From A Former Worry Warrior


I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not, how shall
I correct it?
Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?
Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well, 
Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it, 
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?
Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning
and sang. 
by Mary Oliver

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I used to be a worrier. A worry warrior, actually. That negativity bias we are all programmed with was strong in me, modeled and encouraged in my childhood community. I come from a long line of champion worriers.

I learned to equate worrying with loving. If someone worried about me, it meant they cared. And so I worried too, because I wanted those in my life to know that I cared about them as well.

This soon warped into dysfunctional, co-dependent behavior and relationships. I found myself enmeshed in other people’s lives in ways that were not helpful for them; in fact, most of them grew resentful of my involvement.

It also turned out to be ulcer-inducing for me! Not literally, but how was this helping anyone? The truth is my worrying achieved nothing.

Well, that’s not entirely true. My sticking my nose into other people’s business  – Let me help! Let me tell you how to solve your problem! Let me make it all better for you! I can rescue you from yourself! – got me labeled as a nosey know-it-all (not the benevolent helper I thought I was being) because inserting myself, uninvited, into others’ circumstances actually had the opposite effect of what I had intended: It was disempowering for them.

I’m thinking of my son, in particular. It’s so easy to worry about our offspring, isn’t it? It almost feels like a duty! How will they survive otherwise?!?

My history of worrying about my son is complicated, of course, by the fact that he died by suicide. It’s easy, therefore, for the take-away of that tragic loss to be that I failed to worry enough, and that I needed to be even MORE inserted into his life than I was.

Frankly, nothing could have been further from the truth. My worrying about him, and “rescuing” him time after time after time, did nothing to build the muscles that could have resulted in self-reliance, confidence, self-esteem – qualities that might have kept him alive!

Don’t misinterpret; I don’t blame myself for his death (although I did at first.) I’ve come to accept that I showed up for him in the best ways I could, given what I knew and who I was at the time. I also learned that worrying is not loving. Worrying is thinking I have control over someone else’s life, that I am that powerful; that by judging others’ lives, thinking I can do better, and telling them so, I am somehow “helping.”

Don’t believe everything you think! 

From now on, instead of worrying about my loved ones, I will believe in them. I will believe in their innate wisdom to make their own good (and bad) choices, and navigate their own lives.

And then I will take my old body out into the morning and sing.

Title Photo by Alexander Dummer on


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