It Is Not About the “Should”



You will have to forgive my absence of late. I have suffered a tremendous writer’s block and have been occupying my time otherwise–with family and friends and reading a lot on various spiritual matters.

Up until almost two weeks ago, my head was feeling clear. I was back to running, something I had not participated in for some seventeen years since my lupus diagnosis. I felt I was in the proper head space to write, or at least headed there. Then a pathetic “tragedy” struck and I suffered a setback. I use the word “tragedy” semi-facetiously here, of course. I have this “problem” ankle that has troubled me since my softball days, throughout which time it underwent more than four fractures (three traditional and several stress fractures) and reconstructive surgery. Each time I think, “Oh, I think this ankle is finally working as it should,” some ridiculous injury follows. This one, my friends, is truly ridiculous as I cannot even really explain what happened. The swelling, pain, throbbing, and limited range of motion have prompted an MRI order. I continue to hope it will just go away, but how often does that happen?

It’s interesting how a seemingly minor setback can wreak havoc on one’s psyche. I have felt wracked with frustration, anger, and sadness since this struck two weeks ago. Then, I have guilt about feeling so terribly about something so “minor.” These things are relative, though, no?  To someone with cancer, an ankle injury is no big deal. To a busy mother of two very active little boys and someone who has traveled a long road with her personal health–reaching a really positive point just before having it stripped away–it feels somehow stupidly devastating. I want to wake up and have it go away. I want to resume my morning runs and daytime walks with Isaac and friends, I want to feel confident about going to play group and keeping up with Isaac, but that’s all been put on hold and it is wrecking my mood.

Why do matters such as this have such control over our general demeanor and mood? In my case, it falls on “the dis-ease of the ‘shoulds’.” When I was a teenager battling lupus, “the shoulds” really got me down. So much so that I fought depression and anxiety every bit as hard as I did the lupus symptoms. At that age, it seemed unfathomable that I couldn’t do things like the rest of my peers. I should have a healthy body like everyone else my age. I should be like all my friends. I should be able to play softball. I should be able to go to school. I should not have to constantly be playing catch up. I should wake up and feel healthy.

But I couldn’t. I didn’t. I don’t. I should have graduated from college in the requisite 4 years. I didn’t. I should have finished my graduate degree by now. I haven’t. My oldest son should be neurotypical. He’s not. We should be still living in Germany. We aren’t.

Even now, there are so many shoulds that plague me, especially in light of this recent injury. My lupus hit a very stable point and I should be able to run. I can’t. I can’t even walk.

The problem with the “shoulds” is that they are heartless, persistent, and thrive off this ideal reality that probably never could have existed. Any number of things could have held me back from doing typical teenaged activities and living a typical teenage life, lupus just happened. But here’s the thing: lupus is not keeping me from being a good mom and it won’t ultimately keep me from finishing grad school and becoming a published writer. This injury won’t keep me from being an active mom and running in and eventual 5 or 10k or whatever my running dreams end up becoming.

I have worked hard at re-framing my cognitive structure so that negative thoughts get just a sliver of my actual time. I let them in, feel the dread for a few moments, and then move on. Sometimes I need to talk it out, but I haven’t let myself be down for very long. This has worked well for the last few years, and I think I just have to push a little harder through this one. This setback feels much worse than it ultimately will end up being, I’m sure. I think the key right now is to focus on what I can do.

I can still pray. I can write. I can read and enjoy other entertaining pursuits. I can still giggle and play with the boys even if I can’t chase them around. I can still spend time with my husband. I can still hang out with my friends here. I can still talk to and laugh with my friends and family back East. I can still do all of these things. And I will be able to run again.

In the end, it isn’t about the should, it is about the will.

Different, Not Wrong

My voter registration still reads, “Republican,” but I am not a Republican. I am not a Democrat. I am not a conservative. I am not a liberal. I am not even an Independent.

I am not defined by any of these labels. I am a human being. I am an independent thinker.

For a very long time, I have held some views that seem to align with one “side” and alternate views that align with the other. My problem with the traditional party system is the idea that any one party “owns” a particular issue. Healthcare and equal rights are not owned by the Democrats. Personal responsibility and religious liberty are not owned by Republicans. Demonizing people who disagree with you about America’s perfection or who believe differently is not the definition of patriotism. Just because you see issues with our government and prefer something another country, does not make you un-American. It is possible that America has problems, just as it is possible that not every country in Europe is running things properly.

The same is true in the religious realm. Just because someone is a Christian does not mean they are a bigot or a homophobe. Not every atheist has an agenda to destroy religion. It is possible that that Buddhist across the street is just as good a person as you are. And that person who does not know what to think about religion and expresses his doubts? He is not automatically doomed to hell. Consider the possibility that God is bigger, greater, and more wholly good than can be understood or expressed by our limited human abilities. God worked through man to provide religious texts, but I am not of the belief that God is limited to those texts.

The real problem with our world right now is not that people think differently or disagree, that’s actually kind of the point of freedom and the point of the American experiment. In my view, the problem is simply that extremes have become normative. When that happens, civil discourse is impossible. When we cannot exchange ideas and discuss our perspective openly and without fear of persecution and demonization, relationships break down and societies crumble. Different perspectives are not necessarily “wrong” ones.

Today is World Autism Awareness Day. Since my son was diagnosed with autism and the phrase, “different, not less” has become a part of my vocabulary, my perspective has evolved on so many aspects of life and the human experience. When people imply that there is something wrong with my son because he thinks in pictures rather than the way “typical” people think, I cannot help but laugh. My son is happy. My son is unique. My son’s brain is wired differently, but there is not a thing “wrong” with my son.

So that’s what is on my mind today. That is my perspective. You might disagree wholeheartedly, you are free to do so, and I respect your perspective.