The "what if....?" question can be my worst enemy, in two different ways.
I have been doing a lot of reflection recently (prompted by some #patientleaders conversations), and with considerable effort, I have steered clear of the heart-wrenching self-searching questions like "what if I hadn't gone sailing that day and had the accident?", "what if I hadn't decided to see the Chiropractor?" and "what if I hadn't got flu that weekend at ended up with GBS?". There is also the other side of looking back through "what if" glasses - what if I hadn't got to hospital in time? What if I had been to another hospital where they weren't specialists in my condition? Maybe I am pretty lucky after all?!
Once I had navigated away from this dangerous territory, reflection is relatively easy. It is based on things that have happened, it is based on certainty and familiarity. I may be a million miles from where I was a few years ago, but I can see (when I am in the right mood) enormous progress that I am proud of. Writing a letter to my relapses was one example of positive reflection I have done recently. If I am in the right mood, I find reflection very comforting - a reminder that things can improve as I have proof looking back over my professional work from the last two years. It feels like I am looking back from atop a hill and I can see only the bits I want to see, safe up away from some of the downs.
Looking forward, however, is a totally different matter. While things are clear with hindsight, the view ahead is swapped by fog. Nothing is clear. Nothing is certain. In fact, the path on my hill looks as if it is starting to descend - how far and how quickly I do not know. I have no idea what is round the corner in the fog, but my instincts brave me for the worst. The "what if.....?" monster rears it head. What if I can't hold down my job because my health deteriorates? What if I can never save enough money to move out of my parents and live independently? What if either of my parents fall ill and we can't cope as a family? What if I can't find a way to go on holiday with my limitations? What if the new drugs don't work, or if I have side effects? What if I have an accident or fall ill with anything new? What if.... What if.... What if.....?
I'd be lying if I said the future didn't scare me. How I can reflect on the past so well, yet fall for all the same potholes when trying to look forward? Looking forward is always going to more uncertain that reflecting, but how can I do so with out raising my hopes, yet still in a helpful and productive way? Whilst I appreciate I am never going to to run a marathon, it is only in my most rational moments that I believe I might possible move out from my parents. How can I look forward more rationally?
With all the talk of mindfulness and living in the moment, maybe looking forward isn't so important. But when I do look forward, I need to make sure I am wearing the right spectacles - neither rose-tinted nor gloomy. And since my most recent visit to the optician indicated I need glasses, there is no time like the present to find the right pair to see today, tomorrow and the future in a better way.