Worst Case Scenario: A Look Inside an Anxious Mind
The driver reaches out a hand to steady me as I stand up. I’m on a tiny boat that’s just left the beach of a tiny Malaysian island. We’ve come out into the ocean to meet a group of jet ski riders. We’ve come so a bunch of tourists can step out of our comfort zones.
I stand at the back of the boat while a local tries to guide his jet ski to me so I can climb on. The boat driver checks the clips on my life jacket while we wait, seemingly unconcerned that it’s several sizes too big.
At least my tour guide, waiting on the island, knows where I am. If I don’t come back, if something happens, he’ll know. He knows where I am. He’ll send for help. He’s got my back.
The jet ski rider finally bumps the jet ski against the side of the boat and I climb on behind him. I wrap my arms around his waist, fighting the instinct to squeeze. We wait while the other passengers on the boat climb onto the other jet skis and then watch the boat glide away. I lose the fight and hold on tight.
One by one the other jet skis and their passengers roar away. They leave wisps of white in their wake, making our stationary jet ski bob up and down. Then the ocean around us smooths itself. Excitement bubbles up inside me. I want us to roar away too, to slide along the surface of the water.
But our jet ski won’t start. The rider in front of me pulls on the handlebars and fiddles with the key. It’s attached to a long plastic cord tied to his wrist. Nothing happens. My mouth is dry. My eyes sting.
The rider taps my hands. I loosen my grip but he taps me again. I let go of him completely, scooting backwards a little in the seat.
He swings a leg over so he’s sitting on the jet ski sideways. Then he stands up and steps into the water. The key is pulled out of the ignition as the water consumes him.
I wait, watching the water. It moves gently beneath me. I lean over, searching each side. But I can’t see the rider. I can’t see anything.
My constant travel companion, anxiety, raises its head.
I’ve often been told I’m a wet blanket, a spoil sport, a party pooper. I see the glass as half-empty and I focus on the negatives. I don’t look on the bright side or see the silver lining.
I’ve yet to find the words to explain to these people that I’m not just dragging morale down, that some of us prone to anxiety need to face the worst case scenario head on so we can survive the mere thought of its possibility.
When something starts to go wrong, my mind jumps straight to the worst case scenario.
I’m sitting there bobbing gently on the water, with no other jet skis and no boats in sight, with no rider, and a million questions race through my head like a person flicking through a deck of cards.
What if the rider doesn’t resurface? Should I get into the water and look for him? What if I make it worse for him? What if I can’t find him? What if the boat and other jet skis don’t come back this way? What if the meeting spot at the end of our session is in a different location? What if they don’t notice we’re missing? What if my guide doesn’t notice for hours? What should I do?
The panic freezes me. Even if I was a strong swimmer, I wouldn’t have been able to get in the water to look for the rider.
So I look around, take a deep breath, and come up with a plan.
These are various tiny islands scattered along the horizon all around me. If the rider doesn’t resurface and I jump in and can’t see him, I can wait a while to see if the boat and other jet skis return. If they don’t, I can head for an island. I can use the jet ski as a boat, use my arms as paddles. And if it doesn’t work, I can resort to swimming the distance. I just need to make it to land before nightfall.
As the plan takes root in my mind, I can feel the anxiety start to evaporate off me, unlocking my muscles. My eyes stop stinging. I can breathe easier.
I stand up, preparing myself to step into the water after the rider. I have no idea how long he’s been down there, I have no idea how long I was stuck in my head. But at least I have a plan now.
But before I can actually get in the water, the rider’s head pops up. Relief oozes through me, making my muscles feel like jelly. I sit back down and the rider climbs back up to sit in front of me.
He presses the key into the ignition and the jet ski roars. He taps on my arms so I wrap them around him and hold tightly. He pulls on the handlebars and we jump forward.
The rider glides us around in circles, bumps along waves, leans us into the wind.
I realise I’m laughing. This is like flying, flying on top of the water. The wind and the spray wash the last dregs of anxiety away. I am so glad I said yes to this activity.
The rider brings the jet ski to a stop and twists around to face me. He gestures to the handlebars and stands up. He gestures again.
I scoot forward and wrap my hands around the handlebars. I’ve never done this before, what if I screw up? The rider sits behind me and presses the key to the ignition, stretching the cord around me. That makes me feel better; if he falls off the jet ski’s key will go with him, so it’ll stop. I won’t just get lost off on my own.
The rider wraps his arms around me and I pull on the handlebars.
We soar along the surface, dipping close to the water when I turn too tight, bouncing on top of waves when I hit them at funny angles. I have never felt so alive, nor have I ever felt so grateful for my back up plans when it feels like something going is wrong—big or small. If I hadn’t already prepared for the worst-case scenario, I wouldn’t have been able to manage my anxiety and give this brand new thing a go.