Worries are like fetishes. The ones that do it for me really do it. They work every time. They have distinctive language and imagery that roll through my brain on a predictable and effective path, making me weak in the knees, getting me wound up. I can recognize the people who share them because they use certain key words or phrases. We can spot each other across a crowded room. It takes only a shiver at the right moment or a certain knowing look in the eye.
The ones that aren't really for me, on the other hand, seem odd and mystifying. I can buy that they keep other people up at night, but they leave me cold. When someone else tries to explain why they're so compelling, I listen with fascination and a raised eyebrow. "Oh?" My voice lifts. I am trying to play it cool, but my skepticism sneaks in. "That really hits you? I see."
I have major and minor fetishes, and I have major and minor worries. The minor ones can still get me rolling—for example, I can certainly work myself up worrying about money if I put a little back into it—but they're not the things that spring constantly to mind.
For me, the major, gold-standard worry is about what other people are going to think of me. At this point, any worry that takes me down this track leads to a geological formation of well-connected thoughts and associations that are worn smooth as a river rock from constant handling. The things that come up along these lines seem self-referential, self-evident, and inescapable.
An ordinary worry can be cooled with a little rational thinking:
Worry: "What if I don't have the right paperwork when I get to the DMV?"
Response: "Oh, no problem. I'll just go home, get it, and come back later."
The major worry only feeds on itself and grows:
Worry: "What if the woman behind the counter at the DMV thinks I'm stupid when I don't have my paperwork?"
Response: "It doesn't matter if she thinks so. I'll just go home and get it."
New Worry: "Then when I come back, I'll stammer because I'm nervous and she'll think I'm even stupider."
Response: (thrilling shiver) "It'll be over quickly. It doesn't matter."
New Worry: "Right, but she's not the only person I'll have to talk to. I'll have to get a number and sit and wait. I'll be sitting next to someone in the waiting room. They'll smell that I'm sweating or see my hands shaking and think I'm weird."
Response: (more shivering, sense of helplessness) "I'll try to smile."
And so on.
If someone asks me, "So what? So what if she thinks you're stupid or someone else thinks you're weird?" my response is a blank stare. A person who can't understand the horror of that just doesn't get what this worry is about.
Perhaps because I'm connecting worries to fetishes, when I wrote that imaginary thing about the DMV, I turned myself on. But that's another way that worries are like fetishes, I think. Both a worry and a fetish are about a certain sort of obsessive attention. And I happen to have major fetishes that have to do with feeling helpless and embarrassed. Sometimes, my obsessive attention turns erotic, and sometimes it paralyzes me with worry. (And in a made-up scenario like the one above, it's more likely to head toward the erotic).
I don't think there's a one-to-one connection, though. I'm very into feet, for example, but I don't see an easy way to connect that fetish to a major worry of mine.
I do think both worries and fetishes have a sort of circularity, a buildup of personal history that makes each new event or thought take on greater significance than it would to a person who isn't touched by that particular thing.
They also have to come at the right angle to strike. I love spanking stories, for example, but I can tell that people write and read them with an eye toward different key phrases. I've just read Greta Christina's "Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More" (thanks for the recommendation, Lisabet!), and in every single one of the spanking stories in that collection, Christina mentions pulling the skirt up and the panties down. This is clearly a very important part of the imagery for her, but not so important for me (I don't mind it, it just doesn't give me that special thrill). On the other hand, when she mentions crying, I'm there. The same scene might stand or fall for me on whether or not there's crying.
Similarly, I'm not particularly inclined to worry about my health. I don't think much about medical records or whether or not I'll catch whatever strain of flu is going around. I don't care about touching dirty subway poles or being sneezed on or whatnot. On the other hand, if I'm sick and I start to worry that people will think I'm dirty or disgusting—bang! Now it's about my gold-standard worry, and the cycle can engage.
I worry a lot, and it causes me a fair bit of misery, so I had mixed feelings about this topic. I've been interested to read other people's thoughts on this, but I was reluctant to wallow in the minutiae of my own geological formations, so to speak. But now for my last comparison of worries to fetishes: as with fetishes, it has helped me to accept my worries and give them a bit of their own time and space. I can indulge them at certain times, but also keep just enough distance and sense of humor about them. And that makes them much more okay for me than when I'm trying to fight them all the time.