Zia Hassan

Tornado Warning

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with hurricanes and tornadoes.

“If there’s ever a tornado warning,” my mother told me with wide eyes, “then we’ll have to head to the basement where it’s safe. A tornado watch means we just need to be alert.”

So I developed the belief that if there was ever a tornado warning, that we were doomed and the house was going to be crushed by a twister. I was so obsessed that any time the sky turned dark, I would pick up the phone (in the 90’s the internet wasn’t as helpful) and dial my local weather call-in number, which would play back a recorded message. A low growly man would tell me whether or not imminent doom was possible.

I was so worried that I felt the need to seek out as much information as possible about hurricanes and tornadoes. My mom, aware of my interests, bought me some books on natural disasters, and even after reading those I’d have millions of questions.

In the summer, if I ever looked outside and saw a pitch black sky in day time, I would go into panic mode.

It’s no surprise that I would later develop anxiety. Even though I was never officially diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, I know anxiety and all of its tricks quite well.

A book I’ve been reading recently, Stopping the Noise in Your Head by Reid Wilson, breaks down the mind’s incoming data into two cateogies: signal and noise. Signals are important to pay attention to, they lead to a solution of some kind. Noise is unimportant and should not be paid attention (note that this is not the same as ignoring or trying to block out). A signal is that you got a low grade on a test; noise is that you are stupid and will never pass the class.

The interesting thing about my weather anxiety is that I began a thought pattern when I became obsessed: I wanted as much information as possible in order to find some modicum of control. I obviously didn’t want to die in a tornado, but my brain created this noise, this need to check the weather constantly. Yes, it’s good to be informed if your area has a tornado coming, but obsessively checking even if there’s simply a violent thunderstorm outside is a form of anxiety, or trying to control that which cannot be controlled.

In doing so, I trained my brain to constantly look for threats. While I moved from seeing a dark sky and freaking out, other things would come up. A new noise on an aircraft would mean that we were going to crash. A high level on a blood test would mean I would certainly die within the next year. Hypochondria developed after this, too.

What I realize now is that most my worries are a bit like my obsession with the weather. I look for information, scour the web for opinions, and freak out about the doom and gloom while selectively ignoring any positive cases. There’s a great quote: I am the sky, not the weather. It’s a great reminder that at any point, no matter how much rain there is, and no matter how many tornadoes have been spotted nearby…

…weather conditions in my mind are optimal, because I am the sky above the weather.