When I left home and started my own household almost two decades ago, I noticed that I began to do this thing where I would think about a possible tragic scenario and then think about how I would handle it if it actually happened.
Yes, I have anxiety.
Someone I knew lost her husband, or baby, or mother? An acquaintance was diagnosed with cancer or diabetes or depression? I would project myself into their position and picture my response to the situation they were facing.
“If that happened to me, this is what I would do,” I would deliberate to myself. I planned out big life changes—moves, downsizing, therapy, even more education. I considered the loss and sadness I would feel, and I pictured myself acknowledging these things and allowing myself time to dwell in grief before moving forward with the Big Life Changes.
There are several reasons why this process was so, so dumb.
One reason? It’s one thing to sit in a safe, neutral position, away from the vortex of a life in upheaval, and think clearheadedly about how to proceed. It’s quite another thing to be whipped around in the hurricane.
In my young musings about hardship, I forgot to account for survival.
My process of planning a life after tragedy was inadequate because it preemptively bypassed the swimming-amid-huge-waves-of-chaos phase. It skipped over barely surviving and moved directly to thriving!
I didn’t know. I just didn’t know.
I didn’t know that when hard things hit and difficulty becomes the new normal, there is a lot of just hanging on. Also, there is much more trial and error (and failure) than simply checking off the boxes of moving forward.
Thinking about how one will handle a difficult situation without ever having before experienced it doesn’t equal being ready for it. It might be an interesting exercise, but it cannot prepare you for when the bottom actually drops out.
In all my contingency planning for various disasters, I thought that thinking and organizing could help me with whatever came my way. But there are some levels of preparedness that don’t exist.
You can’t be ready for some things.
After Jack was born, our life was scrambled by developmental delay, autism, and M-CMTC syndrome. I found that complete preparation for raising a disabled person is an illusion. How can one be ready for one’s life to figuratively burn to the ground and then start over differently, with global limitations?
After Charlie was born, Jack rejected him, screaming and throwing things literally every time he and his baby brother were in the same room together. My body and mind were in a constant state of unsettledness. Survival mode. “You handle it so well,” people would tell me. They were being kind, but I was merely surviving.
After Truman was born, we were beyond the pale. We had had yet another child after Jack, which, to outsiders, possibly looked like potentially the most counter-intuitive thing we could ever do. But we did it—intuitively. We had to do it. Truman was the Manifest Destiny of our family’s expansion.
So what can a person learn from my unusual life? Is it a cautionary tale? An unintentional-yet-effective form of birth control? Are the things I write merely a perspective-enhancer for other people? Are we a three-ring circus? A traveling zoo train? A freak show?
Dutch and the boys and I have learned a few things.
Mainly that life prepares you during the challenge, not before.