Finding a bit of control

In our home, we’ve been without access to internet for well over 24 hours as I write this. There are two things top of mind for me right now; the situation in Ukraine and the situation with my body.

In both cases, I feel unsettled not knowing what is going on and what is going to happen next. And in both cases, a large part of me is inclined to feel out of control, like a disconsolate bystander, helpless to help make things better.

Helplessness is such a rotten feeling. There’s nothing you can do about it. Being helpless is like being paralyzed. It’s sickness. The cure calls for a monumental effort to stand up and start walking somewhere, anywhere. But that takes some doing.

Chuck Barris

With the chemo and radiation therapy sessions behind me (yay!), today I turned my attention to the hormonal therapy I was prescribed to reduce the natural production of estrogen in my body. I took the first tamoxifen pill this morning. And I will be taking it daily for the next five years or until I switch to another, similar, drug.

While I had done some research on the different hormonal therapies earlier, my focus had been on efficacy and long-term benefits. Now I reviewed the indications sheet that comes with the pills and admit reading the long list of common to rare side effects left me disheartened. Omg, the potential assaults just don’t end! Every part of my body, from eyes, gut, and liver to uterus are now vulnerable. Will I ever again feel like the strong healthy me I’m used to being?

My doctors have told me (and I feel) that I’ve tolerated quite well the monstrous medical remedies I’ve undergone to date. Yet it’s been no walk in the park and I’ve had this overwhelming impression and recurring notion that the cure is harder than the disease.

My head knows that is not true. The tumor in my breast may not have given me any pain, but I don’t even want to think about the agony one suffers with the types of cancers my treatments are intended to prevent—bone, brain, liver, or lung. And hence my commitment to the full program.

So, now I step back and I think, am I really without any control? And how much control is it I really need to live joyfully?

Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over instead of craving control over what you don’t.

Steve Maraboli (Life, the Truth, and Being Free)

I decided to list the ways I do have control.

  1. I can breathe and stay in the present. I acknowledge that right here and now I am physically safe from harm and without significant pain.
  2. I can tolerate the itchiness of the raw chest rash, the bloated ankles, and the tingling in the tips of my fingers and toes, and I don’t have to let those discomforts interfere with my feelings of overall well-being and joy.
  3. I can focus on the countless things I have to be grateful for—my honey’s devoted love and nurturing, my friends’ generosity and gentle caring, my interesting work with kind clients, a roof over my head and food on the table…
  4. I can look for wonderFULL things that I know make me smile—a flower in bloom, a sunset, the sound of music and wind moving our chimes, the taste of dark chocolate, words of wisdom, and my honey’s smile.
  5. I can choose to continue using my mental capacities and research skills to contemplate and decide what courses of action are best for me.
  6. I can admit to myself that the weight of the world and its many wicked problems do not rest on my shoulders alone. I do my best to participate, to care, and to take the baby steps within my power to help make this a better world.
  7. I can help in my small way to support friends active on the ground in northern Moldova caring for women and children who have crossed the border to seek refuge from the unjustifiable war in Ukraine. One such way is to share their fundraiser on Facebook or their website.

There is a great deal in our lives we do not have control over—not the weather or climate, not global or even local politics, not other people’s beliefs or actions… and so much more. At times (when I fail to seek balance) it seems we are living in a dystopian age and for many that raises their level of anxiety.

By focusing on the areas I can control, my feelings of helplessness are substantially reduced.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s how I choose to live my life, how I choose to frame or react to the difficult and even traumatic events I face, that determines my happiness.

I don’t suggest that anyone dismiss painful emotions like fear and anger that inevitably pop up now and then. Those emotions are real and have a purpose; denying or rejecting them can lead to more mental health complications. People much more knowledgeable than me on this topic advise that we befriend those emotions and try to learn what they are telling us.

Mindfulness: Taking a balanced approach to negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated. We cannot ignore our pain and feel compassion for it at the same time. Mindfulness requires that we not “over-identify” with thoughts and feelings, so that we are caught up and swept away by negativity.

Brené Brown

I know that for me, in times of stress, I sometimes vent. Passionate rants are a way for me to let off steam and clarify my thoughts. Other times I just sit with my inflamed emotions until they dissipate, as they usually do when there’s no imminent danger, and don’t act on them immediately. Then I wonder what are the underlying causes for them, looking deeper beyond the obvious. And finally, I ask whether there is anything I can or need to do to manage any of the causes.

As an example, the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine made my blood boil with anger and my heart break with compassion for the individuals and families affected by the violence. But I know my emotions alone are quite useless and can make me feel powerless. Stepping up to contribute to a solution, by donating time or money or skills, is the part I have control over. And by taking even those baby steps in solidarity, my emotions are calmed. I let go of the rest.

Another example: I’m done writing this post and our access to the internet has not yet returned. Rather than sit here and stay thoroughly annoyed over something I have no control over at all, I’ll go read a good book.

Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat.

Ralph Ellison (Invisible Man)

Do you ever feel helpless? How do you handle situations you’re not able to control?

PS. It certainly was an interesting experience to go without internet access for 32 hours. I got needed work done that I usually set aside.

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  • I too felt a great downward pull of helplessness with the world’s news. My daughter suggested I take a few days off from news media and social media. I did that this past week and felt my spirits settle and return to empowerment. All I can do is continue to try to make the world a better place. Being friendly, kind, supportive of others, and teaching my students how to resolve conflict in positive ways are some of the many small acts I can continue to do daily.

    Usually my quest for control during times of stress have involved cleaning, tidying, sorting,gardening, downsizing household items and clothing, and generally having a cleaning frenzy. This is not helpful at this time. The problems are too big.

    • Your daughter–and *you*–are wise, Jennie. We start our helping by helping ourselves. I’ve long believed that our strength comes from our happiness. If a cleaning frenzy grounds you, then that’s the perfect place to start. The rest will flow naturally. You rock! 🌸💜🌸

  • A good reminder as so many of us feel out of control, especially when the unexpected arises, especially if it is unpleasant. I am appalled but not surprised by Putin. I am unhappy with a diagnosis. I am irritated that the doctor is seeing someone else while I wait. I am perturbed that my Internet cuts out often. The echo is “I am I am I am I am.”
    The bottom line is that we really are not in control. We may or may not bee able to have an impact on external events. The issue is how to get used to it. We can take decisions, and they may or may not work out. Getting comfortable with not having control is the ultimate answer. Few of us ever get there. Yet it is the ultimate control not over external events, but over internal ones–which may be the only thing that really matters.
    Listening to my helper tell the driver when to stop, go, turn, etc. I can be irritated or laugh. She can’t drive, but giving instructions gives her a sense of control.

    • Your poor driver! 😅 Being a backseat driver may give your helper a feeling of control, but at what cost? How does your driver feel?

      I think you hit the proverbial nail on the head with “Getting comfortable with not having control is the ultimate answer.” For me, the same goes with not knowing the “why” of big things. Reality bites, doesn’t it? I’m with you, Jill, that it’s working with our inner self that matters most. Yet as social and compassionate animals, we must engage as best we can with the external. Thanks for reading and sharing. 🌸🙏🌸

  • I am so blessed to be invited to share in your journey that is an example of “strength being made perfect in weakness”. Your willingness to share out of your vulnerability, celebrating life even while it is knocking you around encourages me to keep on keeping on. Thank you.

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