The “What If” Fiend Unmasked

Today there is a plague upon my house. Flashes of a gloomy visage pass in the mirror.  Cloven hooves tap tap tap across the kitchen floor. Steam makes the radiator hiss or, is that rattle something far more ominous?

A hooded creature wearing shrouds floats by.   “What if,” it whispers in my ear.  “What if you’ve made the wrong choices?  What if none of the things you’ve worked for come to pass?  What if no one can be trusted?  What if you never find a job?  What if you’re not strong enough to survive disappointment? What if you fail?   What if you’ve run out of original ideas? What if you don’t have the guts to take risks? What if you never learn to be happy, to be patient, to be wise?  What if?”

The voice grows louder, filling the room with doubt and despair. I fall to my knees, weakened.  Just when it seems too overwhelming, I notice something about this so-called beast.  Underneath the ghoulish attire are not hooves of any sort.  They are in fact just the tiny feet of a child still wearing her costume from Halloween.

“Why have you done this?” I ask. “Filled my ears with words that deplete me?”

She pulls the hood away from her face, rubbing her nose with the back of a grubby hand in need of washing.  “We have to be prepared,” she says.

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“We don’t know what comes next.  We can’t tell what’s around the bend. It might be…awful.”

“True.  Or, it might not, ” I say.

“But I hate the not knowing-ness.  I can’t bear it.  WHAT IF?”

I have been in this place often.  Honestly, at times I am a lousy parent to the voice inside.  I turn on her in anger and demand she shut her mouth which only increases her pleas. But I work hard to remember I have choices.  So today I reach out my hand and she climbs into my lap.  She tells me her fears as I try to summon patience and empathy.  I tell her I understand what makes her so scared, and I am sorry she suffers.  I remind her that even bad things have a beginning, a middle, and an end.  I explain that her threats are not the solution, that I can help her to be less afraid if only she would lower the volume on her declarations.  I write this piece for her as she peers over my shoulder, pleased to get center stage for a few minutes.

I wish I could say it always goes like this.  That I never let the frightened child in my head steer the ship.  But I am utterly human.  So tomorrow there will be more little beasts running about the house with a new set of disguises.  I’m sure everyone struggles with this from time to time.  However, I’m betting writers and people in creative fields in general are particularly susceptible to self doubt.  How do you parent the negative mind chatter in your head?  What are your secrets for shaking off the “what if’s”?

About Madame Paradox

Heidi David is a writer and freelance producer. She is the author of an as yet unpublished novel, THE FLYING JEWEL; the tale of a traveling circus where the price of admission is one's free will.
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9 Responses to The “What If” Fiend Unmasked

  1. Marisa Birns says:

    I read once that to silence that really unpleasant inner editor is to say aloud, “NO. You can stay in the room with me but sit down and be quiet.”

    Felt silly doing it the first time, but there’s something about shouting “NO” that seems to help. 🙂

    • You know, I talk out loud to these beasts 😉 all the time. It’s a wonder my neighbors don’t cart me away. Thanks for the suggestion. It’s good to know others struggle with the same thing.

  2. Captainralph says:

    Self doubt is unfortunately too common. But thinking of the worst case doesn’t make it happen! I should know, I’m Mr. WCS (worst case scenario) and so far, hardly any of my vast warehouse of scenarios have come to pass. Perhaps they are all conspiring for a grand finale? .

    Like a bad cold, this feeling of self doubt will pass. Perspective is everything. It could always be worse, and it’s not as bad as you think.

    Personally, I hold myself to very low standards of performance and expectations. This way I’m pleasantly surprised when I marginally achieve any “success” and I’m hardly ever disappointed by my performance or results in any endeavor.

    Or something like that.

  3. marnie says:

    The inner critic is there to test us. It forces us to look at how badly we want something or how much we are willing to risk to get there. Mistakes are an important part of the creative process. They force us to try a new route and delve into unchartered territory. Often, we must check the inner critic at the door in order for us to allow ourselves the opportunity to make mistakes and try new things. It is only in this space that creativity flourishes.

  4. Marnie: What lovely words. Thanks for leaving them here, I so appreciate it. Are you able to do this? To set the inner critic aside and explore? I hope you are. I would just love to see you with a classroom full of kids. I bet it’s a thing of beauty.

  5. Fungi says:

    I’m with Captainralph. Managing expectations, controlling the context, is command central for dealing with self-doubt, I find. I let the Tom Petty line play in my head: “Most of the things I worry about never happen anyway.” That said, don’t we have to acknowledge that at some level fear of failure drives us. It may be unpleasant, but maybe it delivers better results. I’ve read that many performers who’ve hit the stage for decades still have to manage stage fright.

    • That’s a really interesting point. Fear of failure is one of many things that drives me. I think I do have to own that. Maybe all the dark crap rattling around in my head is there for a reason, some bad, some good. Thanks for leaving your perspective, I enjoy hearing other pov’s about this.

  6. Pingback: Evolution, It’s Not Just For Dogs With Gas | Madame Paradox

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