In Eat, Pray, Love Elizabeth Gilbert introduces us to her goons, Depression and Loneliness. They follow her through Rome and Italy as she begins her journey back to herself. I have thugs, too – the What Ifs? They’re a nebulous group of wanderers that pop up as uninvited guests to my thought party.
As a physician they appear as I’m trying to decide how to treat a febrile infant with no source for the fever. “What if,” they poke, “this baby is septic? Will the parents call for more advice, treatment?” “Will this child die in the night?”
“What if the eight-year old that hit his head on the basketball court has a subdural hematoma? What if I miss this serious diagnosis? What if I get sued?” They love to spin tornado-like into larger and larger scenarios of doom. Rarely, they bring news of good. There’s no “What if you catch this hip click before it becomes avascular necrosis of the femoral head and needs a hip replacement when this patient is 25 years old?" There’s no “What if you’ve caught this MRSA before it’s an admission to the hospital?”
They bleed into life as a mother, too, where they take advantage of my sympathy and relative novice state as the parent of a grade- schooler and tween. Never having charted this particular course in parenthood – and it’s very different being a parent and having experience and being a physician and having book-knowledge – is perfect fodder for these thugs.
“What if being too tired to read to Harry tonight makes him feel unloved, unintelligent, uninteresting – take your pick? What if my slightly overweight sons don't hit that growth spurt just right to put their body mass indexes into a normal range? What if someone takes my social and easy-going seven-year old? Who will I call? Where do I look first? What would he do?”
Neurosis is part of my hard drive. I was born to worry about something and these goons know that. A good day for them is when they spin me so tightly that I spook when someone drops a pencil or my husband sticks his head into my office to say hello. Sometimes the What Ifs bring their cousins the What’s Next and Whys. Newspaper trivia about lame lawsuits and pediatric listservs feed their hungry mouths, but they’re always starving for more. Sleep deprivation is a neon open sign to my goons, and if they can catch me just right, What Ifs can keep me up all night with their myriad possibilities.
Lexapro is weak garlic to the What If bloodsuckers that leach my energy. Gilbert’s kept her vampires at bay with Wellbutrin. Breathing exercises and meditation return me to now from La La Future Land where these ding-a-lings prefer to inhabit. Running, walking and exercise also repel the monsters that dwell in my head. Maybe they hate body odor and running shoes. Experience locks the door on the What Ifs cage using reason and common sense as arsenal for the grenades they lob at my head.
Do you know the What ifs?