That’s how I describe it. That feeling in your gut as the adrenaline kicks, when you suddenly panic that you’ve missed something important. The hairs up your spine tingle on end, your stomach starts to squeeze and churn, palms become clammy, breathing more shallow. Immediately you begin recounting, racing through the events of the day, trying desperately to find the mistake, the thing you did or didn’t do that now seems to be of such dire importance. Did I check those blood results? Did I document accurately about that sick patient? Did I prescribe those medications correctly? I never find it, never pinpoint what that thing was that I’m now apparently so worried about as I walk back towards my car through the cold evening mist.
It’s strange, because all day I happily got on with what I had to do, and didn’t at any point feel like anything was awry or out of my control. Each job on the list was gradually ticked off in turn, each with its own check and double-check, and I checked and double-checked that there was nothing left to be done at the end of a long day. But here I am, five minutes down the road having left at the end of thirteen hours of work, and I can’t rid myself of that feeling that something wasn’t quite right. My mind convincing itself that I screwed something up for sure, and that I’m going to be in big trouble as a result, or worse – a patient will get harmed. That crushing fear that something terrible will happen and I’ll be to blame isn’t new. I’ve had it my whole life, that baseline fear gnawing away at my insides. That anxiety.
I’ve heard it described as the feeling when you realise you’ve leaned too far back in your seat, and you desperately grab onto something to stop yourself falling, but all the time, grumbling away. It’s quite a good description actually, and it sucks. It really sucks. It sucks because it feeds off your checking behaviour. You check something once, twice, and then worry about it, so you check again. Because nothing went wrong as a result, your brain thinks the checking was a good idea, that it prevented the bad stuff happening, when really it was never there at all. The result? More checking, more worrying.
I don’t pretend to know the answer to dealing with it. All I know is that I have found it gradually gets easier the more confident you become with a procedure or task. Every time I have had to learn to do something knew, such as learning to drive, I would start fretting about all the little things that might go wrong. Did that speed camera flash? Was that light yellow or red? Was I too close to that other car?
Nowadays I force myself not to check, to trust in the fact that when I did something first time, I got it right, and to see how it turns out. It’s hard, really hard, but so far so good – by trusting my instincts, and seeing that things aren’t going wrong when I don’t repeatedly check them, my brain is now starting to relax a little, and that incessant need to continually reassure myself that everything is as it should be is starting to dissolve.
But it’s not gone yet, I still get it, every so often…