Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Visualization -- Use it for good, not bad

One of the qualities any hypochodriac who's worth their salt possesses is the ability to vividly visualize any given situation in the near or distant future and predict a negative outcome. I have always been good at this, having learned from Master Of The Hypochondriacal Experts Reknown (henceforth referred to as MOTHER). She is not only a medical worrier, but has widespread fears in general, perpetuated by a vivid imagination that chooses to visualize the inevitable negative outcome of any given situation.

For instance, if it's cloudy out and I'm about to walk out the door, she suggests an umbrella and tells me to leave 15 minutes earlier than planned. According to MOTHER, the clouds mean that a nasty storm is about to unleash it's wrath on me simply because I choose to leave at that moment. This will be a storm that blindsides the weather guy who never knew to warn us. It will bring trees crashing down on the roadways, cause visibility to be negative 4 feet (so I can't see anything but the back seat when looking out the front windshield), and I will not reach my destination without facing many perils. Why, that storm could fill the drainage system and cause  alligators to rise up out of the swamps to nip at our heels if we step outside. Likewise we shall be accosted by snakes.

All this goes on in her head because of the "What-If" mentality. This same visualization could be put to better use envisioning a positive outcome, but if something does go horribly wrong we wouldn't be prepared for it. Instead, both MOTHER and I choose to pre-live every horrible situation in life and fret about those things which are out of our control rather than face things the way normal people do. I imagine normal people leave the house on a cloudy day never knowing they are about to be crushed by a tree in a blinding rain storm. If only they had taken that umbrella.

There is really no way to stop this ingrained internal conversation. It's in my DNA. It's that voice inside my head that narrates my daydreams. It's the voice that argues the what-ifs with my somewhat shyer, less assertive, newly acquired Voice of Reason.

This Voice of Reason is a new voice that I have found. It has lain dormant in my soul, letting the Voice of Irrationality who has had the podium for lo these many years always take center stage.

But I'm encouraging this Voice of Reason. Trying to let myself know that it's not so bad to think positive.

Case in point: I have suddenly found myself about to fly on a commercial airline for the first time in nearly thirty years. I never considered that I would ever be flying again as I had no plans to go anywhere and did not anticipate that I might win a trip or something (I was too busy, preoccupied with negative outcomes to entertain anything foreign like that).

So when I was invited to become part of the Gilenya Guide Network, I had to come to terms with the idea that this is going to mean flying. Not once, not twice, but on a regular basis for the next year. I will be a patient speaker at  MS meetings where Gilenya is being presented. I will be the voice of the real patient who has been on the drug and lived to tell. I can show others with MS who might be considering the drug that look! I haven't grown a third eye or gills from taking it.

But this necessitates flying. My first flight is going to be this Friday as I head off to Speaker Training taking place in St. Louis, MO. for the weekend.

I have known about this for a couple months and have dealt with it in many ways over that time. At first, knowing it was a ways off in the future, I placed it on the back burner where it was a simmering worry that never really took shape but just sat there like a bubbly black mess in a sticky pot that sometimes gave off a foul odor that would waft up into my conscious thoughts.

But as the date has come closer, that pot has shifted place to be on the front burner. I have to deal with my apparent fear of (or at least strong anxiety about) flying.

It's crazy. I was practically raised at a small airport until I was 12. My folks owned a 1/4 share of a Cessna 182. Dad and Mom (yes the same one who is referred to as MOTHER in this post) both earned their private pilot licenses in that plane. We went up flying a LOT.  I can remember one of the most beautiful sights from my childhood was in that plane, looking out the window at the hills of western New York as the autumn leaves were ablaze in red, yellow, orange and gold below me. It was nothing less than spectacular.

But I was 12. I hadn't yet developed my inner hypochondriacal worry wart. I hadn't given voice to my innermost irrational thoughts. I was unencumbered by that demon. So unencumbered was I, that I was able to go up in a T-6 WWII training plane owned and flown by my parents' friend, Ralph Twombly, and do barrel rolls, backwards loops, cork screws and stalls while laughing gleefully at the ground beneath my head and the blue sky at my feet. I felt more alive at 12 years old than at most other times of my entire adult life.

Here's a picture of a T-6 trainer -- not the exact one I flew in, but the only difference was the color. The one I flew in was red and white.

So here I am, certainly no stranger to the air, worrying about every little thing. Until yesterday.

Yesterday something snapped.

I was picking my son up from his return from a school field trip out of town, and we had to pass by the local airport. It was sunset and the sky was golden.

Here's one I snapped while sitting in the parking lot waiting for his bus to come in.

As we passed the airport I caught a glimpse of a Cessna much like Dad's that was backlit by the sunset. I suddenly remembered how excited I always got right before we flew. It was exhilaration, not anxiety, that I remember feeling.

And I want to feel that again. I took that moment to be a sign. A sign that I need to start listening to the child within that remembers life before worry. Anticipation without fear. A feeling that anything is possible and that it's okay to pre-live a happy outcome.

So I say to all you fellow worriers out there, and you know who you are: Next time you catch yourself imaging the most awful of horrendous tragedies in your head, give equal time to the What-If thought that maybe something exciting and happy and pleasant awaits you. You never know, you just might be surprised.

It's just starting to dawn on me that maybe the inner voice that speaks to you actually guides you to your destiny. And depending on what tone that voice is using, your outcome can either be positive or negative. And if I had let that worrier voice freeze me in my tracks, well, then there's a road, a path, I would never know. Just maybe there's something great waiting at the end. I can't let that Voice of Irrationality hold me back. Of all the terrible outcomes I have pre-lived in my imagination, not one of them have ever come to pass.

This will be the last post before I go, but I'll be back to tell you all about my trip. There's going to be plenty to blog for sure!


  1. Dear freaking GOD, Jeri! The opening paragraphs of this piece are freaking hysterical--I do not have time to finish reading just now, but I'm coming back in asap, 'cause I canna neglect to find out where this GOES!

  2. We' re in the car on our way home from the airport. . What an awesome experience! While I can't divulge specifics about the training, I can share some anecdotal stories about the weekend. It was one of the most emotional and inspiring times of my life.


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