Thinking || The Tyranny of ‘What If?’

I wrote recently about how I had lost my voice. How Generalised Anxiety Disorder was metaphorically crushing my vocal chords, paralysing my tongue and sewing my lips shut. It was a revelation to me to have finally permitted myself to write it down; more so that I have continued to write about it, about anything.

But it hasn’t gone away.

Each time I consider writing a new post, this paralysis of permission kicks in. As with any paralysis, the fight is not won in a single, brave motion; but in the persistent resistance of millions of micro-movements until the barrier is dissolved.

This post, for example, started life as a tab in Google Chrome. It was a brief life, ended in exiting said tab. Reborn into a new tab, growing into WordPress. Pause. Pause. Check emails. Return to WordPress.

Do. Not. Stop.

Posts. New Post. Check phone. Sip coffee. Return to new post. Type ‘Thinking ||’. Scratch sudden shoulder itch. Scratch sudden scalp itch. Return to post. WRITE IT.

Do. Not. Stop.

And here we are.

It may not seem like resistance when one is shutting down a tab, or stopping to sip coffee, but it works as a two steps forward, one step back kinda thing, the key is to keep moving. Keep moving even if it’s to stop in place and slowly raise one’s middle finger.

So what causes the one step back? Two words.

What if?

The foundation of GAD is worry. The foundation of worry is a violent allergy to uncertainty, grey areas, unqualified risk; the main manifestation being constantly asking “what if?“.

This phrase is a resilient little imp, because it is almost impossible to disprove. The worrier becomes a detective, determined to hunt out the holes in any possible solution, just in case.

Let’s revisit an example from my last post – a common conversation Wanda and I have – the unexplained noise in the flat.

What if someone’s in the flat, intent on murdering us?”

Boyf hasn’t said anything, paused the TV, or even moved in any sort of reactionary manner. It’s nothing to worry about.”

“Ah – but what if he didn’t hear the noise?”

“His hearing is better than ours.”

“Yes, but what if, just on this one occasion, we heard, and he didn’t?”

“Okay, so ask him.”

“But what if he thinks we’re nuts?”

“He already thinks that.”

“But what if this is his limit of crazy?”

“It won’t be.”

Yes BUT what if it is? Everyone has a limit

And so on. This kind of example does resolve itself eventually – I’m not still on the sofa debating whether or not to ask Boyf if he heard a noise that may or may not be an axe murderer – but it does slow a lot of things down.

When the idea of this post first came to me, Wanda dithered back and forth even prior to opening a new browser tab.

What if people get GAD Story overload? What if it’s actually shit? What if the only thing we can write about forevermore is GAD?!

While all of that may be true, I won the negotiation by pointing out that we’re not the only ones who get bogged down in the What Ifs. One doesn’t have to have an anxiety disorder to look in the mirror and think “what if this goes wrong?“. Whole industries thrive on the What Ifs – where would advertisers be if we didn’t look at a glossy page and think “What if THAT foundation will stay on longer than the one I have?”. Or – probably more common – “What if I never find love because I don’t look like a supermodel?!”

It’s important to note that it’s not always bad – without all of those creative people out there looking at the world and saying “what if?” we’d be living in the dark ages. It’s only a problem if your What Ifs land on the side of pessimism (which a lot of the time mine do).

It comes back to the old adage of living for the present, not worrying about the future etc. The What If Tyrant thrives on the possibility of the future, and sometimes a future dictated by the legacy of the past. Honestly, I resent the people who say “live in the present”; it seems pithy; trivial because of its ludicrous impossibility. Not to mention condescending and probably hypocritical because as if the speaker actually does? Never makes a plan, never evaluates a moment? They could be hermits, nuns or just possess the carefree whims of the disgustingly rich, but I refuse to believe that not one of them has even gone to the toilet before leaving the house in case there isn’t an opportunity en route – HA, got ya! Planning for the future there? Live in the present, my foot.

So maybe the realisation of living 100% in the present is absurd, but maybe, just maybe, overcoming the What If Tyrant is just about pausing in the present. No need to pitch a tent and bed down for the winter, just pause.

Check phone. Sip coffee. Open tab.

“What if this happens?”

What if it doesn’t?”


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