Worry and Uncertainty – Then and Now

When I was a junior in college, I spent the year studying abroad in England. Going overseas for college then wasn’t like it is now. No organized programs with groups; just go on your own, and find your way. And that’s just what I did. I had no cell phone, computer, or email. No way except  good ol’ fashioned snail mail to communicate with my friends and family back home. If urgent, my parents could contact someone at the university I was attending, but it would be an ordeal to track me down, and clearly would only be done in a bona fide emergency.

Over the years, as our own children have traveled the world, my friends and I have often wondered how our parents survived the uncertainty that surely came with this lack of communication. At least we have cell phones, Facebook, Twitter, email, texting, Skype, instant messaging, and more to keep us in contact with our children, to make sure they’re where they should be, and that they’re okay. How much easier it is now than it was back then to be certain all is well.

But is it really? Surely, all this communication may give us some peace of mind, but as we know, certainty is an elusive thing. We don’t really know for sure that all is well, or will continue to be well.  And all this communication can backfire. “She sounded sad on the phone.” “I didn’t like the way he looked on Skype.” “Why is she on Facebook now when she’s supposed to be out with her friends?” Increased communication can be fodder for our worries, perpetuating that need for certainty that we crave. It’s so easy to worry now, because we have so much to worry about; we are constantly being fed new material.

What my parents needed to do back then was accept the uncertainty of not knowing what was going on with me, and just believe that I’d be okay. They had no other way to get through that year intact. In other words, they needed to learn to trust the universe. As author Jeff Bell says in When in Doubt, Make Belief, “Choose to see the universe as friendly.”  This is a conscious choice, and something that is not always easy to do; but it’s necessary, I believe, for good mental health.

Maybe with this surge in our capacity to connect with one another and have access to all kinds of information, we have somehow lost the ability, or need, to believe in the universe.  We allow ourselves to get caught up in worry over little things (like our child’s facial expression on Skype). Of course this issue is a major one for those with obsessive-compulsive disorder, but also something almost everyone can relate to on some level. We need to do what my parents, and certainly those who came before them, were forced to do: focus on the big picture and have faith that everything will be okay.

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12 Responses to Worry and Uncertainty – Then and Now

  1. “Maybe . . . we have somehow lost the ability, or need, to believe in the universe.” Well said! This is such a wise post, Janet. Even with all the ways we have to “check” on each other and “make sure” our loved ones are OK, we still have room for a lot of uncertainty.

    I like the idea of deciding to trust the universe, to view it as friendly. Worry gets us nowhere. It doesn’t help the other person. I’m going to try to trust the universe.

    Thank you for this post.

    • ocdtalk says:

      You’re welcome and thanks for your kind words, Tina. I’ve also made a conscious decision to see the universe as friendly, and it does help with the worry………..

  2. Susan says:

    As our son gets ready for college next year, I have often thought about the same thing. When I left, I called on the phone and wrote letters. My mother used to say she didn’t worry about me at college, only when I was home. It is harder to let go with all the ways you can communicate. Thank you for your thoughts and I will check out the book as well.

    • ocdtalk says:

      You’re welcome, Susan, and thanks for commenting. Yes, ignorance is bliss, as they say……I would definitely recommend Jeff Bell’s books (also Rewind, Replay, Repeat).

  3. 71 & Sunny says:

    You make excellent points. I have read that this increase in technology and communication has actually added stress to people’s lives. In a way, sometimes ignorance is bliss. You can assume that everything is ok unless you hear differently.

    You are so right – certainty is an elusive thing!

    • ocdtalk says:

      Haha…..I just wrote “ignorance is bliss” in my reply to Susan, before reading your comment. It’s so true, though, isn’t it, Sunny? I’m going to work on being more ignorant 🙂

  4. krystallynn says:

    Another interesting aspect to this is with the military. When my husband was in, letters were the only form of communication. My husband would number them because a helicopter would pick them up from the carrier every 3 months so I’d get a stack at a time and I could then read them in order. He could call if they got into a port, but that was not often and he couldn’t tell me where the ship was going so I never knew to expect a call. Personal computers/email was not available. He was deployed anywhere from 6 months to 15 months depending on world events. I had to trust he was ok. In an emergency you could call the Red Cross, but it had to be life or death.
    Now the sailors and soldiers have email and can contact their loved ones sometimes daily, though in the war field it is less. I think it is good in a way because there were so many things I would have liked to have shared with my husband, things the kids were doing or accomplished and he could have talked to them on Skype. But the down side is that I have heard so many wives totally freak out if they don’t get a daily email and then they hound the husband for not communicating or worry something has happened. And the soldiers are aware of every little thing going wrong at home, which makes them worry. I think they need to be on top of their game in order to make good decisions, especially in war-time- and not have the extra stress on them worrying about things they can’t do anything about anyway. Good post.

  5. ocdtalk says:

    Thank you for the comment, krystallynn, especially fitting on Memorial Day, when we remember all those who have sacrificed their lives for our country.
    I cannot even imagine how difficult it is to have an immediate family member deployed. You bring up excellent points about the pros and cons of increased communication with loved ones, especially the point of too much contact being distracting for soldiers……it’s an issue that should be taken seriously. Thanks for your insight.

  6. Like so many things good and bad. When I ran parenting workshops, I asked parents to turn off their cell phones, but some let fear rule. In a true emergency you can’t do much be call 911 and arranged to go to where your child will be taken. Forunately, such emergencies are rare. Parents need to practice acceptance about the future,do what then can and let go of fear as much as the can. The future is not ours to control, so I try to let go and hope for the best.

  7. ocdtalk says:

    Good advice…….thanks for commenting!

  8. Tina Barbour says:

    Janet, I’ve nominated you for the Illuminating Blogger Award at http://bringingalongocd.blogspot.com/2012/06/illuminating-blogger-award.html. Congratulations!

  9. ocdtalk says:

    Thanks so much for this honor, Tina!

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