Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Illusion of Control

Is the illusion of control over our lives a western trait, or more a human one?

We expect, in the middle class of this country, that if you study hard, do your time, eat your veggies, go to church, play by the rules, that things will work out for you.

We know, cognitively, that this isn't necessarily true.

But I believed it. I think most of us do. My version of faith, perhaps?

I don't think it's a bad thing to believe. It's a good motivator. Makes you feel good about yourself, your accomplishments, the people you love.

It's a shield, a forcefield. An invisible airbag that must be there, to protect you if you were to be sideswiped, or rearended.

I don't have it anymore. Lots of people don't. Anyone who has been rearended, and not seen the layer of airbag dust settle on their lives know they don't have it. It makes life more scary.

Is it better to believe in an illusion, or not? To believe that things will just work out well, since you are doing what you are supposed to? It seems easier, gentler. And if nothing "bad" ever happens to you, maybe better.

Would it make life's challenges easier if you weren't surprised that the airbag wasn't there? Maybe. Maybe not.

I'm not sure if I want the illusion back. I'm not sure if it's my decision to make anyway.


Anonymous said...

I've never suffered a horendous loss like you and your family have. Perhaps that's why I still cling to the idea that if I am very careful I can avoid terrible things happening to me. This has a good result in that it means I wear a seatbelt, use sunscreen, get an annual pap smear, etc. I guess SOME sense of control is healthy. However, I expect that a tragedy in my life would take this away from me and I don't think of that as good or bad, just part of living.

I gave up the illusion of a god after years of wondering why I went to church events and retreats and never felt the certainty the people around me said they felt. I think I was always a questioning person. I never felt any peace about religion until I faced the fact that I believed what I did out of fear of spending "an eternity in hell." Once I let go of the fear there was nothing left to hold me, and I feel more comfort now as an atheist than I ever did as a "believer." Never felt a bit of sense of loss in that.

Thank you for staying with us, your readers, and posting now and then. I hope that this blog gives you some temporary release as it has touched a lot of people very deeply. When I pick up my friend's 3 year old son and hug him I think of Henry, and am so glad that friend's son is healthy. I don't have kids, but look at friends and family members' children differently now, and appreciate my relationships with them more than I did before.

jill said...

I can only speak for myself on this one. Having (barely) brushed against the idea of mortality with my first born's reparable birth defect, I maintain the illusion. Quite frankly, I don't know what I would do without it. But you're right: it's false, and I'm clinging to it. I was struck by the last thought in your entry-- that you don't want it back. Because life is more precious without it? Because it just seems phony? I'd love to know more.

I think about you a lot and want wonderful things for you.

M.M. said...

I don't know if I buy into that exact interpretation, coming from a European immigrant family. My family (and therefore, I) is very practical, and we believe that every choice has consequences one way or the other. Nothing is ever win-win.

You simply deal with things or those choice consequences as they come, best as you can, and continue on. Of course this is a family that has seen WW2 (grandparents) and Communist control, and literally escaped illegally, and so on. The most recent that my mother learnt she had lymphoma, and (fortunately successfully thus far) underwent chemotherapy and radiation.

I'm not sure they ever had that illusion growing up, but they certainly couldn't lay claim to it now. We just enjoy what we have now, and hope that it doesn't fall from under us sooner than usual.

radioactive girl said...

I am a very different person than I was before I had cancer. I may act the same most of the time and people on the outside may never know, but the way I feel and the way I react to things is completely different. I won't ever have the innocent invincible feelings again. I don't know if that is good or bad, but like you I realize I don't really get to choose.

I do get to choose if I become negative because of this, and I (so far) choose not to. Life can still be good, but it is going to take time before I can trust again. I won't ever have the complete trust/faith like I used to have, but that may be a good thing for me. I used to be so confident that maybe I didn't take as much care or appreciate things as much?

You have been through so much more than me and I can only imagine that your faith must be shaken that much more. Since I know how I feel about all of this, I can imagine how difficult it all must be for you.

Anonymous said...

Your post really resonated with me. A few years ago, my husband had a sudden "schizophrenic" episode and wound up in a mental institution for two weeks before drugs could stabilize him and I could bring him home. I had three small children at the time and no family around. And "mental illness" had never been in our vocabulary -- in fact I was actually glad we could put a name on what happened because it came totally and suddenly out of the blue.

Soon after, I was diagnosed as depressed (no wonder!) and began to see a psychologist. I told him my story and was blown away when he said that my "walls of unreality had come crashing down." He said that we all have them ... it's how we cope with life ... it's how we're able to drive 50mph down a single-lane road with a tractor trailer coming toward us in the other lane. And that's exactly what happened ... my walls of unreality came down.

Even now, a little more than four years later, I notice they're still very fragile and shaky. I feel like I could be blown away at any moment. For me, I NEED those walls or I'd go insane.

Thank you for sharing your story.

Sybil said...

Many years ago two years after my Mother died my air bag burst...and I was left bereft...I had always believed in God and had prayed for these two long years that as a loving God he would take me as well....Suddenly the realisation dawned that this was not going to happen...Bang goes the air bag...it was some time later when I was really at the end of my line .. during a church service...I have no idea why I was even there...suddenly someone..might have been the minister..I am not sure to this day but the words were as loud as my TV is at the momenet...Not My will be done but thine.... Suddenly the air bag reflated and I realsied that I had been demanding my will and not his will..suddenly I was at peace and ever since although there have been many down times, worst being last year when my beloved God daugheter died very suddenly and unexpectedly at age 45 and though perhaps a little air escaped it was not quite so bad.
Hope all this makes sense...I have seldom ever mentioned it before.

Love Sybil xx

Anonymous said...

I don't know if it's the realist in me but I don't think I have ever felt inside a bubble of safety. This imperfect world is full of dangers, cancers, crimes, and accidents. I can't control any of it by being careful or trying to always make good decisions. The sun rises on Evil and Good. I do however have a faith that I know that whatever comes my way I will not be overtaken. I don't have any special gifts. People aren't chosen for suffering because they are "special". In Heaven I believe there will be an end to ALL suffering, no more tears and that is what I look forward to experiencing. I surely would like to be spared any heart wrenching loss, accident or horrible illness. I do believe God will never leave or forsake me but didn't promise no suffering here on this earth. I have lots of questions for God. I really look forward to chatting with him someday! Your post always move me. I feel a tenderness that is so raw and open that it is inspiring.

Anonymous said...

Just a lurker here, but I had to comment because your post really resonated with me.

More than a year ago, I gave birth to beautiful twin girls. They were stillborn. Our whole family (we had two older children at the time) was crushed by the experience, and we really lost that cushion of "it'll be okay if we do everything right" -- because we had done everything right, and lost our babies due to a fluke anyway. It used to be that I looked at rare tragedies as the kind of thing that happened to "other people." But that time we ourselves were the "other people," and now it's hard to consider any bad thing without wondering if it will be our turn to be the "other people" once again. And that's really scary because now we know just how bad it can be when that happens.

Sometimes I'd love to have that illusion of control back, even knowing that it's just an illusion. Life is much scarier without it.

Karen said...

We cling to the illusion of control. There's enough truth to it that it feels true, and it's (falsely) reassuring to think that wretched things won't happen to us if only we're "good".

I'm sorry that it isn't true, on the one hand. I wish I could know that if only I were good enough, my husband and son (and I) would always be reasonably happy and healthy.

On the other hand....it is a little freeing to think that if (when?) something horrible happens, it won't be because I wasn't good enough.

It was never your fault. It just sucks, and you are coping as best you can.

Indigo said...

Thankfully I've never had that illusion. My life was painful real in ways I wish it wasn't...yet, I was awake for the reality of it all. Nothing surprises me these days and it still hurts just as deeply on every level.

On pain and grief...there are no illusions. (Hugs)Indigo