Combat Obsessive Thoughts About the Future by Focusing on the Present
Abandonment in his past has led columnist Jasper Benitez to fear the future. Now, he is working to stay focused on the present.
As someone who lives with bipolar, I can tell you that fear of the future is one of my biggest struggles. I become so engulfed with thoughts about the future that I forget the present. I become trapped in my own mind; worrying about circumstances that are not yet real, planning for situations that do not yet exist.
Those who know me know exactly when I am in this frame of mind because my facial expression changes completely. My eyes wander around as if they are scanning every inch of a room for potential threats; my lips are pursed as if stitched together to create a barrier that will prevent these irrational thoughts becoming audible to those around me. It feels as if my brain is engaged in a game of chess with the world around me, except I am the only one who is playing. My brain has convinced me that to avoid re-encountering past experiences I must remain one step ahead. But, as I have learned, this way of “coping” is both exhausting and problematic.
One prime example of the problems it creates is the way I view developing relationships. Often when I meet someone new who I am interested in, I dive in, head-first, and go “all out” to catch the new person’s attention. To be honest, I thank a few of my previous conquest attempts for my current credit card situation. And much to no one’s surprise, my lavish attempts at securing a romantic love via monetary means have been unsuccessful.
After bouts of introspection, I realize that my obsession to please people is rooted in my displeasure with myself. It is a way to avoid coming to terms with what I am not happy about with my own being. It is me try to give someone else all the things I felt I did not receive in the past. But most importantly, it is an attempt to rectify being abandoned by people in my past.
But it’s not just relationships. When I start to think in an “all or nothing” way, I demand 100 percent from others, because if I do not get that I will make it my mission to give zero. Similarly, it manifests in my attitude towards myself. When I want to do something, I must do it completely or I refuse to do it at all.
While this mentality is sometimes beneficial to my productivity, it is ultimately detrimental to my ability to function alongside others. The need to feel control over every moment of the future creates numerous problems. It puts a strain on relationships with people who prefer to “go with the flow” and who become stressed by the micromanagement of every minute.
Thus, I have learned that I need to be very aware of my tendency to overthink, because often I have created problems that did not actually exist due to my perceived visions of the future.
For the last four years, I have made half-hearted attempts to heal from the experiences that have created these behaviors. But after many repeated alarms calling for me to put an end to the vicious cycle which has claimed many of my worst nights, I have finally woken up. And while I still have moments of doubt about whether to stay in the fight, I am a lot closer to making peace with my past.
I have arrived at a sort of crossroad in my journey to recovery–the intersection in which my past experiences and my obsession with the future meet and create a fear of being happy in the present.
This intersection is best illustrated by a conversation I recently had with someone:
OK, but has it happened?
Well, yes, it has.
OK, but is it happening?
Well, no, it is not.
OK, then do not cause for it to happen.
Printed as “On My Mind: At The Crossroads Of My Past And Future”, Summer 2018