Monday, May 22, 2017

Out of Control

My Dad is having surgery tomorrow. And that really scares me. He has been in the hospital twice in the past few months and this will be his third visit. He has been struggling with health issues that seem to build on each other. We are hoping the surgery will be the last hurdle that he has to overcome before he can start moving toward a more complete recovery, even if he's not able to get his full functioning back.

It is hard to believe that just a few months ago my Dad was walking. And driving a car. And going to the store on his own. And taking care of my nieces and nephew after school. Now he can barely walk. And he's exhausted all the time. When it comes to your muscles, it seems to be a 'use or or lose it' proposition, especially as you get older. The same is true of your mental capacity. Everything with my Dad seems to be changing. And I am not sure what to do.

My Mom called me yesterday to tell me that she was selling my car. Well, technically it is my Dad's car now. I sold it to them a few years ago for the hefty price of $1. The car has been sitting in their driveway since my Dad got sick. During the winter, he would try to remember to hit the remote start button once a week and let the engine run, but with the latest string of hospitalizations and doctors appointments, the car has taken a backseat to other priorities. Eventually, the battery wore down and now it won't start.

I never really wanted to give up that car. When I got my last corporate job, the final one that made me sick, it came with a Director's car bonus. I had a monthly car allowance to buy or lease any vehicle I wanted, as long as it was from an American car company. My cute little white Mazda 3 did not qualify for the car allowance, so I sold it to my parents and got a Lincoln. I always resented having to give up my Mazda to drive that boat of a Lincoln. It was just one more reason that I hated my corporate job.

When my Mom told me she was going to sell my car, I had this overwhelming feeling of anxiety. I texted her this morning to tell her that I would like to keep the car, but it was too late. She had already contacted a friend who agreed to buy it and he was picking it up in a few hours. I was driving from Cleveland up to Michigan when she texted me the news. My cute little white Mazda was gone. I burst into tears as I drove up I-75. I couldn't stop sobbing. I felt like a piece of me was being torn away. Not only was my car gone, but apparently so was any hope that my Dad might be able to drive again.

I went home and unpacked before picking up my nieces and nephew from school. I always pick up my nephew first and then we drive up the street to the other school to pick up my nieces. My nephew walked out of school and told me that he had a bad afternoon. He hated school and he hated doing math and he never wanted to go back there. I have had run-ins with his school before, so I really can't blame him. But he still has to go to school.

When we picked up my nieces, the stories weren't much better. My oldest niece who just turned 13 was cranky and my middle niece was telling the story of how a boy took her headset and plugged it into his computer and made loud music come out and everyone blamed her for it. She was upset and embarrassed. My niece has a lot of issues with people bullying her at school, mostly because she is super tall and lanky, and she's sort of clueless about social queues. All of that makes it tough for her to get along with the other kids.

When you have multiple kids in the car and everyone has had a bad day, it can be a long ride home. Even if the ride is literally five minutes. I tried my best to get everyone settled down and eventually my sister came home and I was able to get out of there. Usually I love to spend time with my nieces and nephew, but combining their negative energy with my already depleted energy did not make for the best visit.

By the time I got home tonight, I was feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. I decided to take a walk and clear my head. There is a spot in the park where I sometimes like to go and meditate. It is a small clearing among rows of tall, billowing oak trees that are probably over 100 years old. I perched up on top of one of the picnic tables and started to breathe. My meditation felt chaotic at first. There were birds chirping above me. The wind was blowing all around me. I could hear the chatter of a group of guys playing basketball on the court behind me. And there were kids ringing a bell on the playground over and over again.

As I sat there cross-legged on the table, I started to think about my Dad again. What if something happens and he doesn't recover from the surgery? What if he gets sicker? What if he dies? How would my Mom handle that? How would the rest of us handle that? Then I started to wonder if me having all of these thoughts could possibly cause something to happen to him. Like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In therapy, we call it awfulizing. The tendency to overestimate the potential for negative consequences as a result of a situation or event. It often feels like a spiral to me. My worries and fears just build on each other until they are spinning out of control. And today, the feeling was exacerbated by the surrounding noise at the park and the wind rushing past me as I sat there trying to come back to my breath.

Then I heard the voice inside me say: "I am not in control of what happens." 

Suddenly all of my thoughts just stopped. I still felt the wind washing over me and I could sense the presence of everything else around me, but it was all softer now. I felt relieved.

I'm not in control of what happens to my old car. I'm not in control of what happens to my nieces and nephews as they grow up. And I am not in control of what happens to my Dad tomorrow. I am not in control of anything.

While that idea can be liberating, it is also confusing. As I walked back from the park, I thought about the times when I set an intention for myself and it came true. Whether it was meeting Mark Johnson or being able to start my own business as a writer. Even if I am not in control of what happens, I must have some level of involvement in shaping my future.

While I believe in the power of positive thinking, I also recognize that I am just one person. My intention is just one of many intentions that blend together to shape the will of the universe. And my previous intentions only came to fruition because they were in harmony with the intentions of the universe. I have set an intention many times that I would like to win the lottery, but that one never seems to come true. At least it hasn't yet.

Life is an ongoing dialogue between the Self and the Universe. It is a balance between acting and reacting. Thinking and feeling. Knowing and wondering. Maybe the voice was trying to help me see that I have fallen out of balance. Placing too much of the burden on myself and not having enough faith in the wisdom of the universe.

Tomorrow when my Dad goes in for surgery, I will be there waiting. And hoping for the best. Because that's all I can do.

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