We All Do It
By Bart Vogelzang

We all do it, some often, some not so much; worry, that is.

The lucky ones will sail through life and never really encounter a situation in which they don’t know what to do. They will have a momentary pang of worry, but quickly their direction becomes clear to them, and they happily, or maybe stoically, go on their way. I have always wondered about these people, since they seem almost like aliens to me. How did they come to be this way? How did they learn to just switch directions without getting uselessly upset, without being in a total funk? Many years ago I read a rather profound statement that sort of sums it up. “Worry is like a rocking chair; it gives you something to do but it doesn’t get you anywhere.” How did these people learn to get up out of that chair?

Most of us, me most definitely included, get stuck with directional changes. We know we are in trouble, but the endless numbers of options that lie before us cause more bewilderment than opportunity. Like some kind of sickeningly complex chess game, all the moves are available, except the one we expected. One move off our expected path leads to unexplored and possibly hostile territory. Another move beyond that, and we feel we will be at risk of losing our way entirely. We get completely hung up in our own, wait for it…web of worry. We end up endlessly analyzing all the possible moves we can think of, and looking at the downside of each. Oh sure, we will maybe think of something positive that could happen, but because it is so far from what we were looking forward to, we seldom see the positive. Maybe that’s what the others, those lucky ones, do. Maybe they analyze the positives rather than the negatives. Well, we can worry about that later, “tomorrow, for tomorrow is another day,” and all that.

One rather obvious answer, which is completely useless due to its inherent impracticality, is drugs. At best this is a momentary ‘fix’, because before you know it, the reality of what needs to be decided is right back in your face. Some people, sadly, end up in a never-ending loop of chemical fixes, recovering to reality, only to get another fix. Why do we call it a fix, when it doesn’t fix anything? But we think it does, and this includes the fix of booze. Even more depressingly, those same people end up slowly causing themselves brain damage, so that their viable options decrease over time, justifiably mixing their apprehension with intense worry.

Another path, chosen by quite a few people, is to just accept their doom (even though it is not doom, just the lack of a decision on their next step, one they cannot see or take) and jump right into ridiculously dangerous behavior, as if they are ‘dead men walking’. They no longer care, as they careen down city streets at insane speeds, plumb the depths of the inner city in the middle of the night, or give in to unprotected sex. They have stopped thinking they have any future, given up on worrying about it, and will continue to bounce around like a pinball in a pinball machine, with each surprising bounce and twist of life flipping them from one disaster to another until they drop into the final chute. Unlike a game though, there is no putting in another token and starting over again.

Fortunately, the vast majority of people who worry will finally work their way through the endless decisions. Not all at once, but one decision at a time. Each choice brings a new worry, and new decisions, but suddenly, out of some depth of inner strength they never knew they had, they will find a path that works for them, make consistently useful choices, and the worry ends. What we absolutely need to do is assist these people in recognizing the options, and even offering to help them take that next step forward. Once we recognize that the choices and steps that lie ahead for those worried people are actually ones already taken by us, we can literally show them that their worries need not be overwhelming, and that there is a viable path. The unknown, to them, is not unknown to all, and being a guiding beacon to them can be immensely fulfilling. This is a major aspect of the “It Gets Better” campaign, giving reassurance by those who have already taken those paths and made those decisions. The danger though, is that reassurance isn’t always enough. This is particularly important to recognize if the situation is not really changing, or changeable in the near future. An unrealistic reassurance actually doesn’t fall very far from the path of drugs, with the ‘good feeling’ being a slightly less dangerous form of momentary mental blanking. It has its place, certainly, but it needs to be combined with some really practical steps to get the worrying person actually onto a different path.

Let’s assume the worry is money, not orientation or bullying. “It gets better” is NOT going to help the person in financial straits. Money may, a financial plan may, reduction in expenses may, but simple reassurance that ‘things will be okay’ are just not going to help. What if the problem is family arguments? “It gets better” won’t help much either. In fact, it is patently obvious that things are NOT getting better, and saying they are actually causes even more frustration. What will help? Communications counseling and guidance on personal goals and expectations within the family group will. Practical help, helps. Simple loving reassurance, however well intentioned, doesn’t help in the long term.

So, what do we do about the LGBTQ people, many of them teens, who are worried sick? Do we give them indiscriminate loving reassurance that things will get better? Well, yes, if for no other reasons than that we know they
could get better, and the goal is mostly the short term one of stopping suicide attempts. Long-term, however, we need much more. We need to change things so that they actually do get better. The previous practical advice reveals some of what is needed; money, a financial plan, communications counseling, and guidance on personal goals and expectations. So there you go, steps are revealed, and paths are there to be chosen. Do we now worry about which to take, or do we just step right in and just do.

Dan Savage has taken a huge first step, with the “It Gets Better” campaign. Now it is up to us to get up out of our own rocking chairs and move forward, taking along our worried brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, grandkids. Worry can be resolved, but only with action. Worry can be resolved, but as it’s a personal thing, only with action at a one on one level. It needs someone who can explain that worry can, like all things, pass. Once accepted, a way to a hopeful future will be a real possibility.