February 13, 2014


So I took a quiz in a book called The Worry Cure, which I am reading for reasons that will become obvious shortly.  The scale measuring "Intolerance of Uncertainty" suggests that people scoring  below 40 points are rather tolerant of uncertainty; those scoring above 50 have "problems" with uncertainty; above 70 "suggests real problems handling uncertainty."

I scored 93.

I laugh-cried at the phrase on the next page, describing the anecdotal "Carl's" score of 108 as "an extraordinary level of intolerance of uncertainty" (Robert Leahy, PhD. The Worry Cure. 54-56).

It's a little bit funny to me to realize that I fall on an "extreme" end of any scale.  Extreme is not an adjective I'd ever use for myself, but rather would identify as private, loyal, deeply feeling, creative, loving, fearful, faithful, searching and a bit aimless when I don't have a clear goal or project.  But this quiz used phrases that I would say are very true of me:

Uncertainty stops me from having a firm opinion.
Uncertainty makes me uneasy, anxious, or stressed.
When it's time to act, uncertainty paralyzes me.
When I'm uncertain, I can't go forward.
When I'm uncertain, I can't function very well.
The smallest doubt stops me from acting.
Being uncertain means that I lack confidence.

Phew. This makes a lot of sense out of a lot of quirks about me.  Why I like sheet music when I play and a pattern when I sew, a recipe when I cook and a syllabus to follow.  It makes sense of why it is so hard to choose what to do when I have free time. Or to choose a pair of shoes to buy when my old ones are actually embarrassing my husband (sorry, love). Or to get a babysitter and go out.  Gulp, plan a vacation (or even plan to plan a vacation). Choose what to make for dinner. Decide to do the hard, vulnerable work of writing a dissertation I have no idea if I even want to finish.  A lot of these things, I realize, are luxuries. CHOICES are luxuries, in fact.  And yet, they are to me like a thousand burdens and weights to be hefted one way or the other. Yes or no? This way or that?

What all of this intolerance amounts to in my case is anxiety. And it hurts. It robs me of joy, purpose, and of the thrill of living life right here, right now, surrounded as I am by the most delightful and amazing people and gifts life can offer.  I've kept myself small, "lost much of my muchness," allowed only tiny swells of excitement before the rush of fears crowd out the voice trying to surface.  The ideas do come: I want to make that quilt, write that fiction piece,  call that friend, finish that chapter, paint, play, speak, work, help, live.  And then I opt instead to putter, do the dishes, drink a cup of coffee and run away from the dreams or hopes of the moment and stay "safe" and small.

So I'm writing this today in an effort to welcome the uncertain outcome of writing something like this publicly.  My idea in the shower this morning: write on my blog about my ridiculous score of 93 on that quiz and see what happens. The fears:  That's too personal, it's odd to share. Awkward, really.  And it might make others feel uncomfortable. But what if it speaks to just ONE other person who knows what this is like, who is a beautiful aching soul trapped by fear and doubt? What if it makes life better for even one person for one day, changes one moment of fear to one of freedom?  Then it's worth it.  And what if that person is me? Am I worth it?  Well, I'm uncertain, but I'm going to see.


Anonymous said...

G, my brave friend. What a beautiful, necessary, claim-your-life-back post. I LOVE it, and am so very proud of you. Of that, I am certain.

Kate Kootstra said...

Genna, I feel like you wrote this just for me. I actually made Mark read it because it expressed what I have been feeling a lot recently. I have a painting that is half completed, a pile of beautiful fabric waiting to be made into a quilt, 3 books to be read, and on and on. You said, "And then I opt instead to putter, do the dishes, drink a cup of coffee and run away from the dreams or hopes of the moment and stay "safe" and small." Yep. Safe. So much uncertainty and big things right now. Thank you for writing this, friend. I feel like you took a peek into my heart and gave words to what I've been trying to say.

Jodie said...

I love this post - hit the nail on the head for me too. My husband often laughs about the fact that I never know what I want but when he suggests things I can tell him what I don't want.

Thanks for articulating it so well, something I have to think about and figure out how much of my uncertain nature I need to accept and how much needs to be combatted

Genna said...

Bronwyn, thank you for being a champion friend for so many years and even still!

Oh Kate, I am so glad that this spoke to you. And I hold out hope that just naming the struggle and holding it without judgement or shame will help us both to live fully.

Jodie, thank you for your comment. Knowing what you don't want is a big part of the battle, but, yes, discovering and saying what you do want is the riskier thing and much harder for those of us (like me) who so want to get it "right."

Andi said...

Genna- Twitter suggested that I follow your husband & I found this post through him sweetly bragging on you. (And, I'm friends with Melanie…) Your post made me cry because it made me feel like I'm not alone in my daily & hourly struggle with fear & anxiety. I also can't buy shoes, make something new for dinner, call a babysitter, and so many bigger & tougher things. Thanks for the encouragement & for making me feel less alone.