By Jeanne Charters
Are you a worrier? Do you sometimes wake in the witching hour of the night—you know—somewhere between two and four, and lie there, your brain churning out dastardly and dire what if’s and what if not’s? Condolences, my friend. Welcome to my world.
Of late, I’ve had some legitimate reasons for worry. Mainly, a daughter living with cancer 2,000 miles from me. Going through chemotherapy without me there to kiss her boo boos. Losing her beautiful hair and breasts. And yet, continuing to work every day as a physician serving other sick people. Knowing her, bet those folks have no idea about her condition. The wig looks great, and she’s been a sunshine warrior since the day she was born.
But I’m no warrior when it comes to my kids. So, sleep has been somewhat difficult to come by lately. And then I remembered…
To tell you the story, I must take you to a far-away galaxy called Albany, New York, and an earlier time called 1992. That was eight years before the Great Millennium that was supposed to stop all our clocks, circadian rhythms, and God knows what else, until we realized it was just one more, big, exciting scare that never came to pass.
I was a very different woman those twenty years ago. I was uber successful—a Vice President of Viacom Television. Not that it was really that big a deal. Television was a very minor presence in the vast Viacom universe, and the elimination of my department later that year was just part of their divesting themselves of TV altogether. But, Lordy, that title sounded good. And I was making money.
And I was miserable.
Had to visit a stress-management psychologist regularly to finally learn that the cause of my misery was that “my ethics were in direct conflict with the corporate ethos of the company” that paid me all those bucks. Their motto was: “Promise the client anything to get the business.”
Later, when I started my own business, a wise woman gave me my own business motto.
“If you promise the moon, you better have a lot of moons in your hip pocket.” That worked! But I digress…back to my big-girl corporate days.
A luncheon was held in a posh club in Albany to honor all the female “movers and shakers” of the community. I was one of them. As I looked around at my fellow powerhouses, I noted that, in spite of designer suits draping super slim figures and stiletto shoes cradling slender feet, the faces were tight with tension. Beautiful, but tight. We eyed each other warily, each assessing the competitive threat of the other, gauging our own competence by any flaw we could perceive in the crowd at the next table. It was sort of like “The Hunger Games” but with less comfortable costumes.
Suddenly, a laugh merrily pealed above the soft murmurs of the crowd as a short, stout Catholic nun took her place at the podium. Her giggle was infectious and we all laughed back at her, not even knowing what was funny.
I’d heard of Anne Bryan Smollin. Dr. Smollin was the Executive Director of Counseling for Catholic Laity in Albany as well as a therapist and group facilitator. She’d also written a book Jiggle Your Heart and Tickle Your Soul. She was a much-sought-after speaker throughout New York and beyond.
As she started to talk, her message was so simple and so beautiful, and my spirits rose higher than they had been in months.
She said, “Jesus told us not to worry—even called it sinful—and yet, many of us spend our time doing just that.” Simple, right? Most great truths are, I suppose.
Anne told hysterical stories that day, none of which I can really recall these twenty years later. But after her talk I high-tailed it up to meet her. I said, “Anne, when I look around this room, I see an awful lot of unhappy women. And then, I look at you and see absolute joy. Tell me why.”
“Well,” she said. “My parents always told me I was magical—a wonder of the universe. And that if I made a mistake, just start over and do it right. It was that simple.”
That simple. That profound. All you moms of young children, please remember those simple words.
I bought her book, of course, read it and loved every page.
So, as I’ve gone through this awful worry lately about my child, I happened upon the book yet again. An accident? What do you think.
With much love and all good wishes, I’ve excerpted here a portion of that book for you in case you answered the first question of this column in the affirmative. Read it, follow its words. Funny, isn’t it? It works!
THE WORRY CHAIR
Some people are born worriers. They worry about what happens if something doesn’t work out. They worry about what happens if it does work out. They can even find some “what if’s” and “if onlys” and “maybes” to worry about in between.
Worry can be controlled. It is false to believe we can remove all worry from our lives. The secret is deciding when to worry. This can be done by determining a specific time and place to focus on what we need to worry over. Pick a chair in your house. Decide that the only time you will worry is when you are sitting in that chair. Then, when you find yourself getting anxious and your mind is beginning to race a hundred miles an hour, tell your body that you are not going to think about that until you are sitting in that chair. When you awake in the middle of the night and you can’t fall back asleep, tell your body you are not going to think about whatever is bothering you until you are sitting in that chair. Then roll over and fall back to sleep.
However, you must give yourself time to sit in that chair and worry every day. At first, begin with no more than a half hour. Do that for one week. Watch the way your body begins to believe you and gives you the choice of deciding when you will think and worry about what you want. Eventually, you can cut the time down until you will need only about five minutes each day. However, it is essential that you give your body and your mind that five minutes each day. What a small price to pay for twenty-three hours and fifty-five minutes of worry-free time every day!
Jeanne Charters, a transplant from New York, is a writer living in Asheville with her husband, Matt Restivo. Her collection of columns, “Funny, isn’t it?” is available at Malaprops, Mountain Made in the Grove Arcade, or at jeannecharters.com.
She has written three novels and has acquired an agent for her young adult novel, “Shanty Gold.” Jeanne is working on edits, per that agent, and hopes to have a publisher this year. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.