Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Prickly Pain of Uncertainty

One of the gutsiest things I know of is to be able to tolerate uncertainty or ambiguity: do I go or stay? is the biopsy going to show trouble? will I win the Nobel? is he going nuts or just being mean? am I on next week's layoff list? And on and on like that.

A good deal of life is made up of that stuff. And a lot of the time it's important to be able to stay in an uncertain state long enough to make good decisions. By contrast: I remember once in my single years when I felt I'd be relieved for a romance to be over so I could stop fearing the end of it. So I hurried that process along.

Some things that help me in these fretful wobbly periods:
*meditating and exercising
*getting deep into work or some other trance-inducing activity
*telling myself I'll stop thinking about possible outcomes or choices until Tuesday of next week and then I'll get back to it
*doing some research on the question
*check items off a to-do list, whether or not they're relevant
*take any relevant action that might help
*whining to friend

Things that don't help:
*not eating
*scraping at my skin and other twitchy habits
*making big decisions that could wait
*getting into arguments that could wait

It doesn't take a big issue like a biopsy to trigger the limbo state. I remember my need to decide at the start of ninth grade about whether to sign up for French III. Mon Dieu! People have married and produced children with less obsessing.

I assume that when some little uncertainty goes big as French III did, that there's often a larger one underneath. Something like fear of death, fear of failure, fear of being a ninth grade dork, simply looking for a place to land. Could be the best thing is just to let it land and then sit it out.

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K.B. said...

I am not good at uncertainty. In fact, I'm so not good at uncertainty that I make everyone else miserable about my uncertainty, because I'm definitely a very yang sort of person. All my energy definitely goes outwards -- when I'm worried, everyone knows about it, when I'm upset, everyone knows about it, when I'm happy, everyone knows about it, when I'm in love, everyone knows about it...

It occurs to me that "boldness", or the lack thereof, really isn't much of a problem for me -- if anything, I usually need to know how to do "meek" a bit better.

There does come a point, I feel I must say, though, and not at anyone in particular but for anyone who might happen on this post, where it's important to know what is "normal" (for a given definition of "normal") and what is not. Anything that is verging upon "obsessional" or self-harm shouldn't be considered "normal", and help ought to be sought, even if it's the help of your friends to figure out whether you're within bounds or not.

I have one friend who thought it was perfectly normal to self-harm her skin when she was stressed about something. And when I say self-harm, I mean she was scraping, gouging, picking, needling, and knifing her skin until it bled, over and over again. She didn't truly realize this was not within the safe parameters of "normal" until another one of our friends happened to catch sight of her arms while they were in a changing room in a clothing store.

On the "easy to tell you've gone over the line" side, I've read somewhere about an ER nurse who had a patient come in with a bandage on her jaw. Apparently, the patient said, she'd over-picked at a blemish a bit. When they took the bandage off, the ER staff were horrified to be able to see the bone of her jaw.

I'm personally not a big fan of "normal". My adult life, I'm not sure why, has been spent around a fair number of people with various mental health issues from very mild to very bad, and "normal" has a pretty damn big range to me. But hurting one's self or throwing one's self into a fugue state shouldn't ever be considered normal, and so I thought it might be wise to say so while we're talking about the subject...

Hope that's not overstepping, Peggy! It's just I've a fair number of friends who suffered for ages because they didn't realize that what they were going through was something that they could find help for...

Peggy Payne said...

Not overstepping at all, K.B. In fact, I'm on meds for mild obsessive compulsive disorder. They take care of maybe 85% of such probs for me. So I deal "manually" with the rest. More meds makes me ditsy and forgetful: like getting out of the car and leaving it running. Can't have that.

I've read the kind of horror stories you're talking about and feel lucky not to have to deal with it to such a degree.

Your comment is quite insightful-- dead on. Didn't realize I was being quite so diagnosable.

K.B. said...

Well, honestly (so you know), it was the definition of "scraping at my skin" as a "twitchy habit". For most people, a twitchy habit is constantly shaking a foot about, or tugging at a lock of hair over and over again. :)

Really, though, I suspect that if someone was to somehow be able to reveal all the mental health issues that any given population might have, we'd find that it was actually "normal" to have some kind of mental health issue. The longer I live, the more I realize that most people have had, will have or are having some kind of mental health issue.

Personally, I think I might be a closet anorexic -- I can tell when I'm getting too overweight, but apparently I really can't tell when I'm getting too skinny.

Fortunately, this is not a life-threatening problem, as getting too skinny has only happened to me once in my entire life when I was living off the fumes of my paycheck when a starving (literally) actress in LA.

Peggy Payne said...

You have a good eye: or ear. Do you still do any acting?

K.B. said...

I can't remember who it was, but someone like the BBC or the NHS or something biggish over here in the UK did some kind of study and put some people in a room with some other people, and the second group was to guess which of the people in the group had any mental health issues.

The professionals waffled a lot (because, they discovered when they dug further, the professionals are aware that just about everyone has some problem somewhere), and the normal people tagged just about all the "official" subjects.

How? They said that all of the people they tagged used the language that is used by people who have been through therapy of some sort and have obviously thought about their issues in those terms. :)

No, I don't do acting professionally any longer -- other than of pretending socially, of course, like everyone else. ;)

Peggy Payne said...

I hardly know anyone who doesn't talk like a therapist (and then I'm married to one too) Frequently when I'm critiquing manuscripts I find chunks of psychobabble, which I recommend for deletion. It's so much part of the language now though.

K.B. said...

I think (warning: vast oversimplification and generalization ahead) there's often a certain kind of identifiable self-awareness (and by that I don't mean self-absorption, which is something else again) in those who have gone through the therapy process, or at least those who have been through an effective therapy process. While a lot of it is the language that they use, a lot of it is also simply that they have in fact examined some of their issues, and hopefully come to grips with some of them. It changes how they see the situations and people they are currently in, and it changes how they talk about them.

Oddly enough, I've found that, if you'll pardon another vast generalization, people who haven't examined their issues whether with the help of a therapist or otherwise tend to come across as more contradictory or sometimes even somewhat hypocritical in their conversations and complaints about other people over a period of time, as often the things that drive us most crazy about other people is what we're most unhappy with ourselves about.

Now that I think about it, in what's yet again a vast generalization (and a vast over-simplification), that self-absorption is something I think of as belonging to those at the beginning of the therapy process, or perhaps before the therapy process.

Okay, now I'm just nattering for no real reason, I think...

Peggy Payne said...

I've sometimes gotten to my best writing by beginning with nattering for no real reason. Just keeping the flow going. It's a form of hospitality, I think, that signals inward and outward.

K.B. said...

LOL -- I do that too...oh, the editing, though...!