Sunday, September 1, 2013

Worry and surrender

“We spend precious hours fearing the inevitable. It would be wise to use that time adoring our families, cherishing our friends, and living our lives.”
 ~Maya Angelou

Worrying doesn’t accomplish anything. We all know that. But does that stop us from worrying? No, not usually.

I sat down last night to write about what I’d learned about worrying (and the futility of it) while I was in LA. Wow, look how far I've come. Look what I've learned, I thought. And, boy, that's when I found I had unleashed a monster.

"Nature abhors a vacuum."
~Mark Miller

While my worries regarding Ben are over and done (and none of them came true, by the way) I suddenly had space in my life for a new worry to move in. And the Universe did not disappoint. This worry makes my heart clench and my stomach lurch. I spent all of last night tossing and turning and dreaming sad dreams about it. I woke up with intense upper back pain and felt sick. I was in the hot tub soaking it all away two times before 2 pm. I meditated on it over and over and, finally, I had to surrender it, surrender myself.

I give up. I’m coming out with my hands up. I’m here right now. There’s nothing I can do about this worry. It’s not something I can change. I can imagine all sorts of horrible endings to the story, but there’s just nothing I can do right now that will impact what it is. So I have to let my worries go. 

“If you have fear of some pain or suffering, you should examine whether there is anything you can do about it. If you can, there is no need to worry about it; 
if you cannot do anything, then there is also no need to worry.”
~Dalai Lama XIV

I know they’re there but they aren’t on the forefront of my vision. They’ve gone into a sort of uncomfortable slumber state.

About three weeks before Ben’s surgery I texted our family therapist to see when he’d be in town so we could make an appointment for Ben. Steve moved to Boulder, CO with his family a few years ago but has continued to come out here for long weekends of office hours about every three weeks or so. We’ve been seeing Steve since Harry was eight, that's 12 years now, and he’s been there for us through some very hard times: our move to Sonoma county, Mark’s father’s sudden death, Ben’s brain surgeries, and on. Steve is an amazing therapist who thinks outside the box, encouraged Harry to try meditation, has extended sessions, and works with us however it feels right at the moment, individually, or in family clusters. He’s even come up to our house for a family session, taken Harry target shooting, and taught Harry how to ride his bike 12 years ago. Steve is unique and caring. He’s quite beloved by each of us.

Even though Steve told Mark he’d be in town before we left for LA, he never got back to me about when he’d be there. I still hadn’t heard from him even by the day of Ben’s surgery. I texted him again, saying Ben was about to roll in. I texted him again when Ben came out.

And then I forgot about it, ensconced as I was in the here and now, Ben’s pain levels, my own breathing, recovery.

At some point I called him, thinking, Maybe he’s not getting my texts for some reason. Maybe I should see if his phone is working. When I didn’t hear back I sent him an email. Maybe it is the phone.

When we were out of the woods, surgically speaking, I started to think about how odd it was that I hadn’t heard from him. Mark had told me Steve said he’d be in town and also that he and his family were finally moving back to the Bay Area. That’s all Mark knew, so the rest of my scenario is conjecture: they’d be coming back in time for their daughter to start school some time in August or early September.

Maybe he’s just super busy. Maybe the move got crazy. Maybe he lost his phone in a packing box and still hasn’t found it.

My mind, when I gave it the space, started to whirl about what would be the reason Steve would not call or text or email. At the same time one part of my mind would chastise the other part: How can you think such thoughts? You're making this into a big drama!

Honestly, it’s not that I needed to talk to him. Ben was doing great, I was doing great. All of it went well. It’s just that Steve has been there for us and with us for so many of these huge hurdles and he’s cared so much for each of us. It is hard to fathom how he could just miss it. Just not check in. Not remember. Not see it on his calendar. I saw him write it on his calendar.

There’s another piece of the story that fits in here and that’s that Steve’s had his own medical issues to deal with over the past two years. It was mysterious for quite a while and finally was diagnosed as ALS. He’d suddenly lost muscle tone and use in one arm and shoulder. He went through a million tests and treatments, all the while still flying out to the Bay Area to see his patients every few weeks. And then, just as suddenly as it had started, it stopped and he started to regain some muscle strength. The ALS diagnosis was rescinded. Who knew what it was, but whatever it was it seemed to be in remission.

While all this was going on we were so worried. Our sorrow for Steve, for his family, for us. He was young (Mark’s age) and healthy otherwise. How could this happen? And then, of course, we were so happy to hear of the reversal. What a relief!

But, I still haven’t heard from Steve and it’s now been over two months since the last time he texted me back.

My worrying mind was gearing up in the past week as we returned home, Ben’s situation smoothed out and I had room to think other thoughts. I’ve tried to contact him in the only ways I can, but all of those lead to him…and there isn’t any sign that he’s there. I’m now so anxious about What Might Have Happened. I’ve even googled his name a million times. Nothing. I can’t think of another way to get information about him and so my worrying mind is going pretty crazy with stories. Here are some of them:
  1. He died from complications with his ailment.
  2. He was in a terrible accident.
  3. Someone else died…
  4. He is wrapped up in the move.
  5. He’s on a vacation and forgot to call us.

“Do not anticipate trouble, or worry about what may never happen. Keep in the sunlight.”
~Benjamin Franklin

Ok, yeah. I’m a catastrophizer. I go directly to the Worst Possible Scenario. I think I mentioned that in a previous post or two. But wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t you wonder why this person hasn’t contacted you at this time in your life? And the problem is that if it’s any of the catastrophic options it’s TERRIBLE. And if it’s that he just has been so busy that he forgot to contact us, well, (I'm embarrassed to admit) I think that’s sort of terrible too, I mean, seeing as what we were going through. But granted, it’s not nearly as terrible. Not nearly. I’ll take that option (but I might want an apology).

I’ve been in knots worrying about the possibilities. And last night I started to dream about him and I was a wreck by morning. Steve has been a part of our lives, has helped us heal and find greater clarity for so long. I’m not sure what to do.

And I can’t say anything to the boys. I can’t tell them what I’m worrying about because I don’t have any answers and I don’t want them to worry like I am…worrying with no foreseeable end in sight.
“Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.” 
~Leo Buscaglia

Finally, today I had a long talk with myself. I thought about what I had planned to write here on my blog just last night. Worrying is so pointless. All night I tossed and turned. You know how much worse a worry is at night. And all day I felt engulfed by sadness, the what if’s and oh please no’s. And then I had to tell myself (several times, because at first I couldn’t really hear it): You are here today. If the answer is A, then you will deal with it when you find out. If the answer is B, then you’ll deal with it when you find out. If the answer is C…and on and on. The story is that I can’t worry about why we haven’t heard from him. I can’t worry because there’s just nothing I can do about it. Eventually, I imagine he will contact me or someone will contact me. But until then, how can I just make up a story? What good is that?

When I was finally able to listen, when I was finally able to surrender to the reality that I am just here in this moment, I felt my tension ease. Surrender. Acceptance. It made a difference for the rest of my evening. I even laughed and had some fun.

I said it before, about Ben’s surgery, it’s not like I won’t worry about any problem that arises when (and if) it does in fact arise! I’ll have to worry then. I’ll have to DEAL with it then. And until then, all I’m doing is sapping my life of its power and its peace.

What a waste. And hopefully, a lesson learned.


Anonymous said...

Great thoughts and insights, Susie. And great quotes, too. I needed to hear all this stuff as well, as I seem to have developed insomnia this year, worrying about the future.

Kari said...

Insomnia is such a strange phenomenon I've been dealing with this year, too. Re: Steve, I don't know how therapists can do it all, listen, be helpful, get personally involved with each person or family, and separate out all this giving when they go home to their own families, illnesses, moves, troubles. Steve may be in need of support himself right now, and maybe only has it within himself to help the most urgent. Knowing you have a loving, supportive family at this time, perhaps he knows that you will be waiting for him when he is able to come back. Sometimes things in our lives can be just too difficult to negotiate and therapists are encouraged not to divulge such info. to their patients. But they're oh so human, the attachments we make with them so real, that when the going gets really tough for either party and the professional just cannot take on his role, patients are left wondering. I wish you knew, too, so you wouldn't worry. Personally, I'm guessing the illness and move, the constant traveling have been very difficult. There may be other issues at hand, too, like moving back to Bay Area may involve relationship issues, all of the unsettled problems of late may have caused depression, things which would make any connections very difficult. Reconnection may take awhile and understanding his difficulties, and resisting the label unprofessionalism may be really helpful to reestablish the wonderful relationship you guys had. Until you know more, maybe the compassionate route will help all involved. It's easier to breathe when thinkin that someone upon whom we've relied on for help, may be counterintuitively reaching out via solitude right now. I think you will hear from Steve when he is ready. It sounds like a terrible conflict in his own life coincided with Ben's surgery timing. Knowing the trust between you all, I think you can reestablish a loving relationship. I know you'd like to hear, now, and hopefully will soon. Love, Kari