The Limits of Control in Extreme Vulnerability
In this post, I’ll be using a term that could be controversial, which is “faith.” I want to begin with the disclaimer that faith is often used in relation to religion. I have no issues with people practicing any religion that feels authentic to them. However, in this post, I also want to make room for people who don’t specifically engage in a religious practice.
Here, I’ll be talking about faith as a term that reflects respecting the limits of control. I appreciate you reading this and I hope if gives a little different perspective on how to deal with anxiety and control when you’re feeling really vulnerable.
In 2008, I went to a urologist and thought that I had a kidney stone. Instead, I had a large cancerous tumor in my right kidney. I did what I normally do in any crisis, I researched and researched kidney cancer. Little did I know that the type of cancer I actually had was even more rare than the one I was researching. Regardless, my attempts of research were to gain control of an out-of-control situation. In my research, I saw the dismal survival rates for people who had kidney cancer that had spread. I had the symptoms that brought me to the urologist for months.
Needless to say, I was terrified. There I was, in my late 20s, face-to-face with my own mortality in a way that I hadn’t yet been. I was scrambling to cope, while trying find anything that would get me out of the feeling I was having. I didn’t know it then, but the feeling was vulnerability. There was so much uncertainty about what was going to happen.
I had another scan to see if the cancer had spread. Those 24 hours seemed like an eternity. Floundering for some relief, I was talking with my father and feeling very pessimistic. I told him “it’s everywhere [the cancer], I’m sure of it. I just don’t want to die yet.” Then he said something to me that I’ll never forget. “Son, have a little bit of faith.”
To this day, I don’t know what his specific intention was when he said this to me. It sort of didn’t matter. It was a gift and I took it. The gift took a little time to open, but it made me reflect on loosening my grip on control in that moment. I settled a little bit more into “I don’t know what’s about to happen.” In that moment and for the rest of the afternoon, it was a little more tolerable.
“Faith” was settling in to “whatever is going to be is going to be.” What I didn’t realize was that I was fighting to make a future during uncertainty and that fight was making me spiral.
I remember going for a walk that afternoon and feeling pretty OK. I let go of the idea that I had to either feel great or horrible about what I was facing.
Loosening my grip on control allowed me to check in with the present and there was still some good stuff happening around me.
Have your emotions
This isn’t to say that the road after that day was easy. Although the scan had good news, there were a lot of ups and downs, and I experienced anger, sadness, and anxiety throughout the process. I also had other times where I had to remind myself of the limits of what I could control. This was an ongoing process. And in any vulnerable situation it’s a process to remain mindful.
You can remain mindful and still research, learn, advocate, and get into action
Sometimes when we think logically about things, we think if we do one thing, it means we have to completely give up the other. This isn’t the case. When we loosen our grip of control, we can still focus on what we do have control over. You can still take action! The main goal is to avoid action taking over for acceptance of the reality of the situation. This story was one of my moments where I had to work on accepting that. What are some of the situations that you’ve had where you’ve had to accepting a tough reality?
I don’t want to tell you what your takeaways should be, but I do want to say that these are the takeaways that I had.
- Fighting against vulnerability doesn’t bring relief.
- If you settle into the uncertainty, there are still good things happening around you that you can connect to.
- You can learn and grow and accept the limitations of what you can and can’t control.
- Being mindful isn’t about ridding yourself of your emotions.
- Mindfully managing vulnerability is an ongoing practice and process.