The pregnancy test came back negative!
This statement (minus, the exclamation point, which I tacked on in my mind), caused me the biggest sense relief I’d felt all week, trumping even the relief I felt when my husband told me his disability hearing had gone as well as he could have hoped for and there’s now a 50/50 chance we may not be hovering at the “nearly poor” line for too many more months.
The reason I felt such relief over a routine pee test at a routine annual exam at my girlie doctor is because a) I don’t want to ever have children, and b) I’m deathly afraid of being pregnant and not knowing it, in spite of the fact that the husband had a vasectomy last year that guarantees within a 1 in 2,000 margin of error I never will run the risk of becoming pregnant, ever.
This scientific reassurance means nothing to the lizard brain that runs my fears.
You see, to my lizard brain, 1 in 2,000 still means there’s a 0.05% chance I could get pregnant, and if Murphy’s Law (which the husband and I have adapted to “Gurnett’s Law” as we seem to have the most random of shite happen to us against typical odds) tells me anything, if there is a 0.05% of something happening, there’s a high likelihood I would be the person who finds themselves in that 0.05%.
This fear is compounded by my constantly running across stories of women who suddenly discovered they were pregnant after 9 months of having zero reason to suspect they would be. Like the woman recently who assumed she was just gaining a little weight (you hear that one all the time with these mystery pregnancies) who also had the totally inexplicable additional excuse that she still got her period during the 8 months she was unknowingly pregnant. Her period, you guys. Pretty much the most foolproof way to know you’re not pregnant apart from taking an actual pregnancy test, which you would never think to do if you were, you know, still getting your period.
It’s these one-in-a-million instances of the nearly impossible happening that make my gut drop every time I see an extra pound around my midsection. Forget the logical explanations that I don’t always eat the best and I rarely exercise as much as I should and I’m now 30-mumble years old and my metabolism isn’t the hotshot it used to be. I’m completely aware of all of these (much more solid) facts and factors, but that doesn’t keep me from having a mini panic attack every time I have a little trouble buttoning up my jeans.
I’m the Same Way About Brain Aneurysms
Years ago, the husband of a friend of a colleague at my day job passed away in his sleep due to a brain aneurysm. No warning signs, no prior health problems — just a regular 30-something guy with a young family who went to bed early one night feeling sickish and never woke up. Ever since then, my number-one fear (number two being the whole unknown pregnancy thing) has been dying unexpectedly of an aneurysm.
There is statistically a 1.5% – 5% chance of this happening to me. But to my lizard brain, maths mean nothing and what seems of much greater import are random things like a) I’m prone to headaches, b) I sometimes go to bed early because I feel sickish, and c) I otherwise display zero symptoms of being at risk for an aneurysm, which is precisely what aneurysms-to-come want you to display (sneaky bastards). Add in the fact that Jonathan Crombie, who played the beloved Gilbert Blythe in the movie versions of the books about my namesake, recently died of a brain hemorrhage, and my lizard brain has all it needs to throw itself into high gear.
Tenuous personal similarities to potential symptoms? Check.
No way of telling if this rare ailment is about to strike? Check.
An attack on something that has great personal significance to me, which therefore must be a sign that an aneurysm is in my cards because I’m a firm believer there’s no such thing as coincidence? Check, and mate. Clearly, by lizard-brain logic, I have every right to be deathly afraid of this thing that has less chance of happening to me than being in a car crash.
This Is All Complete and Utter Nonsense, But Fears Don’t Work in a Sensible Manner
That’s what makes them so powerful and so difficult to conquer. If it were just a matter of talking yourself rationally out of them, we’d all be able to get over our fears and live like this girl all the time.
Granted, there’s a difference between irrational fears and phobias and more commonplace, reality-based fears, like the fear of trying something new or going against the crowd. If you do these things, you run a fairly decent risk of looking silly, falling on your face (at least at first) and other less-than-pleasant consequences most of us would rather avoid. And to a lizard brain that’s happy to run with even the slightest possibility of anything bad happening, a fairly decent risk — even of things that are less than lethal — is more than enough fodder to keep you from trying pretty much anything.
But I share my own ridiculous fears with you because, while extreme examples, they demonstrate with the sharpest clarity what our fears really are at the core: bad things that may or may not ever happen, which we allow to screw up our ability both to enjoy the good things that are happening and to invite future good things from happening.
Like the demons that haunt our innermost thoughts, fears have a tenuous basis in reality which they then extrapolate to form the most extreme and ominous of conclusions.
Suddenly, the possibility that you might look dumb if you try that new hobby means you will look dumb, and the thought of looking dumb becomes so huge and hulking you’d do anything to avoid it. (Even miss out on something you’ve been dying to try for years.)
Suddenly, the possibility your new business might not be a smashing success from the get-go means you will crash and burn in a horrible tangle of steaming wreckage, and the image of that wreckage fills your mind so completely you lose sight of all the reasons you wanted to start a business in the first place. All you see is smoke and gnarled-up metal and people running away screaming for their lives. (Somehow, all of these people have your face, because as long as you’re envisioning doomsday scenarios, you might as well make them as personally terrifying as possible.)
All of this is flimflammy B.S. Most things in life come with good and bad potential consequences, but if we let our fears steer the wheel, they will latch onto the worst-case outcomes every time, and they will keep us from all the good outcomes as often as they keep us from the bad.
You know what’s 100% mathematically, scientifically guaranteed to pose you no risk of anything bad ever happening to you? Never leaving your bed in the mornings. And even that’s not really foolproof, because you run the risk of things like depression and muscular atrophy and all the other health problems that come from a totally sedentary and boring-ass lifestyle. You can’t win, not in the game of “shielding yourself from anything bad ever occurring.” All you can do is try your level hardest to make sure the risks you’re taking on are calculated and intentional and have a potential payoff high enough they’re worth the potential bad stuff. (Tweet!)
And if you find that lizard brain of yours rearing up and trying to tell you otherwise? Imagine me freaking out over phantom pregnancies and unlikely brain ruptures and remind yourself that your somewhat justifiable fears are only a few degrees of separation removed from my ridiculous ones. They’re all in the same family. And that family is not worth spending your time around.
What fears are holding you back (reality-based, phobia or otherwise)? Let’s get ’em out in the open in the comments so they’ll lose some of their power.
Image: JD Hancock / Flickr
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