Difficult Choices

As a younger person, I lived in terror of making the wrong decision. When my mother was still alive, we’d dissect every option in front of me before I had to decide. I’d call her a handful of times a day. Tell her my problem. She’d steer me in the direction she wanted.

You belong here not there. You should do this not that. Make a list. Evaluate.

Hearing her tell me what to do provided tremendous relief. She was my mother. She wouldn’t steer me wrong.

But she was just guessing too. She was relying on her instincts, her biases, her fears, her expectations of who I was and who I should be. She was not teaching me how to make choices on my own, or how to be confident in my ability to discern what’s best for me at a given time. This dynamic is 100 percent normal.

Becoming an adult means learning how to steer your own ship.

No one can predict the outcomes of a choice. Sometimes choices can feel like life or death. Sometimes they are life or death. And yet, we have to decide. We have to go left or right or backwards or forwards or nowhere. We have be uncertain. We have to not know. We have to wonder and guess. We have to Google and stop Googling.

Being human is hard.

A therapist I used to see told me there were “no wrong decisions, only choices.” There’s truth in that statement. It’s also a little bullshitty. There are wrong decisions. We usually know what they are, even if we rationalize them. I’ve made a handful of terrible decisions. Sometimes I regret them. Sometimes I don’t.

I’m being vague in this post because there’s a difficult choice I need to make by summer’s end.

I will not go into the details. I will only share that this decision involves treatment for an autoimmune disease I have developed either as a result of Lyme, or concurrently with Lyme.

Thank you for not asking me for more information. Thank you for not saying “Get well soon.” Thank you for not talking to me about “getting control of inflammation.” My bloodwork shows no inflammation. I have worked so hard at getting control of inflammation.

Thank you for not foisting miracle cures or supplements or prayers on me. I’ve read the studies, the latest books. I’m an expert researcher and a smart person. I can understand and negotiate complexity.

Thank you for respecting my right to process difficult experiences through writing and to make decisions regarding my own medical care. Even though I am overwhelmed by this news and the choice I must make, I trust my ability to steer my own ship.

I do not feel sick. I do not identify as ill. I run multiple times a week at 6:00 a.m. I ride my bike whenever I can. I lift weights and take long walks and marvel at beautiful birds whose names I don’t know.

I visit with friends and binge-watch historical dramas on Netflix. (This one’s so good!) I plan vacations and write syllabi and enroll in classes and work on my book, which I swear I will finish and publish.

If I seem a little bitchy or defensive today, it’s only because I want to share this news. It’s too much to hold on my own. But I also cannot hold how this information is received. I cannot manage other people’s ideas about chronic illness. Being an adult means holding your own junk without spilling it onto other people. Writing helps me keep a tight lid on my junk. Writing helps me remember I am strong.

The last night of her life, my mother and I talked by phone about a difficult decision I needed to make. We talked about her illness too, how she’d started dialysis at a new place.

“I’m going to be okay,” she’d said. That was the second-to-last thing she ever told me. It was one of her last gifts. Hope.

I’ve carried this gift when I’ve gone left or right or forwards or backwards or nowhere without her.

It’s the map I’ve read a thousand times.

It’s the lamp I turn on in the middle of the night when I can’t call her.

It’s the song I listen to when I’m deciding what to do.

It’s the silence between knowing.

And not knowing.

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