The problem with “I don’t know”

“I don’t know” can be the last thing you want to hear in answer to many questions.

“Doctor, what’s wrong with me?”

“Do you love me?”

“Will you marry me?”

“Is that an olive or a cockroach on my pizza?”

I think it’s rare for people to ask a question and not already have an idea of how they’d prefer the other person to answer. Or at least for us to be prepared for the answer to go one way or another, yes or no, good news or bad. We want a concrete base from which to launch our response. Maybe we have counter arguments prepared if the response is not in our favour; maybe we’ve rehearsed either our celebration or our dignified ‘defeat’.

Often we’ve put a lot of thought, heart and nerve into even asking the question. In the case of a health problem, we’ve decided that whatever is going on is worthy of a doctor’s attention. We accept that we don’t have the answers and so go to someone we think has the expertise to figure out the problem and ‘fix’ us. With relationships, well, asking the ‘big’ questions puts us in a vulnerable position and not many people leave themselves vulnerable on a whim. And with the pizza question, man, to lose faith in your favourite pizza place can really shake you up.

In all those scenarios, we’re momentarily adrift, we’re at a crossroads and we’re looking for someone else to point out where to go from here. ‘Here’ is a scary place, it’s a place where we’re not certain what’s going to happen next; we can try to map out all the possibilities and try to foresee what will happen next but we don’t *know* and that’s not a comfortable place for many people.

And then we’re given an “I don’t know” and it can feel like a betrayal. This person was supposed to know, to give us direction, to give us something to react to and instead we get an insubstantial “I don’t know”. And so often, outsiders will chime in with “well, it could be worse, it could have been no / bad news / half a cockroach” and you know they’re trying to be helpful, trying to help you see the silver lining. It’s hard to not snap back that some part of you was prepared for bad news, that bad news would be something, that it’s the uncertainty that is making you anxious, not the situation.

As i discussed the other day about decisions, sometimes it’s not the facts about a situation that are difficult to deal with, it’s the uncertainties. It’s the unknown, the unpredictable, the uncertain that is the scariest.

So when my doctor tells me that all the preliminary blood work is normal and she has no idea what is causing the horrible fatigue I’ve had for three weeks, well, I think we were both frustrated and unsettled. Her training is all about finding answers and fixing problems; when the problem isn’t apparent, it’s probably a reminder that for all her training, people are still massively complex systems and we don’t know how everything works. It’s a reminder of all we don’t know and that’s a scary thing to face.

And for me, well, it’s just extending this limbo that I’m in. And worse, because I’m supposed to be resting to see if that will fix things, I end up with more time to think of what it could be. I’m left adrift, no answers, no firm base to plan on.

It’d be really easy to spiral down, to sink, to remain afraid and to allow my fear to guide my actions. Instead I’m going to acknowledge the fear that this won’t be something simple or easy to fix, to face that I’m afraid that this will continue and to keep affecting my quality of life, to admit that I’m afraid that there will be limits placed on my life for longer than I’m comfortable ‘being sick’. But I’m not going to live in that fear.

Instead, I’m going to try to learn to better pace myself, I’m going to ask for help when I need it, take the advice of people I trust and keep a close eye on what helps and what tires me. And it seems like 45min is my limit for writing. And I passed that about 10min ago in trying to finish this up. So I’ll take this headache as a reminder to keep posts shorter. Apologies for any spelling errors or awkward phrasing; I’m going to try to keep my schedule but it’ll really depend on my fatigue levels.

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One thought on “The problem with “I don’t know”

  1. Pingback: Interlude | Sewing Slowly

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