Letting the other shoe drop

Learning to enjoy the present in the face of anxiety

Image by: Herbert Wang
Julian reflects on his journey of living life in the moment.

Many of us are familiar with the common expression “wait for the other shoe to drop.” Sometimes I feel like I’ve spent my entire life waiting for the other shoe to drop.

The phrase is loosely defined as anticipation for a seemingly inevitable and undesirable event, often used as a general warning to those showing signs of careless hubris, cautioning them to be wary of potential repercussions.

On the surface, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the idiom or its sentiment—it holds merit. But for me, this phrase has become both a justification for and encapsulation of the misguided perspective that’s governed my day-to-day life.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve navigated life with an inexplicable sense of worry and dread for some abstract, ominous threat looming on the horizon. My fearful anticipation of these imagined future consequences creeps into my experience of the present, and I find myself incapable of fully enjoying anything without an overwhelming feeling of guilt and fear for the future. I feel that letting my guard down and enjoying any moment too freely is naive and overconfident, and this naivety will be unavoidably—maybe even deservedly—met with negative ramifications.

“Be careful, the other shoe is bound to drop,” I remind myself, time and time again. It always does, I can’t avoid it, and it’s better for me to brace myself for something bad to happen than be blindsided by it.

By anticipating the inevitable other shoe that’s bound to drop, I hope my preparedness will soften the blow, weaken the humiliation and disappointment when the inevitable eventually comes. But the reality is, by expecting the worst to happen in a bid to protect myself from experiencing disappointment or shock, any bad occurrence only serves to justify my anxieties and reinforce the futile cycle of groundless fear.

This reasoning is a trap—a tempting cycle to fall into, but an unhealthy approach to life. You can’t spend your whole life waiting for the other shoe to drop—not because life is perfect and concerns are unwarranted, but because life is inherently messy and imperfect. Worrying is natural.

But life is full of shoes about to drop, and more often than not, waiting for their impact does little to prevent their occurrence. Hiding behind a wall of ceaseless apprehensiveness might feel protective, almost comforting. You might think living with your guard up, always prepared for the worst, is the most pragmatic approach to life.

I constantly find myself justifying my unfaltering pessimism on the grounds of realism. I look around at people seemingly happier than me, who navigate life not with guardedness and negativity toward the future, but with relaxation and presence, and convince myself their carefree nature is naive and idealistic. Though they might be happier than me now, they’ll be blindsided by their impending misfortune, they won’t see it coming like I do.

I rationalize my incessant worry, hoping to ease its exhausting weight by imagining how it will eventually serve to my benefit, but it never does. I carry this dread with me every day, allowing my fear of the future to poison my enjoyment of the present, yet the future remains unpredictable.

My preparation for the worst is never rewarded, only replaced by new fears and anxieties. Life is full of shoes that could drop, and if you spend all your time searching and waiting, you’ll find them. Once something undesirable occurs or an unwanted challenge arises, I feel a misconceived sense of satisfaction.

I tell myself: “see, I knew something bad had to happen. At least I expected it. I was right to feel anxious. My worries were justified.”

This is how the cycle continues. By constantly anticipating the worst, I perceive any negative occurrence as proof my fears were justified. But the strain of maintaining this pessimistic outlook across days, weeks, months, and years is damaging, not only for me but for the people around me.

I’m aware of how tiring this overly negative demeanour is for the people who care about me and hear me spout my unfounded worries every day. And I want to change. To learn to be present and happy in the moment, to experience unbridled joy and excitement without relentless dread for the future. But change is hard.

When you think one way for so long, you become ingrained in the nuances of your perspective. I’ve become fixed in the habits of circular reasoning, convoluted justifications, and reinforcements driving my misguided convictions. Change demands a restructuring of how you think, perceive, and judge the world around you. The first step to the process of restructuring is recognition and self-awareness.

Funnily enough, after spending my entire life waiting for the other shoe to drop, I finally decided to research the phrase in its context, to see if anyone else felt this way.

As it turns out, many do. In fact, the feeling the phrase describes has become nearly synonymous with the diagnosis of anxiety because it aptly captures the essence of impending doom. It reflects the insatiable need to be in control that consumes all logic.

Part of me always sensed this feeling was anxiety-related, but I chose to articulate and conceptualize it in a playful aphorism out of a mistaken judgement and stigmatization of the word anxiety and its connotations of fragility and self-indulgence. Explaining that I always feel like the other shoe is about to drop feels more digestible than acknowledging I experience constant anticipatory anxiety.

For so long, anxiety felt like a bad word and an overgeneralized diagnosis I thought I could outrun with enough rationalization. But justification and avoidance are detrimental when it comes to issues of mental health. Anxiety isn’t something that can be simply ignored. It won’t go away if you pretend it doesn’t exist or refuse to acknowledge how it makes you feel based on some grossly misguided perception that it makes you appear fragile or selfish.

I’ve struggled with these notions in the past and continue to work on them today, and I encourage anyone who relates to do the same. It’s okay to acknowledge your emotions, fears, and anxieties. It’s also okay to express them to the people who support you, or to seek help elsewhere. None of this makes you weak, nor a burden on others.

Make a conscious effort to be present in the moment, to feel unrestricted joy, happiness, and excitement. You’re allowed to be happy, to feel things are good without guilt. This doesn’t mean life will always be perfect—life is full of challenges and imperfections. More shoes will drop in the future, but if you spend every moment anticipating and lamenting the inevitable bad the future might bring, you’ll rob yourself of the joy and beauty the present has to offer.

I want to note this piece isn’t a retrospective reflection on how I successfully conquered anxiety—far from it. I’ve just begun to acknowledge my shortcomings and how to address them. I still routinely contradict my own sentiments, feed into my negative thoughts, and backslide to my flawed justifications. This piece represents the ways I want to think naturally, without conscious effort. But real change takes effort, time, and persistence. I am trying—maybe now that it’s in writing, I’ll try harder.


Anxiety, Cycle, Postscript, reflection

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