I like to be in control. I always have. It’s probably part of the reason why my mother-in-law and I took so long to forge a meaningful relationship. If there’s one thing you don’t want when you are a bit of a control freak mama, it’s a control freak daughter-in-law; a recipe for potential disaster. But somehow we make it work (love you Grammy). But beyond that, control has always grounded me and helped me to navigate through the fog of anxiety. Believing that I was consistently in control of my own situation allowed me to feel safer in a world that has continually left me trembling. I think it is part of the reason I hate flying so much – the lack of control. Then there were the aspects to control that I never took time to think about because they were – as I believed – non-negotiable; the control of my own body. To relinquish control of something can be challenging. But to have it taken from you is like having the ground disappear from underneath you – trust me, I know the feeling all too well.
On the day of my accident there were two ways in which I felt that I lost control of my life. One was obviously the power I had over my own body: my legs, bladder and bowels. The second was more complex – and harder for me to identify at first – but it was closely bound to my anxiety. I felt as though I had lost control over mine and my family’s safety. I had believed before that being cautious, aware and in control of any situation would keep me (and those I loved most) out of harm’s way. I never went looking for trouble and I was never reckless. I believed that it was my decisions and cautious nature that kept us all safe. I quickly discovered that I had made all of that up simply to make myself feel better. Because even the most cautious person is not immune to the unexpected.
With the realization that control is mostly just an illusion, I had to learn a much more difficult aspect of the human experience: trust. Trust in people, trust in the world and trust in my body. Where I used to be confident that I could control every situation in my life – from the way my children are cared for by others to the safety of walking in my own backyard to knowing when my bladder was full – I was now more hesitant and skeptical than ever of the world around me and the abilities within myself. After my accident, I realized that if I didn’t trust, I would never leave my house.
Take driving for instance. I can really only control what is happening in my own vehicle. I have to trust that every other driver on the road is acting in the safest way possible and that I will get to my destination unharmed. But I have no control over another person who chooses to text, do their make-up or partake in any other distraction while driving (the most recent one I saw was someone tying their turban while driving which definitely looked like a two-handed task). Thinking of trust in this way opened my eyes to all of the ways we have faith in the world around us so that we can continue to be present and fulfilled in our lives.
Accidents happen. They happen at home, at work, in the car, playing sports and basically anywhere else you can imagine. But we continue to climb up ladders for Christmas lights, head to work every day, drive without a second thought and participate in our favourite physical pastimes. Shootings happen. But we continue to go to concerts, go to church, send our children to school and otherwise carry on with the day-to-day. We do all of this because we trust that the bad stuff won’t happen to us. And while the “it won’t happen to me” mentality is dangerous when choices become unsafe and lifestyles become toxic, but it is important and maybe even necessary in our daily lives as it allows us all to keep going. Even with my anxiety and the added stress that it brings to my life, I still continue to participate because – deep down – I trust.
Then there is the aspect of trusting my own body. I have lost control of things that I could never have imagined before my accident. Through routines and medications I have been able to have faith in a schedule for my bowel and bladder, but that’s all it is – a schedule. I have control over the measures I put in place to make everything as reliable as possible, but in the end, I have zero control if my body decides to do its own thing. I was reminded of this fact again recently when we were out for dinner with friends and a bladder infection hit me out of nowhere with a massive leak. When living in those moments I feel like I will never leave my house again. But time-after-time I trust the schedule and I trust that I’ve done what I can to give myself the best chance and I know that the rest really isn’t up to me.
This post isn’t meant to say that I don’t still try and control the little things in my life. Let’s not talk crazy here! Once-a-control-freak-always-a-control-freak. I started writing this because I was angry at yet another shooting causing me to play another round of “all of the ways my kids could be hurt in the world that I can do nothing about”; I was angry that I don’t have control over the safety of those who I love. I started writing this because I was angry after that last public bladder leak and infection; I was angry that I don’t have control over my body. And on top of that, I want to get over the injustice I feel about that control being taken from me. I didn’t have the power to relinquish that control – in one quick moment it was just gone. But I do have the power to relinquish the anger and resentment that flare up every time that lack of power stares me in the face. In a way, I can take back control of the situation by handling each misadventure with as much grace as I can manage.
Control has a way of spilling over into so many aspects of our lives. A little bit of control is a good thing (someone needs to make sure that crap gets done!). But it can become overpowering and exhausting if you let it. I think the trick is to find the balance between control and trust: control what you can (what is reasonable) and trust what you cannot. I never imagined the two being connected before but now I truly believe that they are intertwined. Not having control over my body is something I will always miss. But the more effort I put into learning how to cope, the more manageable it becomes. Not having control over the world, well, that is a terrifying concept. But the fact of the matter is that nobody does. So instead of compensating by controlling our own personal worlds a little too tightly, let’s instead try to relinquish some of that artificial control and seek out more trust: trust in our families, trust in our friends and trust in our communities. I highly recommend keeping your bladder control though – that one has no negative results.