Una's Blog


Una’s little world 3. Living with uncertainty

by Una Hearne.

Human beings are hardwired to dislike uncertainty. Our Amygdala triggers our Fight/Flight/Freeze stress response when it senses a threat. And it assumes anything unknown is a threat. This was useful in prehistoric times when the unknown could be an immediate and deadly threat. Nowadays, we don’t often face deadly threats. Yet the pace of change in our world means our future is ever more unpredictable – unknown – and our brains often settle into a permanent stress response.

I was lucky enough to experience this fairly intensely when I worked in Anglo Irish Bank – right through the collapse. (Lucky???) Well, lucky in the sense that I learned a lot about living with uncertainty. One day we had secure jobs, the next, all bets were off. External life changes happens to millions of people all over the world all the time.

The biggest lesson I learned in the bank was that those of us with a vision for our future, and who felt responsible for our own lives, were better off. We felt less shock, adapted quickly and moved on. The people who suffered most were those who believed they had jobs for life and trusted the bank to look after them. Turns out no organisation takes responsibility for you. The experience set in concrete my belief that it serves you best when you know yourself and what you really want out of life. This gives you a stable point of reference – an internal compass if you will – and allows you to navigate choppy waters.

As for living with the day-to-day uncertainty for the for the following 3 or 4 years in the bank, once we accepted that we didn’t know what was going to happen from week to week, it just became our new normal. We adapted the way human beings are designed to adapt, even to the craziest circumstances. Every time things around me changed, I asked myself ‘OK, in this new normal, what are my options?’

That lesson stands to me now in my new normal with ME/CFS. There is no way to predict my future, I could get better or worse. Should I put my life on hold and worry about getting worse? It’s a seductive option, but I might spend my life waiting and worrying. And that was another lesson I learned in the bank; all the worrying we did every day for months or years was a giant waste of energy. It made no difference at all to the outcome.

So in my new normal today my highest priority goal is to look after myself and regain what health I can. I also choose to focus on what I can do, and not on all I am missing out on. Although, naturally I have my moments! The biggest positives for me are that I can still live independently (phew!) and I can still do a few hours work a week. So I’m happy about that. Of course, some days focusing on what I can do means I celebrate getting the dishes washed, who knew that could be a huge achievement?! 🙂

The most important practice for me in midst of uncertainty is to enjoy every little thing I can find to enjoy. This keeps me in the best state of mind to make good choices along the way.



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