Thoughts on Thoughts

By Sydney Flaherty , July 22, 2021

Read time: 2 Mins

Thoughts on Thoughts Image


Someone once told me it was useful, in small doses. After all, it’s due to my irrational fear of vomit that I am so attentive to my health.

It is also due to my irrational fear of vomit that I used to spend sleepless nights on the cold tiles of my bathroom (this way when I inevitably vomited I would be closer to the toilet).

I remember being told once that it was anxiety that championed evolution, that we wouldn’t be here if not for some paranoid caveman who warned everyone to stay inside in case a mammoth came by. And I suppose it’s true.

That’s the difficult thing right? This illness that traps me in endless cycles of doubt and worst-case-scenarios is also the very thing that has kept me alive. 

When I was in second grade I started seeing a child psychologist for my anxiety. In one of our sessions I recall my therapist describing my worries as tomato plants. She told me if I “water the tomato plants” (water as in give value to) they will only continue to grow and grow until they get too big and suddenly you’re sleeping in the bathroom because that way you won’t have to walk to the toilet when you get sick. This analogy made sense to me but now it confuses me, angers me even. 

Was it not “watering the tomato plants” that gave me a good gpa? Did my “tending to the plants” not help me successfully avoid food poisoning from that sketchy chinese place my family went to? These days I’ve found that this analogy, although useful to a 7 seven year old who refuses to talk to her classmates, lacks the specifics I crave. Would it have really been that hard for my therapist to outline exactly how much water is too much? How tall the hypothetical tomato plants should hypothetically grow? 

For as long as I can remember I have been trying to get better. I still follow my child psychologist’s 2010 advice and desperately try not to give my worries too much attention but at the same time I realize it is my worries and thoughtfulness that have brought me success. Who does one trust when her gut has a tendency to go for the extremes? 

I struggle to wrap my mind around the fact that some people know exactly how much weight to give everything that crosses their mind, that people I know can differentiate between thoughts brought on by extreme fear and thoughts brought on by genuine intentions. And more than anything, it scares me that I can’t.

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