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Coping when you feel out of control

by Andrea Updyke

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Sometimes I write when I have something fun to share or a memory I want to remember. Other times, like today, I write because my body compels me to write. I am functionally and mentally useless until my words pour out and I click publish.

It’s been a week where I have felt very much out of control. I never really thought of myself as particularly controlling or even terribly organized. But the truth is, I like what I like and my routines are very important to me. I need to see the horizon. I need to know what is next if I am to fully enjoy what is in front of me.

As I am sure you can imagine, this sort of lifestyle has its limitations for starters, because absolutely nothing in life is guaranteed. Even my best-laid plans. So to allow something like the feeling of control in even one aspect of my life to affect my mood is unrealistic at best. I am a human, living with and raising other humans. There are millions of variables that can make or break any given moment.

It’s a season of life where things are good and fine until they are not good and fine. Day in and day out we go through the motions and then something tips and everything and everyone goes flying.

So I’ve been thinking about shame. I think it’s been a pretty popular conversation in the social media world for a few years now. Brene Brown is a thought leader on the topic and her talks are very enlightening. I, like many others, suffer a sort of shame, but I think it’s less about “being found out” for me and more of the idea that I could lose control over the narrative of my life. That someone else could take over my story and change it. That’s legitimately scary.

Coping with the loss of control

I’ve just finished reading a book by one of my favorite authors, Jon Ronson, about shame and why humanity has and continues to use this powerful weapon. In So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed (affiliate), Ronson tells stories of intellectual giants felled by their peers for dishonesty and plagiarism, virtual nobodies being annihilated by the Twitter masses for tasteless jokes and people involved in any manner of unsavory acts being driven to the brink (or worse) by their shame. It’s a fascinating book and really got me thinking.

As my husband and I watched a bit of the GOP Debate last night, I like many Conservatives in this country, continued to be dumbfounded at the success of Donald Trump. I’ve long been turned off by candidates (left and right) who resort to jabs and insults to get their point across. It’s unnecessary and spiteful and to see the leading GOP candidate base his entire campaign on such is disheartening, to say the least. When I think about all of these things and wonder what it is that has me so shaken, it all comes back to one thing.

Control.

I recently found myself in a Facebook conversation started by my friend Fadra. It was about politics and where to draw the line on Facebook (is there a line?). I realized that this is the first time I feel like I have no clear choice in the Presidential election. If it comes down to Trump vs. Hillary, I can’t support either. It was a startling conclusion to come to and I suspect I am not the only one who feels this way. And so here we are with no control and no railing and it’s all very unsettling.

And that’s just the news. The unknown is everywhere and I am learning day by day that I will not have control. And I shouldn’t have control. It’s something I have been learning quite loudly ever since my boys were born. What do we know about anything, really?

I’ve spoken of my adult-onset fear of flying in the past. Now that I have so much more to lose, for years I’ve been legit terrified of flying to the point of panic, shaking and heart palpitations at the slightest bit of turbulence. It’s only been in the past year or two that I’ve finally been able to calm down using a variety of methods. One thing I did was read lots of articles about how planes work and what turbulence really is. That helped some, but the most ridiculous reason that I am able to fly comfortably now is a little exercise that I imagine each time the panic sets in.

I sit back in my chair, close my eyes and imagine that I am in a toy plane being held by a giant hand. The plane goes up and down and all around and I can feel all of that movement. But the hand doesn’t drop the plane. The hand gently sets the plane down when it’s time to land, much a like a child would when playing.

When I am flying and I feel a loss of control, my only option is to accept the fact that I never had control. It was never really mine to begin with. The moment I set foot on the plane, I put my life in the hands of the Pilots and crew. But the reality is that each day on land or in the air, our lives can be affected by others for good or bad. My only realistic option is to take my need for control and give it away. I have to accept that I will not know tomorrow until tomorrow is here.

And that’s where I am today. Feeling out of control and coping by releasing my grip on my need to know. I am living my life today with the faith that tomorrow will begin anew. I can’t control what happens around me, but I can control how I absorb it.

It’s no 10-step plan. But today, I’m sitting back in my chair, closing my eyes and praying for a safe landing.

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7 comments

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7 comments

Kelly March 4, 2016 - 12:42 pm

You took the words right out of my head! I think we’re in the same boat right now-or rather plane-waiting for it to land. I’ll hold your hand if you hold mine.

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Andrea Updyke March 4, 2016 - 4:47 pm

You got it, girlie.

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Betsy March 5, 2016 - 2:57 pm

I really like this. It resonates in so many ways. And, while I don’t yet have panic attacks on airplanes, I hate and fear turbulence with a passion, so I’m loving, and stealing, your toy plane visualization. I guess the point is, we can use the thought of that firm hand to guide us through all turbulent times. Thanks Andrea.

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Andrea Updyke March 24, 2016 - 9:19 am

Well said, Betsy! I think that can be applied just about anywhere. Thanks for reading 🙂

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