Catastrophizing the Marigold

Pixie the Marigold Revealed Healing

From Pixie to Piddly.

It was Monday morning, and I walked into my little cubicle area at work, hoping that Pixie was still alive. I have a habit of naming (all of the) things, and Pixie is the marigold I planted, that I am now responsible for keeping alive. (If I’m going to get a pet someday, I need to start small.) That Monday, I was praying that my Pixie, which I planted many weeks ago, was still alive. I’d been gone from work since Wednesday, so it had been 4 days since my marigold had been watered. It had plenty of sunshine, sure – but the hot, direct heat surely dried it out over the course of 96 hours. Too much sun. Not enough water. I began catastrophizing how terrible the plant would look once I got back.

I stepped into my cubicle, and sure enough…. The leaves were soggy and droopy. A few of the orange and red buds shriveled and wrinkled.  From Pixie to Piddly over the course of 4 days. It didn’t matter that I watered it a little extra before I left. I got way too upset way too quickly about my little Pixie. My heart sank and my eyes narrowed as I threw my stuff on the chair, turned on my computer, and considered tossing the whole thing in the trash.

I told myself, “EVERYTHING I touch, I destroy.” And then the catastrophizing continued.

But what is “catastrophizing?”

The dictionary definition of “catastrophizing” is:

to view or talk about (an event or situation) as worse than it actually is, or as if it were a catastrophe.”

A catastrophe is a quick or far-reaching disaster that usually has a horrible ending. So, putting things in perspective here: a droopy plant is not a catastrophic happening.

But so often, this is what happens in life:

  1. We see or do something we don’t like.
  2. We get disappointed. Something “fails.”
  3. Then we apply that “failure” to many or all situations.

We have a nasty habit of catastrophizing and throwing out the whole thing or giving up.

HONESTY CHECK: Do any of these scenarios ever play out in your mind?

“I don’t have a good track record with relationships, so I may as well stick it out with this one, even though I’m not too happy with it.”

“I didn’t lose those 10 pounds, so I may as well eat whatever I want.”

“I can’t seem to get a consistent workout in, so I may as well quit wasting my time.”

“Unexpected bills keep coming in and draining my finances, so I may as well give up on saving and buy whatever I want.” 

“I’m not sure that the work I’m doing really matters, so it must just be me. This is all I’m meant to be is stuck in a place I don’t even like.”

“Of course my plant died. Everything else in my life eventually shrivels up and dies, so this is no different.”

Catastrophizing creeps in to all areas of life, if we allow it.

I expected Pixie to be a beautiful and flourishing marigold. Not a piddly plant. I catastrophized the entire situation because my expectations were way too high…. Not just about the plant – but about my ENTIRE LIFE. I expected myself to have these grandiose abilities and superhuman powers, and to be able to direct my life perfectly down the exact road I wanted to travel. Perfect family. Perfect relationships. Perfect career. Perfect finances. Perfect health and fitness accomplishments. Perfect everything.

Of course, logistically, I knew that perfection wasn’t possible, but the other side of my consciousness did two things:

  1. It demanded perfection by telling me, “You can do this so much better than you are right now.”
  2. It catastrophized any situation where I was not progressing or improving. Example: “You didn’t take good enough care of your plant. You suck at this. Give up. Throw it out.”

Why catastrophize?

In order to understand where my head was that Monday morning, we have to rewind back to Wednesday of the previous week. I had a major car accident. Both cars totaled. Major traffic jam. Cops, paramedics, glass, smoke, craziness – everything a seeming catastrophe. Except for one thing: Everyone was OK. Shaken up, but totally alive and OK. But of course, I was a mess. I worried about the other people and what they thought of me; I worried about my car and how I’d get to work; I was freaked out about how this would affect my insurance premiums and payments; I worried about the cops and court and medical bills and on and on and on…. Forgetting the fact that everyone was alive. Forgetting that I had someone to call and come help me. Forgetting that I have awesome insurance and was protected well. I questioned everything having to do with my worth and my abilities: my confidence (…am I enough?), my decisions (…how do I know if I’m making the right decisions?), my relationship with God (…is God upset with me?), my life (…what is my purpose?), and yes – my ability to grow a plant (…do I destroy everything I touch?)

Too much heat. Not enough nourishment.

I was stressed out, spread too thin, and had such low self esteem that I couldn’t even celebrate the tiny victories I achieved. I was constantly analyzing and beating myself up, trying to catch any flaws before other people did. After the accident, I was surrounded by so much love and comfort, that it was almost difficult for me to accept, even though it was what I wanted and needed the most. I had many panic attacks, crying spells, and times where I was just stuck – catastrophizing in my head about how things could go, and what might happen – all the while regretting everything.

So it makes sense that five days after a major car accident, I would be upset that my marigold was piddly. No car. No confidence. And no plant. For four days, Pixie had too much bright, unrelenting, blazing heat on her, and no water. No nourishment. No refreshment. Of course she was not handling it well!

In the same way, I had too much heat glaring down on me. This year has been a time of radical change and stress: going through a breakup, moving to a new place, taking on more responsibility at work, getting rejected for time off for a family vacation in Colorado, and having a packed schedule every week. I was not handling the heat well either, and I had no water. No nourishment. No refreshment. Life is how it is, and I was not responding to it well. My leaves were getting droopy. My flowers were shriveling up. In fact, I was making it worse by catastrophizing the negative situations. In focusing on the catastrophes, I was missing out on all of my blessings.

Coming out of catastrophe.

Back to that Monday morning. I looked at Pixie, and I knew I couldn’t just throw her away. I couldn’t give up. Sure it’s just a plant, but after that car accident, it meant so much more to me, metaphorically. I picked up my mug and filled it to the brim with water. I felt foolish watering a semi-dead plant, but I followed through with it anyway. I slowly poured the water into the pot. Turned the pot a little and poured more water in. Turn and pour, turn and pour, until the mug was empty and the soil was evenly watered throughout. I sighed, put the mug down, and got back to the grind of work, trying not to turn around and look at the droopy mess behind me. After about 4 hours of ignoring Pixie, I turned around and looked at her.

Not only were the leaves no longer drooping, but another flower had started opening up at the top. My mouth dropped open. I couldn’t believe this was the same plant! I was immediately thankful that I hadn’t thrown the entire plant away. I was thankful that I learned how to take better care of Pixie. She can only take so much heat, and needs constant nourishment to stand strong and beautiful. Pixie and I are alike in that way.

Fast forward to today.

I’m thankful for friends and family and good quality insurance companies that provide rental cars. Sure, I am still shaken up and stressed out day to day; but that’s why I do personal growth work EVERYDAY. This is why I health coach. This is why I blog and share my stories. Every day the heat comes – it is a part of life. Every day I need refreshment and nourishment to keep me strong and firm as I continue on my journey.

Take heart and know that even the worst catastrophe you can imagine based on your current situation, is not serving you. If you find yourself catastrophizing, seek healthy nourishment. Seek a safe friend. Ask for help. Tell someone what you are going through and what you are thinking. You are not alone in your catastrophic thoughts. It will be the release you always wanted that you never knew you needed.

I leave you with the post I wrote about an hour before the accident. It still holds true for me today, and I hope it serves you well in your journey.

To your health,

Brandie Nicole

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