Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Worry and Helplessness

My father had brain surgery this summer. Due to, I believe, a miscalculation with his blood thinners (those things are no joke), there was bleeding on his brain that had to be drained. Living 2000 miles away, I wasn't quite aware of just how serious this kind of thing is until afterwards, when I saw the percentages. Let's just say Dad would've made a lot of money in Vegas with his luck that day - although, if he'd been gambling, he probably would've died.

Through this process I learned yet another way that my brain seems to work opposite from how most people process things. Visiting Colorado this summer, I made a joke about Dad maybe having died that was not met with the laughter I might've thought from my family. I do understand, intellectually, why my Mom and brothers wouldn't find that thought funny - there's a part of me that doesn't understand.

I tend to worry about things I can control. "Tend" is a misnomer; I worry about things I can control. I take weeks - months, sometimes, if the Burlington Coat Factory is out of options - to buy new shoes. I replay board game decisions over in my head for days. I don't like thinking about what to have for dinner until almost the point of eating. If I have a choice to make, chances are I will second guess it, often to the point of over-stressing my brain.

I don't tend to worry, though, about things I can't control. My father's brain surgery seems like a strange place to discover this, but: there it is. In my head, at least, while Dad was undergoing surgery and recovery, he was essentially Schrodinger's cat. He could die. He could live.
He could be afflicted with all sorts of damage or disabilities; there was really no way to know for sure. My mind did, briefly, start thinking about what he'd have to do with each or any of those eventualities, but the options are quite vast and without any real indication of the direction to think, I decided not to.

If and when we knew more, I'd worry then.

Through many conversations with people asking if I "was ok," (which, by the way, is a strange thing to be asked when someone else is in surgery) I came to realize other people do the opposite. They don't worry about things they can control; they make decisions and move on. It seems like most people worry about things they can't control. When the options or outcomes are up in the air, it stresses people out.

I'm the opposite.

In many ways, this stinks for me. I literally get stressed out if the competing brands of facial tissue are unit priced in different units (Seriously, why would one be 'per 100 count' and another 'per ounce?' That makes no sense and requires an insane amount of math.) I don't seem to be phased by my father's brain surgery. I get that this is odd, but I also get that this is reality.*

This whole thing has given me pause to ponder worry. Is it really a fear of losing control? I don't know? I worry about landing in an airplane, partly because most airplane accidents happen when moving at high speeds very close to the ground, but also partly because we're moving from what seems like a carefree position, floating peacefully through the air, to one of turmoil, engaging the tarmac. With an emergency surgery, we're moving from a life-threatening scenario to one where life might be saved. My Dad's brain was never going to fix itself, so even if he got a below average surgeon (and he didn't - the guy, by all accounts, is pretty darn good), his chances are still better than they were before.

In the end, this is probably just an extreme example of my control-freak nature. If there's even the slightest hint that I might be able to do something, I want to do it - and not just well, perfectly. If it's out of my control, I guess I'm pretty content to let the chips fall where they may (which is a logging idiom, in case you were wondering). It also comes from selfishness - I worry about things I can control because they reflect on me (or at least have the potential to do so). If it's not something someone can pin on me, who cares?

It's not really "who cares;" I most certainly care whether my father comes through brain surgery ok. It's more, why worry? Worry, at least to me, reflects anxiety over my own actions. I'm concerned about things I can't control, but, if I can't do anything, I'm not going to upset myself over it.

In the end, I think the difference between worry and concern is really the crux of the matter. We should care about those things that matter and not care about those things that don't. I'm not sure we should really worry about anything, especially if we've given our full attention to doing the best we can.

So, for me, I guess the next step is learning to be ok with mistakes. I probably should've figured out how to do that by 35 years of age - let's just hope you can teach an old dogs new tricks. Either way, it's probably out of my control... or is it?

*To be fair, had I known that a huge number of people with brain bleeds die and a huge percentage of those who don't have permanent brain damage,
I might've worried a bit more. I don't know, since I didn't find out until afterwards, but that does seem like something that would keep me up at night.

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