‘There’s no point worrying about things you can’t control.’ How many times have I heard that in recent years? My stepmom said it to me after Trump’s election in 2016, and my boyfriend said it just last week when Coronavirus panic sent my anxiety levels through the roof. I get why they say it. Worrying doesn’t achieve anything; it just ensures that I suffer. Accepting that some things are beyond our control is essential to our happiness and our ability to cope with the world. It’s also something I find incredibly difficult to the point of being nigh on impossible.
I do worry. I worry because all over the world there are people in charge whose values I fundamentally disagree with. I worry that corruption and greed will forever be a roadblock to progress. I worry that we as a species are backpedalling, becoming less tolerant and more inward-looking than we were just ten years ago. I worry about all of it, and I cannot stop.
Now is a particularly worrying time, given the current COVID-19 pandemic. Seeing the government’s slow response has been frustrating enough, without knowing that thousands of people are continuing to ignore advice to stay home and socially distance themselves. Looking at photos from the weekend of crowded beaches and busy supermarkets, I wonder if these people genuinely don’t understand the gravity of the situation or if they are simply too selfish to care. As there is no shortage of information, I strongly suspect the latter.
Surely it should be obvious that the longer people continue to disregard the advice, the more the virus will spread and the more people will die. They are not only prolonging the situation; they are actively making it worse. It’s like we’ve fallen headlong into some nightmarish dystopian novel. The whole situation is so maddeningly frustrating it makes me want to scream, which begs the question, how exactly am I meant to not worry about this?
How am I supposed to not worry when the people charged with tackling this crisis are, in my opinion, the worst possible candidates? When I see posts from members of my own family proclaiming that they managed to get ‘one last session’ in before the pubs closed? When people insist on flocking to beaches and crowding outside supermarkets despite being told a hundred times to stay home? The fact I have no control over any of this is the very reason I worry so much.
When life goes spiralling out of control, I find it incredibly difficult to deal with. When decisions are made that are not mine, or plans go awry through no fault of my own, I cannot sit back and calmly accept it. I wish I could. Instead I become angry, bitter and resentful, railing at the world and the people I hold responsible. Whether it’s a breakup, an unsuccessful job application or the outcome of a general election, I simply cannot stand it when things don’t go my way.
My need to feel in control can be traced back to a single cataclysmic event in my childhood, namely the death of my Mom from breast cancer when I was just five years old. From that day on, I have been determined to exert as much control over my life as possible. The reason I worked so hard at school was because, as I saw it, my academic performance was one of the few areas over which I had total control. Yes, you could argue that certain teachers played a role, as well as the exam boards and the people who marked my papers, but ultimately, how well I did was down to me.
The same is true of karate, which I started when I was eight years old. How far I progressed depended largely on how much I trained, my success hinging on me and no one else. It was also a great outlet for my frustrations, for all that pent-up aggression I had after losing Mom. Given the current state of the world, I think a few at-home karate sessions might be in order.
All my life, I have been drawn to hobbies that afforded me a large degree of control. Art is wonderful in that respect, every line and brushstroke entirely my own doing. That being said, you are still relying on dexterity and fine motor-skill, and no matter how careful you are, sometimes the paints just don’t want to obey. But there is one medium over which I have absolute control, and that is writing.
For as long as I can remember, I have had a real flare for writing. It’s hard to say whether the flare was in me before Mom’s death, or whether it was the result of it. Either way, writing has been my saving grace for most of the time I’ve been alive. As a child I wrote poems and short stories, most of which were about animals and the natural world. One story that sticks in my mind was about a partridge sitting on her eggs and keeping a watchful eye out for predators.
I write for several reasons. One is pleasure, for the sheer joy of pouring out my thoughts, feelings and observations. Paper is, I find, the best and most impartial listener in the world. Another is escapism, which is hardly surprising really, given what happened to Mom. Writing allows me to flit out of this world, where thirty-year-old mothers die of hideous diseases, and into those of my own choosing. But above all, I write for control. For the power and certainty that comes from knowing that every word, every detail will be decided by me, and me alone. When I write there are no shocks, no disappointments. I am master of my own infinite universes, a dictator in the best possible way.
Like a dictator, I have ultimate control over a group of people, only these ones are not real. My characters behave in a way real humans never will, in that they do precisely what I want them to. They do not think or feel or say or do anything without my say so. They have no agenda besides the one I set for them, and for that reason, they are incapable of hurting me. They cannot keep secrets or lie to me. The only illnesses they will ever get are the ones I inflict on them. And most importantly, they cannot leave me unless I dismiss them.
Of course, it is not possible to control real people the way I do my characters, and even if there were, doing so would be highly unethical. But I would be lying if I said I didn’t sometimes wish I could. No character of mine would ever be caught stockpiling toilet paper, ranting about necessary pub closures or flocking to crowded seaside resorts when they have explicitly been told not to. Alas, the world is full of real people, and those people don’t always make the best choices.
So when people tell me not to worry about things I can’t control, I point out that those are precisely the things I can’t help but worry about. The things that are solely under my control do not go wrong; it’s only when you start adding other people to the mix that things start to go awry. My karate, my academic pursuits, my writing-these things all take care of themselves. It’s the other things I should be worried about: politics, the environment, the current health crisis.
We all worry about things we can’t control. The people who tell me I shouldn’t mean well, but I know for a fact that they too fret about things over which they have no power. Whether it’s the health of loved ones or the state of the nation, worrying is a natural part of being human. Real life is unpredictable, and we can’t always control it. It’s hard, but all we can do is try to control what can be controlled. For me, that means writing stories. I may not be able to control this world, but I can control the ones I create, and that is what keeps me going.