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.
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”?