My recent mental craziness centers around two types of problems: the What-Ifs and the Shoulds. As an explanation, for the last however many weeks since my upsetting MRI, I’ve been playing a not so fun game in my head that goes something like this:
- What if I wake up and can’t feel my legs or arms?
- What if I am confined to a wheelchair?
- What if I start to experience cognitive decline?
- What if I can’t keep doing my job?
- What if I get to the point where I can’t work at all?
These panicky questions are often followed by or related to a series of self criticisms:
- I should have been able to work over 40 hours this week without feeling exhausted
- I should be able to work during the week and still do fun things on the weekend
- I should have been able to walk the loop at the park without my ankle locking up
- I should have been able to swim for more than a half mile before feeling tired
Basically, my brain is running through all my current fears about my disease. I am a control-oriented person and this disease has removed a large part of that control from my life. It has also caused me to re-think my definition of myself and my expectations. I used to be someone who loved to work. Stressful situations energized me, long hours didn’t faze me, and I always knew I could push myself a little harder. That is clearly no longer the case.
I could feel myself getting more and more sad as these thoughts ran through my brain and I knew it was counter productive. So, recently my husband and I sat down and talked through my fears:
- What if I wake up and can’t feel my legs or arms? – We would go to the hospital. We talked through which hospital and who would be notified.
- What if I am confined to a wheelchair? – We live in a single story home, so although there would need to be changes, they wouldn’t be too extreme and we discussed the few updates that would be needed.
- What if I start to experience cognitive decline? – I joined Lumosity shortly after my diagnosis. Right now I have only one brain lesion. My hope is that the lesions will stay minimal and if I continue playing Lumosity daily, I would (in theory) be able to notice a downward trend very early & discuss it with my doctor.
- What if I can’t keep doing my job? – We discussed the possibility of me working limited hours or working one day a week from home to try to continue in my current position as long as possible.
- What if I get to the point where I can’t work at all? – This would be a worst case scenario for me as I have realized that much of myself is wrapped up in my job and doing that well. All the same, we looked at a budget and talked about what it would mean to us financially for me not to work.
Although the conversation was uncomfortable, in a short time we were able to talk through each of the large concerns I have and come up with rudimentary plans or at least early thoughts for each. It doesn’t change my level of control, but makes me feel more confident that if any of those situations presented themselves, we would manage to work our way through it.
So, I’m left with the Shoulds and I’m still not entirely sure how to handle them. I am setting up expectations for myself that are not necessarily realistic and I need to come to terms with that. I am very afraid that I will switch from the woman who worked full time, got a masters degree and simultaneously started a home based business to a woman who sits at home and complains about what she can no longer do. Instead of thinking about those fears, I need to try to refocus on little victories. Every day that I manage to go swimming or do yoga should be a considered a success regardless of the distance or time. Every day that I work, even a short day, is a good day. If we manage to do one fun thing every weekend, that should be something to celebrate even if it means that one day a week is spent resting just at home.
I imagine this is all part of acceptance and I’ll get there with time, but it is still a frightening journey.