This morning I went to see my counsellor. A few days ago, when my mind was feeling a little frantic, I had sent her an email, offloading some thoughts, ready for us to talk about today. When I arrived, she had turned my email into word art (this I why I think she is the best counsellor ever) and presented me with an illustration of the language I had used. On little cards she had written my top six words.
“What stands out to you about these?” she asked me.
I looked at them and three seemed so obviously to fit together, despite having been used independently in the original writing.
“Those three,” I said, pointing at them. “I want to just know things.”
“What do you want to know?” she asked.
An excellent question.
So I’ve been thinking about it…
I have never really been terribly comfortable with uncertainty. That’s not to say I can’t be spontaneous or that I don’t do fun things but somehow that feels different – that’s me being in control of the situation, me deciding to do something unplanned.
Is it other people then, or work maybe? It’s natural surely to want to know roughly what your week has in store, when you are going to see people, how much money you have coming into the bank in any given month? Being self-employed does involve a lot of uncertainty around work and money, and this should be perhaps more of a concern, but I don’t think it’s even that that makes me fret.
The things that I want to know are the things that we can never know. It’s the general uncertainty that surrounds us everyday, the sort that we just have to accept and live with that I sometimes find so difficult. Of course there are plenty of things I feel I do know, like that my family love me and I love them and we will always support each other, that I’m never going to end up destitute, but there are a few things I often feel desperate to know when the reality is that you never can, that any one of them may or may not happen, and sometimes that freaks me out:
- I want to know that everything is going to be OK
- I want to know that I am never going to feel so bad that I literally won’t know what to do with myself and will have to be locked in a room with no sharp objects
- I want to know that the person I am with is going to love me forever and that that will always be enough
- I want to know that no one I love is going to die when I’m not expecting it
- I want to know that if someone I love does die or leave, that I will be able to cope with it
So really not much at all.
I remembered after I had left the session about this enduring fantasy I used to have at school. It’s very embarrassing but I’m going to tell it anyway in the hope that I’m not the only person who feels like this sometimes…
I wasn’t a particularly popular child, never able to resist putting my hand up when I knew the answers to things, and I don’t think I was especially well liked. I was however desperate to know for sure. It seemed to me that relationships between teenagers were so complicated – how was I supposed to know whether people actually liked me or not? Where they being nice as some sort of joke or were they teasing me because actually we were friends? I couldn’t figure it out. So, I used to imagine the whole school being given a survey to fill out, all about me, where they would write down exactly what they thought of me, perhaps marking me out of ten for various aspects of my personality. It might be harsh but I thought at least then I would know.
It never happened, despite me planning the logistics of the survey production and distribution in my head, and of course that’s for the best. Some things are just not meant to be known and we have to be OK with that.
How does uncertainty make you feel? Are there things in life that you wished you knew but don’t or can’t?
This really struck a cord with me. I was the same at school, and had similar thoughts. I would almost wish there was a way you could be formally invited to a friendship group so I knew I was actually wanted around the people I spent my time with. Your list of things you want to know made me cry… Just because it’s good to know other people have those thoughts too. It sounds like you have a truly brilliant counsellor… Thank you so much for writing this post xx
Thank YOU Bryony for replying. When my counsellor suggested I write about it to help explore it a bit more she said that maybe it would help to know that other people thought the same things and she was right – it is always a comfort to know that you’re not the only person who things in ways that sometimes feel a bit crazy or silly!
Yep, I worry about all those things on your list and more!!
Do you tell other people or do you think they know? Does it feel OK to worry about these things or would you rather not?
We can’t control anything around us, all we can control is how we choose to react to things around us;-) And we may as well be optomistic as the optomist has a better time of it even though the outcome will be exactly the same:-) Steps off box;-)
It’s a valid box to stand on Camilla! I guess though that a lot of my fear nowadays comes from my uncertainty about how I am going to react and my ability to control my own emotions rather than other people’s. At the beginning of the year I would have said I was a very positive person who could deal with difficult stuff well, but I feel I have lost that somewhere and that’s what worries me. You are very right though!
I liked you and still do, you gorgeous, geeky, crazy lady!!!! :) xx
Thank you – I shan’t make you do the survey then :-) xx
Me and my friends basically played that at school. Every library lesson, we would list off the best and worst things about personality and appearance for everyone in our group. I have no idea why we did that, but I would not recommend it as a game.
I too worry about things I cannot know, and hate not knowing what will happen. x
I used to do that with my best friend a lot, but with body stuff. We could spend hours comparing our feet and the width of our calves and stupid things like that.
I used to be awful when I was younger, I was terrifyed of people dying and I can remember my mum and dad both assuring me they were going to live until they were really old, she actually promised me too which was pretty risky! I think it did make me feel a bit relieved though which was probably a good thing at the time. I go through phases now where I can’t take all the not knowing, sometimes everything seems so bizarre because we could just die at any moment. It’s definitely helped me to try and make the most of life and enjoy it though, I didn’t really before having kids. I guess that and the fact that humans in general seem to have an amazing ability to just deal with whatever life throws at them, that reassures me a little bit x
Gosh, that was a bit of a risky promise wasn’t it? Explaining death to kids though is so hard, especially when they are young and don’t have such a concept of time.
I’m constantly in a flux of whether I know whats going on and feel confident or not, and it tends to make me all over the place. But i’ve had a few sessions myself and can manage my manic energy enough to just get on with stuff. I’m glad you’ve found someone who is great to talk too. x
I think that’s the key isn’t it? Getting to a place where you can have all of those thoughts and feelings going on and yet still function. That’s the bit I struggle with sometimes because a lot of these feelings are new so they throw me completely and I feel debilitated by them.
You sound like me as a child! I hate not knowing things, and the uncertainty. IF I could just know everything that was going to happen I’d be fine. I have to try not to think about it else I freak out.
I think it is quite a childlike part of me to be honest – I definitely need to connect more with that grown up part of me that says ‘OK, so you feel anxious, but you can still cook dinner’!
I too just want to know things! It’s like a crazy desire to know the answers to things, met with a frustration when I can’t/don’t/won’t be able too. Certainty is important, and regardless of how many people tell me life isn’t certain, it still doesn’t stop me looking for it! Thanks for the post, it’s a timely one for me to have seen xx
Thanks Kirsty, I’m glad it struck a chord with you and you enjoyed it. Coming to terms with the uncertainty of life is a tough one!
she sounds brilliant! I hate to feel uncertain and I think that’s because of moving around so much as a child and not feeling very confident. I think that’s why I’d always wanted to have a family of my own as I wanted to create my own security and certainty that my childhood-adulthood didn’t really make me feel that way xx
I do think moving around probably has an influence. We moved a lot as a child – I’ve lived in about 25 different houses over the years – and so you don’t have that physical security apart from anything else.
Your counsellor sounds brilliant and well done for opening up that discussion on here. I think we all identify with this in some way. I have spent my whole life being slightly fearful: of what people think of me, of something happening to my loved ones, of change / of not changing…I think we all want to know but have to learn to accept we can’t always. I’m still working on that :) xx
It’s a tough one isn’t it Kathryn? I’ve been trying really hard over the last week – reading and listening to a lot of things around the topic – and it’s really fascinating.
I am the same, but only recently. In fact I can pin it down to the day my first born came along!! Until then, i didn’t worry about anything, but now? EVERYTHING – especially all the things on your list.
I’m sure that having a baby is going to have a massive impact on fear! I don’t remember feeling hugely different when my children were born but I wonder if that’s to do with age and not having had chance to establish any routines or anything like that that then become disrupted.
I was told it is normal to worry about the stuff on the list, but if you spend a lot of your time worrying and it is all spinning around in your head, that is not so good! I believe that cognitive behaviour therapy is the thing to help find ways to deal with those type of thoughts, so that they are not so overwhelming. Your counsellor would know all about that. Also I have heard that mindfulness meditation is very helpful as well. Good luck!!
That’s the issue – it’s the spinning! I need to work on my techniques for jumping in and stopping the spinning!
Somewhere I have a piece of paper where your Belle and my girls did EXACTLY this about each other. Have I showed you? They were sort of brutal but very sweet….
No way, I haven’t seen that! I’d love to :-)
Thank you for writing this post. You are one of my favourite bloggers and I’m sad to say that I am a bit behind on your posts so I don’t know much about the counsellor, but she sure sounds like a good ‘un. I’ve been through a few lots of CBT in my life. It doesn’t work for many people, in fact, I read the other day that it is mostly a marketing creation that was sold to the NHS by two men. I have extensive mental health problems that revolve around serious anxiety and I can relate to everything you said. I drive myself to the brink every day asking those very questions even though I am not going to get any answers. In a way, I am glad because we are not supposed to know. I think it really all has to do with control and fear. Those things we cannot control torment us. I was awkward at school and also never knew how to trust whether or not people liked me. Surprisingly, I also moved a lot as a child, like a lot of the people who commented before. I read that everything we are is a result of what happened in our childhoods and I really believe this. I also believe that human brains are very complex and sometimes the wiring in our brains is not as connected as it should be so there are people that are genuinely ill, like myself. It is only recently that I am confident in labelling myself as a mentally ill, but functioning and happy woman. I am not a psycho, weak or any of the other words I call myself every day. I am just ill like someone with diabetes or heart disease. And I realise it is ok to be this way, just as it is ok to want those questions answered. :)
Thanks so much for your comment Dawn. It is a massive step to recognise these feelings as valid – they are definitely not you being weak or anything else like that. Do you do anything to help manage your feelings?
I like you very much (I think I took the rather brave move of telling you so the first time I met you!) and totally understand your worries. My biggest fear is making a bad decision. I feel like I can handle anything random that happens, but if it’s my fault (or potentially my fault, or at least the consequence of something I’ve done) that makes me feel so awful and I don’t know what to do with those feelings. Glad you wrote this post, I think it will be helpful for lots of people.
Have you read ‘Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway’? I’ve been reading it this week. I was hesitant at first because in my mind it’s really cheesy but it’s actually brilliant. I’m reading the chapter at the moment which is all about decision making and turning it into a ‘win/win’ scenario – whichever path you choose, neither are wrong because within each there is the opportunity to learn new things and have new experiences.
I have always hated not knowing things. My mum says even when I was a little girl I used to ask for an itinerary for the day! I think it is a bit contributing element to my mental health problems, especially my OCD. OCD is all about doubt and worry, so it ties in with it. When I do my obsessive rituals with numbers and stuff, it’s always to prevent a terrible unknown thing happening, to make sure my loved ones will always be there and stuff.
I don’t know why I’m telling you this. Maybe just so you know it is not uncommon. I wonder if some people are just made this way, in that they are prone to anxious thoughts. Or maybe its nurture, not nature. I wish I knew as then I could turn off the worry for a bit!
Belle does that! She likes to know exactly what’s going on and when!
It is always good to hear about other people’s idiosyncrasies so thank you for sharing. How long have you experienced these sorts of obsessive behaviours? Do you have any techniques to help you manage them?
Hi, I am not laughing at your dream one little bit. If you expanded on the idea then we would pretty much all know where we stand with people and oh! how much easier would that make life!….I find people complicated: not just teenagers. Nothing in life seems as straightforward as it should be.
I find uncertainty unsettling and absolutely hate surprises. Things I would like most to know is what the future holds for my children and that they will be okay in their own lives and if I will be fit and healthy as I grow older.
I was listening to a podcat this morning Debbie where they said ‘Nothing that anyone does or says has anything to do with you.’. It really struck a chord with me – people ARE complicated but we have to try and remember that actually none of it reflects personally on us, we are all just tied up in our own little worlds.
Hi Jo, those are very wise words. What people say is more often a reflection of the kind of person they are rather than an attack on those around them….If I told too many people that it rained chocolate buttons in my world they’d all want to stop by, but they aren’t coming in!