Dear Dr. Norquist:
I am a caregiver to my seriously ill long time partner. He has been ill for a long time and has been critically ill on a number of occasions. He is currently out of the hospital, but is still quite sick with a multitude of outpatient appointments and scary tests.
I am trying hard to cultivate equanimity, but find myself trying desperately to predict the future by engaging in “magical” thinking. By this I mean “believing” that completely unrelated events predict good or bad outcomes. Of course, history has proven time and again that there is no validity to these predictions. But I can’t stop. I also compulsively surf the web for information on his conditions, symptoms and medications.
I am terrified that he is going to die, but these behaviors only make things worse. My rational mind understands that the future is unknowable. How can I learn to accept this?
Dr. Norquist responds:
Your symptoms (magical thinking and compulsive web searching) are your mind’s attempt at managing overwhelming anxiety. You are trying to achieve a sense of control over an uncontrollable situation. This is a very normal reaction. The ‘calm’ in the midst of this storm, however, cannot be found with your mind or intellect. For this, you need to draw upon another aspect of who you are.
The path through your anxiety is through finding a way of being with whatever is going on in your life at that moment. Buddhism has a concept that is very helpful here. It is called Radical Acceptance of what is. Embracing your current reality will stop the energy drain in your life. You cannot move forward until you can accept what is true for you currently.
Your partner is very sick. Your partner may die. What is it like to sit with this truth and see how it reverberates inside you? Just be with it. What happens when you stop avoiding this truth?
The fear will not annihilate you. It will come to a crescendo, then fade – like a wave of energy. Try to notice this wave from a place where you have a clear view. You are not the wave. The wave comes and then it goes
If your partner dies, you will find a way over time to move on. We all do what we have to do when the need arises. Embracing whatever is going on now will free you to be with your partner in a way that is more present, more meaningful, and more fulfilling. There is the potential for great gifts in your current life situation. Please write again if you feel the need.
Check out Dr. Norquist’s new blog GrowingThroughParenting.com
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (NJ #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.) Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanyacounseling.com or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns. Ó 2019 Chaitanya Counseling Services