And you? If you have a persistent worry, notice correlations between it and unrelated activities. Does your grudge toward politicians become fury en route to your office? Do you schedule more plastic surgery whenever you think about decluttering your house? If so, you can stamp those preoccupations designated issues, and sincerely thank them for containing your other worries.
This gratitude for your most maddening chronic problem will likely arise spontaneously, but only after some heavy psychological lifting. Here's the basic process:
1. Sit down in a peaceful space, either alone or with someone who's willing to act as a friend and adviser.
2. Imagine as vividly as you can that your designated issue is gone. Vanished. Not even a memory. Doesn't that feel great?
3. Ask yourself, "Now that I've fixed that, what problems do I still have to face?" The answer will be sobering. Your unpaid rent, your cat's mange, your beloved aunt's dementia—all the unglamorous, frightening realities of your life will spill from the lead-lined box of your designated issue in a big, ungodly mess.
4. Pick one of these unpleasant problems, and take at least one step toward solving it. Negotiate with your landlord. Bring Snowball to the vet. Join a support group for people whose relatives have Alzheimer's.
5. After taking this one step, go right back to obsessing about your designated issue.
This last step may surprise you—isn't the goal to destroy the designated issue once and for all? Not necessarily. You need your obsession to hold your inner turmoil; otherwise, you wouldn't have created it.
Repeat the process outlined above, and you'll find your designated issue getting smaller, lighter, less compulsive. It's been years since I was driven by food obsession, but I still find it deeply soothing to write down everything I've eaten during the day. I used to think this process would help me control my weight, and thus my life. I no longer believe that, but its calming effect lingers. Calorie counting may seem like a strange response to, say, speeding tickets, but it works for me.
The process also helped Tricia: As she therapized about her nutty family, her depression eased, transmogrifying her designated issue from a torture chamber to a study. Annabeth faced her marital dissatisfaction, got divorced, and lost 50 pounds. Sadly, Libbie never dealt with her dealing; she still obsesses about Prince Charming. But Kristen's fear for her children abated as she learned money management. If you have a designated issue, addressing other problems will (eventually) make it dry up and blow away. In its place you'll find self-empowerment and gratitude—even, weirdly, gratitude that your brain has the capacity to create another designated issue, should the blooming, buzzing confusion of your life ever require one.
Martha Beck is the author of six books, including Steering by Starlight (Rodale).
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