were streaming down his cheeks. His hands, white knuckled, gripped the arm rests and his whole upper body shook. “Take off your glasses!” I said in a whispered shout. He was frozen — he couldn’t look away.
That’s how most people are when their mind’s theater starts playing horror films of things to come. They don’t know they can take the glasses off, they don’t know they can look away, they don’t know it’s just creativity and imagination at work.
I grabbed off his glasses, whisked him into my arms, and carried him from the theater. It was years before he was willing to go back.
Now, it’s 13-years later and of course he knows how it works. He knows he can take the glasses off, he knows he can look away. However, he usually chooses to watch, and sometimes he even chooses to watch the horror stuff, knowing, that even if there’s a good jump-scare, it can’t actually hurt him.