If it’s easy, then it’s the right thing.
If it’s hard, then it’s the right thing.
What is the right thing to do? It feels like it should be a simple question; a binary question, no less. Some things are right, some things are wrong. All we have to do is figure out which is which. Some of us seek out advice. Others bristle at suggestions, preferring to hash it out ourselves. I used to do the latter; I now find the former more advantageous.
But lately, I’ve been wondering if there is a such a thing as a right thing for my situation. I have found that the right thing and the thing I am able to do are often not the same thing; worse, it’s become apparent that I am still as likely as not to do the wrong thing if I am distracted by pain, worry, doubt, or fear (or any combination thereof). Worse than that, more and more, what I thought was the right thing turns out to be the wrong thing because there was no right thing.
I’ve been so focused on trying to figure out what I’m supposed to be doing with my life. I thought I had fully come to terms with the idea that my life’s direction was completely out of my control, but I now realize that I had simply traded one type of control for another. Lately, instead of trying to manhandle where my life went, I was trying to hew as closely as possible to the guidelines for it that I was supposedly receiving.
This is all the more interesting since I no longer actually believe that such guidelines exist. Or at least, I thought I didn’t. But it’s difficult to let go of one’s God instinct. We are evolutionarily hard-wired to attribute a consciousness to things we can’t explain. Evolutionary biologists theorize that this is because when life was uncertain, and large animals factored in as a frequent cause of death, it behooved us to assume that the rustling in the bushes was a thing that was out to get us. After all, those that assumed otherwise were eaten by whatever was in the bushes. Now, though, it’s as much of an artifact as the last few spinal vertebra. We no longer need a tail, or a god, for balance.
But we need something. I need something to believe in. I need to believe that I am destined for happiness. I need to believe that I am just as deserving of success as anyone else. And I don’t. I’m trying, but right now, with everything that has happened (and is still happening), I’m having trouble believing those things. I am having trouble imagining a life where I don’t always have some pain, where I don’t always get so tired after so little activity, where my ability to cope with sensory input isn’t always compromised so quickly.
I do feel disabled, not just physically, but socially, and emotionally. I feel as though something inside me was badly broken and cannot be repaired, and that because it’s inside me, no-one can see that it’s broken, and I’m still expected to be able to function like a thing that’s whole. And I wish I could wear a sign that says “Fragile,” like the stickers they put on boxes full of glass. I wish we were all boxes full of glass, so that whenever someone brushed up against me, they’d hear the shattered pieces rattling inside and understand that I have been broken and my edges are sharp; that not only am I a useless pile of shards, but if you get too close to me, you might get cut on them.
Because I am not a whole person any more. I cannot think, feel, or move like a whole person any more. But I still look like one. My mentor advised me, a couple of weeks ago, that I needed to stop being so defensive, stop trying to control what people thought about me. “You need to start letting people be wrong about you,” she said. And it’s been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Just trying to exercise it over the past couple of weeks has shown me how bad I am at it.
Because people are going to be wrong about me, a lot. I look healthy, now that I’ve put a little weight on and lost that haunted look I had when my pain level was so high all the time. But I still have pain, and I still cannot do any real load-bearing with either arm, and I still fatigue very easily. So I have what is called an invisible disability, where I am disabled but don’t look it. And I know, whenever I step back so someone behind me can pull open the door for me, whenever I take the elevator up one floor, whenever I park in a handicapped space, people are going to look at me and think the wrong thing (if they think anything, which probably happens far less often than I imagine it does). And I just have to let them.
Is that the right thing to do? I don’t know and I’m getting tired of trying to figure it out. I thought the grad program was the right thing to do, but now it’s looking like it’s not, but I’m still doing it because I want so badly for it to be the right thing, and I know I’d hate myself if I gave up now. But it’s taking away a lot of things I like, like my yearly beach vacation with my family (the program starts two weeks before they leave), and like the music ensemble I’ve managed to stay involved in despite my pain. Like performing onstage in any capacity at all.
This past weekend, the ensemble had our last performance of the semester, and my last performance, likely of any kind, for the foreseeable future. We performed on a stage that had the set of another show built onto it. I haven’t been backstage in a theatre since before this happened. A lump formed in my throat as we stood, lined up in performance order, waiting to be announced so we could file onstage. I looked up at the ceiling riggings and the side curtain panels that had been raised out of our way, and wondered how long it would be before I saw those things again. I suddenly realized how much I missed doing shows, doing real live theatre, and I was struck anew with doubt about whether my life was headed in the right direction.
What if there is no right direction? What if it makes no difference what I do? After all, how could what I do possibly be so important as to merit all of this trouble? Here I’ve been spending all of this time trying to figure out what I’m “supposed” to do and I’m starting to suspect there is no such thing. There is no right thing. There are undoubtedly a number of wrong things (and I seem to have tried a lot of them), and then there is this subset of ambiguous things.
I could do important, lasting work as a researcher; and certainly, the amount of money the university is throwing at me in the form of stipends and fellowships points to their confidence that I will do just that. Or, I could fall back into writing and have a life that would be both more uncertain and more free. I keep trying to find some middle ground and failing. There isn’t a middle ground. I have a foot in both right now, but their paths are about to diverge, like the tarot card The Chariot from the Greek-themed tarot deck I used in college, with a black stallion pulling in one direction and a white one pulling in the other. The message was that something in one’s life was about to start pulling one in opposite directions, and one of those stallions was going to have to be cut loose or they would tear the chariot to pieces.
It’s easy to see when that’s happening. But it’s hard to know which horse to let go. People keep telling me I need to do “what’s right for me.” But there’s what I want, and what I can live with, and they are not the same. And I won’t know which one to do until they are the same. And what if they never are?