Over the past year I have faced uncertainty more than ever before. I have always faced uncertainty, as we all have, but like must of us, I chose to ignore it, and apply a reason or possible outcome that suited my narrative. We all do this, we apply endings and reasons for what is happening to us that we don’t understand, that is how our minds like to work, we like to think in patterns. Thinking in patterns helps us understand what is going on around us. When we see or experience an event, we check our memory vaults for anything similar. If we cannot find anything similar, we will look for something that is a bit the same, if there is nothing a bit the same, we will change it to fit what we have. We will always attempt to understand our world by applying it to what we already know, we desire certainty so much that we can adjust reality so we can have certainty.
There are times that certainty is just not possible, and no matter how much we try to make it fit to what we know, we just cannot. It feels like the rug has been pulled out from underneath you, you feel all at sea. Every time you think you have an angle on what is happening something contradicts it. The more you look for certainty the more uncertain it all becomes, the more unsettled and lost you feel.
About a year ago my Mum was diagnosed with lung cancer. Before she was diagnosed the uncertainty was awful. As a family we would latch on to a certain word or treatment possibility only for that to be discounted. In our minds we knew what the worst outcome was, but everything in between felt so uncertain. Everybody that is involved in the treatment and care for my Mum are wonderful and lovely, but they could not and still cannot give us the answers we need and don’t want all at the same time. Since diagnosis Mum has started her treatment, it took some adjustments and change of treatment for the side-effects to settle down. Constantly though we are faced uncertainty of not knowing what is around the corner. If we are not careful in our unguarded moments we can get sucked in to searching for uncertainty, spending too much time in the future looking for something to latch on to, something that just is not there. The past is not a good place for reference points, attributing our previous experience of cancer is very unhelpful, for either terrifying us, or giving false hope.
From now on, I am going to describe how I live with this uncertainty and how I help my Mum deal with her uncertainty (however in reality she does incredibly well already). So when I find myself grappling for answers spending too much time in the past or catastrophising in the future, I take a moment to centre myself. I will use a simple mindfulness technique. I refocus on what is happening around me right now. I have a look at what is around me. I listen to the ambient sounds. I take notice of the ambient temperature. I will then take notice of the physical sensations I am feeling from my head to my toes. If I am still not quite back in the room I will count my breaths in a cycle of 10 (1-10 then back to 1-10) for as long as feels comfortable, and my mind is less busy. Every time my mind wanders I notice the thoughts I am having and go back to my counting. This is the important aspect, the letting go of my thoughts is really helpful, it reminds me that it is only a thought (either a recalled memory or an imagined future). Now this process does not get rid of the discomfort of uncertainty completely, but it does help me put it into context. Nothing other than what is happening right now and our ultimate demise is certain. It is a given that we are all going to die, and if you are busy thinking and worrying about death then you are still alive, and everything is uncertain.
I have noticed that this approach helps me deal with the uncertainty we face with my Mum’s diagnosis and treatment, along with my own hopes and fears for my future. The future is never guaranteed, but the present is.
The world at the moment seems full of uncertainty, however I am sure it always has been thus. With potential pandemics, and a possible resulting recession, alongside Brexit negotiations, our world at the moment feels very uncertain. Keeping a cool head and maintaining a grounded balanced approach, by being more present and not getting stuck for too long longing for a simpler past or dreaming of a better future. Practicing being present will help if you find yourself struggling with uncertainty.
Live you best life now, not in the future or the past.
If you want to work some more on how to live with uncertainty message me.