For as long as I can remember, I have always had a sense of curiosity. From the moment I knew how to form a sentence I asked questions, too many questions. My father used to joke that he would make me a certificate for asking the most, and most impossible, questions. Due to this level of curiosity, there was one question that I, and many children, asked hundreds of times a day. ‘Why?’. There were many occasions, more so than not, that I did not get an answer.
I was not always anxious and afraid to ask why, and I never thought that a simple one-word question could be so damaging to my mental health. But as I grew older, my ‘why’ questions became much deeper and darker, and as I became more and more anxious, I stopped asking my questions. Instead, I let them live at home in my head, only to be heard by me. If only I had known how damaging that would be.
As children, our questions are generally simple. They may not always have an answer, but they never had a deeper meaning. Questions like ‘why does a chair have four legs? Why does my brain hurt when I eat ice-cream too fast? Why is the sky blue?’ Our parents were not always able to answer our questions, but at least the questions weren’t scary.
When we grew up and began to face the real world, our questions became even harder to answer. I constantly asked myself questions that I knew didn’t have an answer. ‘Why am I the one in the family who developed depression? Why can’t I motivate myself to get out of bed? Why on earth would I say that to him? Why am I not as pretty as her?’ All of these questions had one thing in common; all they did was cause more uncertainty in me.
And now we reach the real point of this post. Uncertainty. Uncertainty created by a single, awful word; ‘why’. In a person with depression and anxiety, uncertainty creates a monster. If I asked myself why I developed depression, I would spiral into a whirl of emotions too strong for me to handle, and, because I never got an answer, I would end up so exhausted and numb. Without an answer, there was no certainty, and without certainty, there was nothing for me to hold onto so I could calm myself down.
But I was lucky, and because I know there are others out there who will not have stumbled into the kind of luck I did, I am writing this post to help you find peace. I was lucky as I met a person who once was in a similar boat to me, and I was able to ask them all of my why questions. What I did not expect is that they wouldn’t answer a single one. Instead, they gave me a piece of advice that has helped me find certainty in situations where I thought there would be none.
If you notice you are asking yourself ‘why?’, ask ‘what?’ or ‘how?’ to find an answer instead.
At first, this seemed ridiculous to me, but when I actually implemented it into my life, it was beautiful. When asking myself ‘why did I say that to him?’, instead of searching for an answer that did not exist, I would ask myself ‘what will I do different next time?’. When asking myself ‘why can’t I motivate myself to leave my bed?’, I would follow up that question with ‘how will I motivate myself to get out of bed tomorrow?’.
Not only did these follow up questions actually have answers that could provide me with certainty, they stopped me from spiraling. Of course, I would never be able to find an answer to the original question, but receiving an answer to a related question provided me with some relief, and slowly it has been allowing me to accept that my ‘why’ questions will never have answers.
The next time you find yourself asking ‘why?’, try asking ‘what?’ or ‘how?’ instead. I know that it’s not easy, even now I still find myself asking impossible questions and avoiding the ‘what’ and ‘how’ questions because all I want is an answer to what I am really pondering. It is likely that the ‘why’ questions will still remain at the back of your mind, but if you implement this strategy, they may slowly start to bother you less.
I wish you all the luck in the world on your journey to finding certainty because believe me, it is a wonderful feeling, and I cannot wait for you to experience it too.