Do you “catastrophize?”

When I sat down for a day shift in my home office yesterday morning, my company laptop started beeping at me like a bat shrieking in the night after I booted it up, with an error message populating across the screen before I could so much as log in. I scanned the QR code on my phone camera, and once I tapped through to the Dell help site, a description awaited me for the error code.

“Hard Drive – Not Installed.”

My heart started to pound. My thoughts started to race. My breath caught in my throat.

I took the error code to mean I had been fired over the weekend. I must have done something so egregious, my employer couldn’t even be bothered to give me notice. Surely, they remotely uninstalled my hard drive instead so I couldn’t inflict any more damage.

So convinced was I that I was now unemployed, I snapped at my poor grandmother when she asked me a poorly timed question. Like a drowning man, I tried pulling her under with me.

But naturally, when I reset the computer, I came to discover my life as I knew it wasn’t over, after all, and that morning’s melodrama could have been avoided altogether had I thought to turn it off and turn it back on first.

The above anecdote is an example of a cognitive distortion known as “catastrophizing.” I have no doubt my dialectical behavior group therapist will agree with me when I tell him about it later in the week.

Catastrophizing isn’t unique to my diagnosed mental illnesses, of course (bipolar I, borderline personality disorder, and PTSD). Yet I can’t help but wonder if I’m more susceptible to it because of my BPD – to be sure, what is a personality disorder if not a body of thinking errors? Combined with the persecutory delusions from my PTSD as well as the psychotic and schizophrenic symptoms of my manic episodes, I sometimes hold my grip on reality at arm’s length.

Indeed, catastrophizing is about jumping to the worst-case scenario without critically seeking out dissenting evidence first. As recently as this afternoon, when my team lead thanked me over Slack for taking initiative on a project, it set me to pacing about the room as though the tone of her message were sarcastic when, in all likelihood, it was nothing more or less than positive reinforcement.

Which is why healthy self-talk is so key, not just for you, but for the sake of everyone with whom you share your community. Because the narcissists and the sociopaths from my past abused me so holistically and at such an impressionable age that I now internalize their behavior as systemic self-oppression, nothing but negativity lies ahead for myself and everyone else around me unless I lead a revolution in my own mind and actively challenge this illogic as intrinsically as it manifests itself in my psyche.

Otherwise, I lose patience with my loved ones over nothing, and I react to my colleagues like they’re passive aggressive when they aren’t.

Author: Hunter Goddard

A jack of all trades, Master of Arts, in multimedia content creation and marketing. I'm developing my blog site, Suspension of Disbelief, into a collection of daily short-form news posts about the industry and craft of writing as well as flash essays where I leave the world a more beautiful place than I found it, with a talent for creative nonfiction where other artists wield a paintbrush or a musical instrument instead. Here, you will find the facts of life aestheticized into the plot points of your next favorite dramatic narrative.

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