My mother tells me I willed myself into existence. Despite her health problems, despite preventative measures, here I am. That sounds about right. I wanted to exist, and so I did. And it didn’t stop there; I came into this world knowing exactly what I wanted and unable to except anything else. I was a born perfectionist with a need for control. This made me a difficult infant, but an easier toddler. As a toddler, so drastically unlike my older brother, I stayed where I was put. Where some parents would have to regularly check that their children were still where they left them, I kept close tabs on my mother.
“Nothing, I just wanted to know where you were.”
I was a nervous child, who hated noise and chaos and unpredictability.
I enjoyed playing in the sand pit and rolling down dirty hills, but the moment I didn’t want to be dirty, I ran to my mother, hands held out before me, hoping she would clean the dirt from my fingernails. If I felt I couldn’t do something perfectly, I would refuse to even attempt it. My mother tried her best to train me to be more flexible, but so much of my perfectionism stuck. I couldn’t get rid of my need to control things.
Though my decluttering has cleared space in my home, my life has no room for my excessive control, my high expectations.
I commute to and from work. I live a short distance from the train station and all-in-all, it’s pretty convenient.
Except for the elevator.
My local station has several flights of stairs up to the concourse and then down to the platform. As someone who needs to walk with a cane most days, this is an impossible task. I’ve been bedridden by laundry, stairs are a definite no. So I have to take the elevator. Only, I’m not the only one who wants the elevator. Nobody likes the stairs and so, each day, after the nine-to-fivers pile onto the platform, there is a line for the elevator. People wedge themselves in like sardines. Often one too many try and squeeze in and the doors won’t close until someone is booted out like Ned Flanders from a bomb shelter. The elevator has to make several trips. Despite making the long trek through dense crowds to the first carriage at my boarding station on the way home so that I can get off closest to the elevator, despite getting up a stop early to wait by the train doors, I will never get on the elevator the first time around.
Before I got sick, before the cane, I would always make way for those who needed seats and elevators more than I. I still do. It is an endless source of distress for me that not everyone will extend the same courtesy. The same woman who spent a good portion of the trip staring at my cane will suddenly act as if she cannot see me and push in front. People who get off the train after me casually sidle in front of me, gazes averted. If they don’t make contact, they don’t have to give way. They don’t have to feel guilty.
On one occasion I broke into tears when I got home because I was so frustrated that people would openly stare at me, until they wanted to utilise a service – which is intended for people like me, the elderly, or people with suitcases and prams – for their own convenience. I couldn’t control these people, couldn’t make them be anything other than who they were.
So I gave up. Because the opposite of chaos isn’t control – it’s surrender.
I started getting on a more convenient carriage rather than shoving through the crowds. I made the walk to the elevator and paid no mind to the people who tried to push in front. I surrendered to something I couldn’t change and made better choices for myself.
That’s what I have to do with other aspects of my life. Life is messy at the best of times and with a chronic disease, it is harder, messier, less predictable. I can’t tell when I will be able to manage without my cane and when I will be bedridden. Instead of trying to control my disease, trying to live life the way I expected rather than the way I could, I surrendered. I accepted. I embraced.
Sure, I have to wait longer for an elevator, but it’s less crowded.
Sure, I’m not going to be able to have the career I wanted, the kids I wanted, the life I wanted, but my life is less crowded.