Next

I’m not certain if control issues were inherited or ingrained, but my mother was the pinnacle of having things in order, and bits of her need to control all the things all the time were handed down to me, and I handed bits down to my daughter.

It isn’t always a bad thing to want to be prepared.  It isn’t always a bad thing to desire control over a situation.  As a person who felt they didn’t have autonomy and agency at many times in her history—and even in the present moment—I am a big supporter of having some control over what happens in my life.  I like to be prepared.  I like to know what is coming, whenever possible.

But I also know that life isn’t controllable.  Life isn’t boxed up neatly and organized and cleaned up and put into order.  Life is chaos.  Life is dynamic.  Life is unpredictable.  Choose your own adjective—but the point is, you cannot maintain control of all the things all the time.

For almost three years now, I’ve been living in a situation that magnifies a lack of control a thousand times.  It has not been easy for me.

It isn’t that I am just like my mother, and need all the preparations and all the order and seek them in an anxious and worried manner that cannot allow for others to see the internal chaos—the private chaos that all the preparations are meant to hide.  I also have, whether inherited or ingrained, my dad’s propensity for being laid back and letting life happen, while offering peace and calm and love to everyone around you as a counter-measure to life’s chaos.

One of my employers, many years ago, said of my dad, “Dave is the kind of man whose pants you could light on fire and he would say, ‘Hmm. It’s a bit warm in here.’”  And that was one of the best descriptions of my dad’s manner of being that I ever heard.  I’m not that chill and laid back, but I am at least, I believe, half that laid back.

But the other half.  The half from my mom.  The half that wants order and shuns chaos. That half is feeling tortured right now!

The living situation that magnifies my lack of control, and the dependence and humility and trust that not having that control forces me to develop, has, in many ways, helped me become less like my mother and more like my father.  I’ve started letting go of control.  I’ve started asking for help without shame.  I’ve started to trust in divine providence.  But the last few weeks of this living situation have brought out the control freak in the most unflattering ways.

After almost three years of waiting, I am now 25 days from my disability hearing.

25 days.

I’ve waited more than 25 months for this day.

And I am terrified, because I have no fucking clue what happens next.

The other day I emailed the paralegal that is working with my lawyer to prepare my case.  I asked him what my next steps were.  I asked him what I do now—after I dutifully went from doctor to doctor, asking if they agree that I am disabled and getting their detailed documentation on record when they did agree.

The paralegal said I do nothing.

Nothing.

Next I do nothing.

Oh. My. Fucking. God.

I am completely incapable of doing nothing with 25 days standing between me and the decision that determines how, or even if, I survive from this point forward.  I can’t do nothing while a stranger—a man I have never met—looks over all of those detailed documents and decides whether I get the assistance I need to live independently, or whether I am forced into some other sort of situation, where I don’t have the right to the freedom and independence that people who are not sick all the time take for granted.

That freedom and independence might not be granted in that courtroom.  Or maybe it will.

Either way, I don’t know what comes next.

This ominous unknown “next” is looming before me, and I am told that my response right now should be to do nothing.

I’m not doing well with that.  All the parts of me that desire control and preparation and order are screaming out in pain.  All the parts that need to know what to do and need to know how to best prepare for what is coming are feeling tortured.  I forget to breathe sometimes.  There is a tightness in my chest, on occasion, that I can’t be sure is from my current respiratory infection, because I have a suspicion that it is a sign of panic instead.

I emailed the paralegal again today.  I asked him what happens after.  What happens after I am awarded benefits?  Do I get them right away?  Do I have to wait even longer?  Does my fundraiser need to sustain me for two more months?  Eight more months?  When do I get the $21,000 that the state wrongfully withheld from me while they argued that I wasn’t “disabled enough” and could do “some unskilled work”, even though my medical records and my work history told a very different story?  On what day do I feel vindication and validation?

And what happens after if I don’t?  What happens if the judge does not offer me vindication and validation and $21,000 in back-payments?  What happens if I can’t work but the judge says I must?  What happens if I can’t hold down a “real” job for any significant length of time?  What happens when my physical and mental state deteriorate as I lose time for self-care and therapies and coping strategies that are essential to my wellbeing?  What happens when I become what I was three years ago—a bed-ridden mess of pain and mental anguish?  What then?

The part of me that needs to prepare and create order and keep things neat feels like she is being drowned.  She is choking on the unknown as she tries to remember how to breathe.  She is suffering and dying.

The part of me that is laid back and offers peace and love seeks to console her.  She is nearly inconsolable.  No amount of meditation and diaphragmatic breathing and coloring mandalas seems to quell the shaking of her frame.  So, the peace-filled part accompanies the out of control part to my desk.  Together they research and add and subtract numbers, experimenting with all the possible sums and trying to find a way through the chaos.  Trying to determine what the next stage might look like—what “next” might be.

The two parts sit together on the yoga mat, trying to clear my head of negativity and fear and shame and confusion and stress.  The two parts sit together and recount all the things for which I am grateful.  The two parts sit together on the sofa, trying to distract from the chaos by watching Netflix and becoming invested in a fiction instead of hyper-focusing on my reality.  The two parts sit together as I attempt to do nothing, and to go about life as usual—therapy, doctor visits, gym, pool, massage, yoga, meditation, food prep, cleaning, baths, walks, updating the fundraiser.  They try to help me live my life as though it were “normal”, and try to prepare for the worst while hoping for the best.

But they aren’t succeeding in any significant way.

I am stressed beyond comprehension.  I half expect to have a stroke before my court date arrives.  But then the other half reminds me that I have waited for 30 months, I can wait 25 more days.

And the decision on the 21st isn’t necessarily the thing that I fear the most.  It isn’t the thing that might make or break me.  The thing that might make or break me is whatever comes next.

I don’t know if the making or the breaking comes next.

And I don’t know how to prepare for either.

I don’t know how to do nothing.

I am terrified of what comes next.

I’m not sure how to survive the next.  Because I can’t figure out how to be prepared for next.  And I have no control over what comes next.

There is this strange mixture of hope for the future and dread for the future that is happening within my person.  And while I talk about myself as two halves to make the point that both of those are present, I am only one person, feeling all of those feelings, and being both the hopeful and the dread-filled woman, simultaneously.  It is a strange feeling.  It is terrible in many ways.  I feel at odds with myself.  I feel like I am out of control as I fight with my own psyche.

But today I realized that there is reason for hope.  And that reason is my parents.

I get the worrisome and ordered parts from my mother.  I get the laid back and love-offering parts from my father.  And that combination of traits created a long-lasting marriage.  It wasn’t always the perfect relationship, but it was beautiful even through the difficult times.  And it worked.  It lasted until death parted my parents.  Those two parts made a beautiful whole, that endured all sorts of struggles with strength and grace.

My court date falls on the day after what would be my parent’s 48th wedding anniversary.  It comes just three days after the 2nd anniversary of my mother’s death.  The unpredictable chaos of life, and the melding of personalities into a loving relationship are both represented in this week in June.  The caregiver, my father.  The lost mind of one who never stopped striving for control, my mother.  The ways that they stepped and swayed and moved toward and moved back made a dance of life.  It made a dance of the things for which no one could have been prepared.  It made a dance of the struggles, because the two sat together.

I see that which was passed down by my mother and that which was passed down by my father, the two seemingly competing aspects of my personality, and I know that all is not lost.  I know that these two parts can work together to recreate that dance.  To step, sway, move forward and back, and to find the way through even the most shocking and unexpected moments in life.  They found a way.  And I am a part of each of them, so I can find a way also.

Grief hits harder than you might expect in the second year after losing your parent.  I’ve been avoiding that subject lately, preferring to focus on what I need to be doing to get through the next 25 days regarding my hearing, my livelihood, and my important planning for the future.  But today, knowing that I am instructed to do nothing, and that the disability case is out of my hands now, I sink into the truth that it still hurts a lot to be without her—without them together, and the ways that they interacted.  I still have my dad, of course.  And I am so grateful for him.  He is a rock of support that no other can rival.  But I miss my mom.

That is a thing that I was not prepared for.  It is odd, because we had years to prepare for losing her, but I never expected that the mother whom I argued with and struggled to understand and who I strived to please and never gained approval from would be so missed.  That in the weeks leading up to an important moment in my life, I am looking back to the weeks that lead up to the end of hers.  That I would have to look at her picture to remember all the details of her face.  That I would suddenly be relieved that I have nothing to do, because I think what I should do—what I need to do for myself—is to be sad and grieve, and let this season be about more than the dance I am doing internally as I struggle toward my disability hearing, but allow it to also or instead be about the dance of my parents, and the overwhelming emptiness of the space next to my dad, where my mom used to dance beside him.

I’m so grateful that I am made up of the stuff of both of these amazing individuals.  I’m so lucky to be a part of them, and to be their legacy in the flesh.  (As an aside, I am the only one in the family who has a child that carries on the family name—and we are a little bit too proud to be the ones who bear the name of that legacy.)

I still don’t know what comes next.

And I’m still a bit terrified, to be honest.

But having witnessed lives that pressed on through the good times and the bad, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, until death parts them, I feel stronger.  I feel a little less helpless and a little more capable.  Because I am the product of those lives.  I am an embodiment of those promises.  So, if they could make it through whatever unexpected trial or joy might be coming up next, I can also do so.

I’ll meet what comes next.  I’ll lean into whatever comes next.  I will overcome whatever is next. Or be grateful and enjoy what comes next.

I am the dance.  The two parts sit together and create a good life out of whatever comes their way.

The two parts sit together and discover what is next.

Plans

Yesterday I received a rude message.  It made accusations against me, because I had posted on Facebook both an update to my fundraiser, requesting donations to pay bills in May, and a request for pictures of items my mother had painted, to utilize at my tattoo consultation.  In the mind of the one offering the rude message, these two things were linked, and I was asking for money to pay for “luxuries” like tattoos.  This is untrue.

And I could probably create an entire book about how paternalistic judgments of how the poor are “allowed” to spend their very limited resources are completely unnecessary and unwarranted and unwanted.  Trust me. The poor have a far greater understanding of thrift and priority and hard work and collaboration and kindness and care than most people.  Until you can hold a single $5 bill in your wallet for two months without spending it on anything, or furnish a household using only the items others discard, or own a wardrobe where every article of clothing was purchased on clearance or secondhand, don’t tell someone with limited resources how to use their money.  They know far more about money and value than you could imagine.

But I won’t focus on the aforementioned paternalistic judgments today, because what I have been pondering more fully is the idea of making plans.

The tattoo artist I met with last evening is booking appointments for January right now.  If I choose to have him do this tattoo (which will be an amazing commingling of what I had imagined as 2 tattoos), that honors my mother and my daughter and covers most of my right arm, I will need to wait until next year before any inked needle pierces my skin.  So, last night we talked about design and created a plan.  I spent no money.  And I used the Facebook comments as a forum for explaining that I had spent no money, nor would I spend fundraising money for tattoos, or any other personal entertainment or luxury items.

But later I was thinking about how great it is that I am even making plans for next year.

When you have as much disease plaguing you as I do, and when you have so few resources that you aren’t sure how you will make it to next week, you could posit that plans are something superfluous, and that the present moment is the only time and place where the focus should lie.

I think that would be a sad position to hold.

Please don’t misunderstand. I work very hard to live in the present moment—to put the past behind and to reduce anxiety or worry that comes from looking forward.  I love the present, and being present in each moment.  Mindful living, where you fully embrace and enjoy each moment as it is, without judgments or adjustments, is living that I am working toward every day.  I meditate, and color mandalas, and do yoga, and work to taste my food rather than devour it, and allow all sorts of sensations and emotions to arise and coexist and leave without trying to change them.  Being mindful in the present is extremely important.

But the future, and living toward it, is also a beautiful thing.  I sometimes wonder if my life will go on for many years, or if my days are short in number.  Especially lately, in the face of testing for early onset Alzheimer’s disease, I think about what my end might look like.  And while I am not worrying over it, and will accept my end with as much grace and compassion as I am able, no matter what happens, I love the idea that I am still planning a future.

I am planning a wonderful future!

I was browsing in a boutique last night.  And the first thing I said to the sales woman when I walked in was, “I have no budget for clothes right now”, but that wasn’t where we left things.  I also told her that I love every outfit that comes up in that boutique window, and I nearly give myself whiplash as my bus goes by the shop, and that one day when my finances are better I will definitely be in to purchase some clothes.  As the conversation continued, at one point I commented, “I in no way believe that my past or my current situation define what happens in my future.  I absolutely believe that I will have better circumstances in the future than I have today.”  The shop keeper echoed my statements, and we had a lovely philosophical discussion about the practical subjects of our lives.  And that moment was filled with hope.

Later, while I was walking down the avenue, I reflected on that conversation, and on the earlier tattoo consultation.  I decided that plans are a sort of miracle for me, and likely for people with situations similar to mine.

I cancel plans often.  There are many days when my health hijacks everything and leaves me in a state where I cannot do what I had planned to do.  But despite the fact that I cancel often, I keep making plans.  I could sit at home every night rather than disappoint others and upset calendars with rescheduling.  I don’t.  I keep placing meetings and social events and mating rituals into the little boxes that frame my time, even when I know a good percentage of those boxes will later be altered.  I keep living, even when life isn’t easy.

Realizing that I keep living in these little ways brought up thoughts of long-term planning.  And I also noted that I have long-term plans.  I plan on having a home filled with things and people and animals I love.  I plan on growing old.  I plan on getting married, or living in a long-term partnership.  I plan on being near the beach.  I plan on having resources.  I plan on finding a way to create art that funds my existence.  I plan on having enough and not feeling any lack.  I plan on having a full and rewarding and beautiful life.  I plan on being covered in tattoos!

There is so much future hope in the way I live today.  And, interestingly, I find that the more time I spend focused on being present in this moment, the more positive my plans for the future become.  The more meditation and mindfulness exercise and mandala coloring I do, the more full and rewarding and beautiful my future life seems.

A few weeks ago I had a date with a man, and when we eventually got around to setting a second date, he followed up the planning with a “we will see what happens” comment, that sort of felt like it gave him permission to flake out on the second date.  At the point when he began to flake on the second date, saying he was still stuck at work, I abruptly ended my connection with him.  I didn’t do it to dump him first, or because I thought he didn’t like me, but because he seemed to be in this space where “we will see what happens” trumps “we will”.  I didn’t want to be in that space with him.

I want to live in a space where planning for a great future happens, and speed bumps are slowly and carefully overtaken, but that doesn’t make me turn away from the fabulous things I see ahead. I want to live in a space where the best and the most and the loveliest are assumed.  I want to plan for a life that is outrageously good.  And I want to put all sorts of energy into the present, in order to fight for that future.  I don’t want to see what happens.  I want to shape what happens.

This week has been filled with conversations with a lovely woman.  And she and I have been looking for a time and space where we can have a first date.  And while there are no plans set in stone, and no little boxes on the calendar that currently hold her name, we both see only a future where we get to spend time together.  “We will be in touch.”  “[We will] talk soon.”  “We will find a good spot.”  “We will do that another time.”  “I will teach you about that.”  “I will show you when I see you.”  “I’ll tell you that story when we go out.”

A future planned together, even without definitive plans, is far superior to not committing to anything that might sound like a plan for a shared future.  And a future planned with good things and fullness and love is far superior to waiting to see how things transpire and what life hands you.

For many years now, I have been a “we shall see” type of person, who would wait for what life handed her and then cope with the consequences.  But the last couple of years have brought about something new.  They have brought out the “I will” person.  And she plans for the best possible future, even while the present threatens to overwhelm her and the past pulls at her ankles, attempting to drag her underground.  She assumes that better things are coming.  She believes that life will offer her more.  She knows that the divine wishes her survival.  She knows that she is allowed to—meant to—thrive. She makes plans.

I make plans.  And they are not based on what I currently see around me.  They are based on what I know lies within me.  And what lies within offers all beauty and fullness and goodness and grace and love.  That is the future I am planning toward.

So, on a day next year, I will have Joseph add some fabulous ink to my right arm.  And I will pay for it with money I have earned, either through my slow and steady work or through my long and arduous fight for disability payments.  And I will shop in that little boutique, and take some of those coveted clothes from the mannequins in the window and put them on my body.  And I will weigh less and cope with my illness more. I will be more self-compassionate and I will trust and love others more than I do today.  I will have an amazing partner, and get married in a pink dress, and live on the waterfront, and travel to beautiful places and have money in my bank account and on and on and on…

Because I plan to live the best and most treasured life I am capable of living.  And even with over twenty forms of illness to live with, I am confident that I will be capable of living in amazing and wonderful ways.  If at some point those plans need to be cancelled, so be it.  But I’m not going to cancel a beautiful life before I have planned one.

I’m going to plan one, and do my best to see it through, with every little box of time containing something or someone amazing.

With every little box marked “LIVE”.