The Uncertainty Principle

I have Generalised Anxiety Disorder. The main feature of GAD is excessive worrying and intolerance of uncertainty. Next week I’m flying to a different country. Let’s talk about how that’s going. 

In quantum mechanics, the uncertainty principle is any of a variety of mathematical inequalities asserting a fundamental limit to the precision with which certain pairs of physical properties of a particle known as complementary variables, such as position x and momentum p, can be known simultaneously.

This week I had an important anniversary. One Year of Psychotherapy. As difficult as I find it to talk about mental health, this feels like a pretty massive success for me. My psychotherapist says the progress I’ve made in such a short time is impressive.

I remember my first session. I cried constantly, I was unable to make eye contact, I starved myself before and afterwards.

I was unable to engage at all and I was convinced that none of it would make any difference. I quickly saw how wrong I was. I almost feel like that was a different person. I still get scared that I could go back there, but I know that everything I have learned makes that very unlikely. Setbacks are normal, and I know how to support myself and how to get what sort of help.

Today, I’m heading overseas in a few nights. And I’m totally OK. I’m nervous. But I’m not a wreck.

I wrote recently about “Beating Anxiety,” which is probably the Part One to this.

My therapist and I worked through a number of different modules together. The two most helpful ones for me were Distress Tolerance (which I talked about in that first post), and Mastering Worry.

I learned the difference between anxiety and worrying. Worrying is the process your brain goes through. Anxiety is the emotion. You can have control over both of these things in different ways.

I learned that my beliefs about worrying were deeply ingrained, and contradictory. On the one hand, I hated worry. It causes anxiety, it’s a horrible ruminatory process that often paralyses you, and it made me feel like a freak. Surely no one else worried about things as much as I did? On the other hand, worrying seemed to be helpful to me. It meant I could be prepared and protect myself from bad things happening. So how could I give that up?

Finally, I learned about the thing the main thing that triggers my anxiety and worry cycles: uncertainty.

As it says above, the uncertainty principle asserts a fundamental limit to the precision with which certain physical properties can be known simultaneously.

I can’t know the present and the future. As much as I try and try, I cannot know the future. So I had to learn ways to deal with my uncertainty intolerance that didn’t involve endless worrying, list-making, avoiding ever agreeing to anything, forcing others into doing things only my way, self-harm, and many other obsessive compulsive behaviours.

This chapter Accepting Uncertainty, in conjunction with all other work I am doing, was quite revelatory. Alone it might not mean much. But it was a oh! moment for me.

Learning to tolerate uncertainty is extremely hard and it’s going to take me a long time and a lot of practice for it to make a difference. But hey, next week I’m going to a house I’ve never been to, in a town I’ve never been to, in a state I’ve never been to, and travelling through four airports to get there.

The very fact I am coping with that is proof that I’m getting there in more ways than one.

One Reply to “The Uncertainty Principle”

  1. Helen

    Years ago I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress disorder. Therapy did wonders. However, lately to my surprise as my physical health declined with chronic conditions, the PTS symptoms came back and I couldn’t understand the trigger. It sounds very much as what you described as “intolerance….” but for me now it’s about ‘intolerance to exposure of unreasonable actions’. Thank you for helping me find this awareness. And….have a great trip!


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