By: Matt Gordon
I looked up the word catastrophe, just to make sure. What populated the search results was a TV show called Catastrophe, which is fitting. Where once a catastrophe was “total and utter ruin,” now all it takes is a television show.
Don’t know if you’ve noticed this?
But seeing how this is a pandemic and election year, I’m sure you have. All we need is a world war for the trifecta, huh? (Wood is being knocked on—I promise. I know, I know: Don’t mess with 2020.) Catastrophic thinking is a cognitive distortion that falls into the all-or-nothing pattern. It thrives in absolutes. I would call these exaggerations, but often the thinking blinds us to the fact that these thoughts are, indeed, hyperbolized.
Basically, catastrophizing is the exact opposite of how I speak to my two-year-old son. Imagine if I were as direct as I could be:
“What happens if I eat this, Dada?” he says sweetly.
“Hey, guy,” I get down on one knee so we can look into each other’s eyes. “Based on the size of your body and the size of this Tide Pod, if you ingest this your body will go into a terrible seizing shock. It will be far too large and potent for you to effectively wretch it all up, though you will try admirably enough. Eventually, though, you’ll writhe, vomit, and die.”
I ruffle his little head, rise, and walk away.
Of course, I don’t do this. I don’t want him to have an unhealthy fear of the world around him and certainly want him to someday do the laundry, so I let my tone do the work. He isn’t quite ready for the severity of all things mortality, so euphemisms rule the day—a lot of promises that things will make him sick, are very dangerous, or will land us in the doctor’s office. We spend a lot of time in the hypothetical office of said doctor.
But the things I am telling him are true. There is an accuracy to them, even if an obscured one. The Tide Pod is an extremely dangerous appetizer and I let him know its dire, catastrophic effects without all the dire, catastrophic details.
For many of us, though, we take things less dangerous than ingested Tide Pods and make them so. Our bodies and minds are bigger, the pods we face smaller, yet we see catastrophe behind every outcome. If I lose my job I become not a person who has lost his job, but a total failure. If my marriage fails, I am unlovable and hopeless, meant to be forever alone.
Oh and forever, yes, that is key. Things with impact become always “forever” things with lasting impact. Their reach is absolute and absolutely cancerous in every conceivable way.
These thoughts ravage our individual minds and riddle us with fear and anxiety. We doubt intuition and logic because the tightrope is no longer three feet off the ground, but three-hundred. The safety net has been removed. One step, one slip, and we are mushy ruin. Forever.
An odd thing has begun to happen now though. This thinking has, like a contagion, spread across the population. We are now collectively catastrophic. That is why every election is sensationalized as absolutely transformational and having democracy/our nation hanging in the tender balance (just like the last one and the one before and the one before, if you paid attention). That is why every leader is either good or Hitler. That is why our language itself has been altered so that getting a pretzel at the mall is a “dream come true” or why a non-hypothetical doctor’s visit is “terrifying.” I was just called “the worst.” I’m not the worst. Flo from Progressive ads is way, way worse than me. Things have gone from sad to depressing, and then from depressing to super depressing. All of our maladies are “super-sized.” Our storms made monsoons by our own eagerness to drown in their harrowing waters.
But we don’t drown, do we? The waters do not rise to such great heights, or perhaps we rise to greater ones.
We get wet, sure. Muddy, maybe? But we wake up the next day. We breathe and feel and, hopefully, think. We choose—love and hope and truth or fear and doubt and catastrophe.
Truth is, I’m not sure what the truth is, but most times it lies somewhere in the middle of things. And it is there, in the middle of things, where we will stumble upon it—if we keep our feet planted and avoid the edges of reason that forever call out to us.
We’ll be fine. We will. Maybe that is fine and sick. Maybe that is fine and discontent. Maybe that is fine and confused. Might even be fine and happy. Or fine and sad for a bit. Or fine and different. Or fine with some hard work ahead. Or fine with a fight before us. But we’ll be fine. That is the middle which we occupy. The same one we occupied yesterday, move around in today, and will be waiting for us, Lord willing, tomorrow.
It is in this space where our minds are not swayed by the panic of catastrophe. We live and move and breathe and vote and meet challenges and face all sorts of things on the way to encountering death with the fresh air of confidence and perspective and peace. I will be fine because I choose to be. It is about the only choice I get on this mortal coil, then I’ll shuffle off to the beyond and cash the remaining balance left on the check of faith.
A breath. A glance. The wind through the trees. Life is difficult, but we’ll be fine: the true and only forever.