To Suffer Twice
The master took his student on one of his favorite walking paths down a hill. The green branches reached overhead to shade them and the stones underfoot led them down the peaceful trail.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” the master asked.
“It’s just that I am thinking about how steep the trail will be on the way back up”, replied the student.
The master remarked, “You suffer twice: once in the imagination, again in the reality”.
The Subjunctive Mood
To suffer twice: once in the dread of expectation, second in the reality. This is the fate of the Subjunctivist. Subjunctivists live in the anxiety part of their mind, preoccupied with the possibilities of the many paths that could be. Their fears are potential realities. The subjunctive mood is a grammatical expression of verbs that denotes contrary to fact, wishful thinking, what is imagined or possible.
“If it were so…”
“If this were to happen…”
“I should think that…”
Thus the subjunctive thinking is about not what is, but what could be, what might be, what one wants to be, what one regrets is not the case—anything besides what actually is.
The Subjunctivist lives in the multiplicity of worlds of possibilities to the neglect of reality. The Subjunctivist may relive past shames, dreaming up better comebacks or reactions for how they wish they had interacted in the past. The Subjunctivist may think in the present, comparing where they wish they could be or what they imagine their life could be like, usually resulting in disappointment and pessimism about the here and now, commonly having a complaint to offer about anything and everything. The Subjunctivist may get caught up in playing out future scenarios where fate foils them at every turn and everyone else has ill intentions while the protagonist is just trying to survive. Past, present, future, it is the same: ignoring, filtering, or embellishing the storyline of real life by focusing on the realm of possibilities. The Subjunctivist turns their face from reality to be the writer, producer, and main star of their own fantasies, dreams, and horror films.
Anxiety for What Could Be
The resulting fears are real fears because the Subjunctivist creates them and gives them life with their energy worrying about what would happen “if”. Subjunctivists create their own anxiety by playing out in their imaginations what could be, what could go wrong, what the worst case scenario would look like. Life is a series of disasters, and living, according to them, is being preoccupied with avoiding disasters as much as possible. They might be aware of their own authorship of their fears. Their friends might frequently tell them not to worry, to live in the moment. But they have been living with their fears as reliable companions for so long, those fears seem like the security blanket that is just not possible to relinquish. Subjunctivists are never late because each step of the journey is planned out with five minutes cushioned into the plan for traffic, five minutes for the lines, a couple more for the weather, and some extra for the getting ready. Each red light is the universe wishing them ill, while they arrive on time but out of breath from the stress of the threat that they could be late. They have several items stashed in their bag that they rarely touch, but they are ready when the occasion calls for it. “Always wear clean underwear—you never know when a paramedic might see them”, their anxiety tutor instructed, presumably with the images of fainting fits, rare maladies, and disasters flashing through their mind. They think about the nearest exits and the scenarios that would merit their use, on the plane, in their career, in their relationships. They read all the paperwork’s small print, on the medicine bottle, on the mortgage, in the expectations of others. They have considered several worse-case scenarios, from the grocery store being out of their favorite chocolate to never seeing their dear friend in good health again. No relationship or situation is safe from their active imagination and “what if”s.
They would prefer to be referred to as Potenialists. It is a nicer name for their rather helpful habit of planning for multiple possibilities. If you ask them what they want to be known for after they die, they would tell you about their long term goals that they have not yet taken significant steps towards accomplishing. Their aunt told them they would be good at writing books, they imagine they might one day earn their pilots license, they hope to take their nephew on a backpacking adventure.
Dissatisfaction for What Is
The Subjunctivist has trouble accepting a compliment or an award and find ways to be discontent even in the middle of being recognized for their hard work. The accomplishment could have come sooner, the reward sweeter, they had imagined more fanfare. The Subjunctivist is unhappy with the climate where they live, but when they go on holiday they find reason to complain about the environment there as well. Others around them might suspect that it is not the climate or environment, but the Subjunctivist who will never be happy, always have some objection to enjoying life.
The Subjunctivist suffers in their self made dramas much more than the realist. What is hypothetical is easily and often made more dramatic than the actual. More dramatic, more intense, and more dynamic. They devote plenty of time to dreaming up scenarios while tossing and turning instead of falling asleep at night, playing out disagreements with the shampoo bottles in the shower, and remembering yet another wrinkle or complication to the history of some interaction that will open yet more avenues for potential concern when they are trying to relax. It is easy to create dozens of theories, they have years of experience in writing these scripts, each one compounding the mythology mapped in their mind.
With all of these possible scenarios, real life is bland in comparison. Even when given good news that the disaster is no longer real, the Subjunctivist has the adrenaline pumping to deal with it. They are left with the next problem to find. And anyway, there is a joy to drama even if there is relief that it is no longer a threat: drama is a nice way that many people make their life interesting. So there is some suspicion that Subjunctivists are creating their dramas from boredom with life. Although this suspicion leads us to a chicken and egg problem: is it the drama that creates their meaning or their essence that creates their quest for drama?
Procrastination is the poison, action is the antidote. Subjunctivitis is fed by the imagination, which plays its horror reels as long as it has time and focus. The sufferers might be conscious of the medicinal effects of action and occupation, especially since the more they take authorship of their destiny and employ themselves in exercising their rational being, the better their mental health. But when circumstances start to feel overwhelming, their old habits offer the false friendship of paranoia masquerading as critical analysis.