“For of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: ‘It might have been.’” – John Greenleaf Whittier
My psychologist tasked me with writing a diary entry after one of our sessions, “Grieving the Life That I Will Never Have”. The person that I would have liked to become, or thought I’d be, isn’t the one sitting here right now. I trundled along for a few months, eager to do it, yet somehow I procrastinated. It was as if my brain was protecting me from feeling that hurt.
I grieved about many things, which I will split into separate posts due to the lengthiness. But it boils down to needs and wants that we all crave out of life – an enjoyable career, a family to call our own, and/or also the dreams that differentiate as individuals.
Grieving the Past and the Death of Dreams
With the diagnosis of these chronic disorders, I have had to relearn my limits. Perhaps you used to spend a lot of time in the sun or played team sports every week, but now you need to avoid it at all costs. Perhaps you used to enjoy your mornings with a cup of coffee, but have had to kill it from your daily routine. What once brought you so much pleasure, now becomes a risky activity that might cost you your life.
Those parts of you die an unnatural death over the years, but the saddest part about it is that no one even knows they existed, although they mean so much to you. In their heads it’s just “she’s not into such activities”, yet if you could, you would be a star. In their heads it’s just “he doesn’t like to socialise”, but that detail was erased from your personality profile. You no longer talk about these things that you like even if others bring it up, because what’s the point?
Grieving the Future and Reduction of Its Permutations
We hear frequent advice that emphasise the importance of planning for your future. For your retirement, for your family, for emergencies. But we can’t even plan for tomorrow, what more for five years, or even one? The emergency is happening right here, right now. I also fear the lack of physical capabilities my future self will possess. If I am already so weak now, what more as my body ages and becomes naturally less resilient?
Pregnancy is something I’ve had to think about since I was 14. Some of the drugs can cause permanent infertility, and I had to weigh the risks and benefits. It didn’t matter that I was just a skinny, naïve, single teenage girl. Considering a future with a partner isn’t just ‘do we want kids or not’? It is that, plus ‘can I conceive?’, ‘will my baby be healthy?’, ‘how many times will I miscarry?’, and more. This is something only time will tell, yet that awareness is highlighted in bright yellow, and does cause complications in relationships.
Your rehearsed permutations for the future reduce with the presentation of every new problem. But so do the new possibilities that open up. The future is not a dead thing; it is not even real. It is potential; energy that cannot be destroyed, only transformed to another state. It solidifies only at the moment when a decision is made, whether by you or by life. Routes to other realities shut down, and infinite possibilities reform around your current path. Many of them linger in your blindspots, waiting to be discovered, so keep your eyes wide open and be aware.
Engaging the Present Moment
This sounds so cliché, but I guess that leaves us to deal with the present moment. It is the only reality we have, everything else is an illusion of sorts. We have the power of choice only in this split second of time, although the perceived lack of activity as it crawls by can be excruciating. I find immersing myself in the present moment to be very difficult, because ‘what ifs’ are a multi-headed temptress and an apex predator.
So has my way of thinking changed after writing this journal entry? No it hasn’t, but at least it has made me more aware of myself. I still struggle to find meaning in all of this after decades of living with pain. I don’t know how others with similar problems are able to accept and embrace their new selves; I do admire the self worth they possess with so much elegance. Me, I am still learning to cope with it, and I think the grieving will be a lifelong process. I hope to be able to fully embrace myself as a total sum of my experiences one day.
We cannot change anything until we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses. – Carl Gustav Jung
Stop looking for happiness in the same place you lost it. – Origin unknown
Clay is moulded to make a vessel, but the utility of the vessel lies in the space where there is nothing…Thus, taking advantage of what is, we recognise the utility of what is not. – Lao Tze
For More Insight:
- Four Steps to Dealing with Loss, Plus Why You Need to Grieve Before You Can ‘Move On’ (article on Upworthy): https://goo.gl/dA7TdL
- How We Grieve: Meghan O’Rourke on the Messiness of Mourning and Learning to Live with Loss (article on Brain Pickings): https://goo.gl/H1fUen
- Seven Ways I Cope With My Loss of Identity After a Chronic Illness Diagnosis (article on The Mighty): https://goo.gl/6RKSQn
- Grieving the Person I Was Before Chronic Illness (article on The Mighty): https://goo.gl/Kirf79
- Coping With ‘What Could Have Been’ in My Life With Chronic Illness (article on The Mighty): https://goo.gl/jSAoOU
I feel your pain. To have to think about all those potential future consequences from such a young age is bound to have had a huge impact on your life. All those things that “healthy” people can to a certain extent take for granted, like planning a future career or to have a family; become so uncertain, verging on impossible, or involve big decisions when living with chronic illnesses. I know exactly what you mean about living in the present moment, but how tough that is too when you’re suffering and in pain. I think the one thing I rely on is hope! Hope for a better day tomorrow and for a brighter future ahead xx
Thank you for your lovely comment and empathetic nature as always! Yes, hope is what keeps the world turning, I suppose 😉 In any case, even a healthy person’s life can also change in an instant. Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment, I truly appreciate it. Wishing you a wonderful week and weekend ahead 😀
There is no doubt that when you have a chronic illness you lose opportunities in many parts of your life. My illness robbed me of a career and recently has limited my ability to do even a simple job. However, it has also taught me to see the joy in the things that I can do. By focusing on the positive, and only having room for the positive, I have achieved a happiness that I didn’t have when grieving for my loss.
It is difficult, and I do revert back to the way I once was, but every time I refocus it gets easier and easier. I wish you joy in your life and thank you for what you have written.
Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and life lessons! I am truly happy that you have found joy within the pain, and I do wish you many more good days to come 🙂
I’m not sure I can play the “grieving” game with profit
(N.B. I have an odd mind.)
What has died, except a dream, thought or hope of what might have been?
I have some practice with those.
The dream of fitting in and being like other people was an early one.
The dream of my first-choice career was another (ruled out on eyesight)
What I’ve come to is starting with “that which is, is” (Fortean sense, not the Hindu sense)
What are the rules of the game, and the pieces and resources of the game I’m actually playing?
“I wish I had an extra bishop” doesn’t work in chess.
I don’t have “fair” or “unfair” as big concepts for my life because I don’t believe in a caring universe or a benevolent deity. “Stuff happens” is a crude shorthand for the alternate perspective.
Yes, if I was allowed to paint my own life, I’d be in a different place.
And happily married to a certain Hollywood actress? That just shows that life is NOT arranged for my personal convenience, so I am going to have to deal with the life I’ve got.
I don’t think that those who grieve the death of dreams are necessarily unrealistic, or unaccepting of ‘reality’. In fact, many of us/them are pretty practical people when dealing with problems, or learn to develop very good problem solving abilities.
To dream is to hope is to stay alive. Cheesy but what’s the point of living just to live; that’s a waste of a life. Another thing to note (if you even read the article), is the fluidity of the future and its potential. And that that are opportunities to be discovered at every ‘that which is, is’ circumstance. Dreams and people can and should change, it just reflects growth.
Anyway, here’s to a bright new year up ahead, for you and me both!