When “What If” Becomes “What Is”

There is a voice inside my head. It sounds like my own. Higher pitched, but still familiar. When it speaks, I think of a girl pacing in a circle. Her hands fluttering like birds. Smoothing down her skirt, running through her hair, fingers clasping, unclasping. In the palm of each hand, two words: “What if?”

Photo credit: http://ow.ly/PzEf0
Photo credit: http://ow.ly/PzEf0

“What if they don’t like you? What if they think you’re stupid or silly or strange? What if you make a mistake while everyone’s watching? What if you can’t take it back? What if you trip and fall? What if there’s a fire? A flood? An attack?”

Paper cut to catastrophe. It is built on the bedrock of infinite imagination.

When was the voice planted? Where do its roots begin?

Maybe it comes from living on a city built over fault lines. Always shifting, shaking, threatening to break. Five years old and I’m hiding under a desk, my knees pressing into cold linoleum. “What if there’s an earthquake, class? How long do we hide?” Running home, excited, building What If kits with sticks of gum and tissues and pictures of family.

Maybe it comes from being hurt young. The not knowing what went wrong. The not knowing how to fix it. Four years old and I’m watching a white moving truck kick up dust on a quiet road. Disappearing with books and chairs and carefully wrapped dishes. With my dad. “What if he doesn’t come back?”

Maybe it comes from being hurt again. In different ways. Eighteen and I’m full of teenage cliches. Tear-stained pillows and scrawled poetry and waiting by the phone. But, he doesn’t like me. He never did. “What if no one ever does?”

Twenty-two and I’m sitting in a scratchy orange chair, holding confetti-coloured paper, and hearing new words strung together. “You have Crohn’s Disease.” Twenty-three and I’m back again. Same office, different coloured paper. “What if I don’t get better?”

Maybe it’s everything. Maybe it’s all of me. Maybe that’s why the voice gets so loud, sometimes. It’s not one girl. It’s a chorus. Every me that ever was is crying out.

What if I can’t control things?

Because, that’s what it all comes down to, really. That’s the ‘what if’ behind all of the others.

And, I know that you can’t control the things and the people around you. Sometimes, what if becomes what is, and the only control is how you respond to it.

I know this.

And, yet. The voice is still in my mind. Pacing. Ruining today by bringing up the endless possibilities of tomorrow.

“I’m feeling great, today. But, what about tomorrow? What if I’m sick again, then?”

The other day, I was having one of those moments. A good moment. A sun on your face, wind in the trees, smile on your face moment.

And, then. What if this all goes away?

I turned to my sister, my hands jumping at my sides. Frustration. “Do you ever have that voice?” I blurt. “The one that says ‘Okay, this is really great. But, what if something else happens?’”

“No.” She says. “It died a long time ago.”

“Died?” I smile. “How?”

“Suffocation.”

We laugh. Loud, long.

Then, she looks away, thoughtful for a moment. “At some point, I just stopped giving it oxygen.”

I like that. Maybe that’s the key. Recognize that voice. High-pitched, but still familiar. Call it by its name. And then, move on. Cut off its air, turn your back on it. And maybe one day it will just stop talking.

X

RG

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29 thoughts on “When “What If” Becomes “What Is”

    1. *Internet hug* I’m sorry you’re going through something similar, nicoleswifty. I think there’s something about having a chronic illness that makes you want to control ALL OF THE VARIABLES, when, really, having a chronic illness is life’s way of telling you that you have very limited control. But, it rarely stops you from trying. For a while, I would schedule things exactly so that I would always have enough time to feel sick in the morning, and I would plan everything so that I would always be around a bathroom…which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But, when ‘what ifs’ start bleeding into good days, something needs to change. Good luck with cutting off the oxygen to your little voice. We’re in it together 🙂

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  1. I have struggled with anxiety and depression from having UC (now indeterminate colitis because they just found an ulcer in my small intestine.) I know exactly what you mean when you are enjoying a good day and wondering when it’s going to go wrong. I do this all the time. I’m unbelievably grateful for the days that I go through without any pain but it’s replaced with anxiety about the range of complications that could happen tomorrow. I absolutely loved this post. Thank you so much for sharing. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for sharing, Liesl Marie. 🙂 It’s wonderful to connect with people, like yourself, who know where I’m coming from. That kind of understanding can be hard to find in the real world, sometimes. I’m thinking of you and hoping that many many good days come your way.

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  2. “Silver linings” is how I deal with that horrible little voice. The “what if” still comes, but it gets quieter the more I find to count into my blessings jar. I don’t have chrons, so I can’t compare. I did get my results back and I have colitis. It’s not ideal. It could be worse. The “what if” voice was rampant the night before my appointment and by the time I ‘woke’ (because let’s face it, we don’t sleep before we get results), I thought I was going to have cancer. That nasty voice can be too powerful. Keep that blessings jar nice and full. Don’t let it win. xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s lovely to hear from you again! I’m glad you finally got a result, and it’s good to hear that you’re trying to be positive about it. Good luck on whatever treatment path that you take. And I’ll try to find that silver lining, too. Thanks for the reminder 🙂

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  3. When I read your posts it always feels like my IBD is a blessing in disguise because voices like yours are the best way to get me through the struggle. Thanks for sharing this x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Emily! I appreciate you taking the time to comment and share 🙂 And I’m glad that you enjoyed the ending. My sister claims that 90% of the time she is thinking about food, but then she will go and have these moments of supreme wisdom when I wonder if she’s secretly a Jedi Master/Mother Willow from Pocahontas.

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  4. Beautifully put. There is a poetry in your words that took me along. Forced me really. To focus on my own what if moments, to wonder about my own voice. Sounds like you have good family and a good appraisal of your life.

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  5. Diagnosed with Crohns at 14, bowel resection at 18, have been in “remission” since the resection and yet 27 years later I still occasionally get the “what if it comes back” scenario on replay in my head (as well as a million others related to other topics). Were only there an “on/off” switch to that portion of my brain…

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  6. What a beautifully written post! I also have Crohn’s and anxiety, both of which are not doing so well at the moment. My mind is always asking ‘What If’. My way of dealing it is to answer it and talk to it like it’s a child lol. “What if I get severe pain during my lecture again?” Well, I would get up and leave and go chill in the bathroom. “But what if I take forever and miss my lecture?” Well, my lecturers know about my illness, so I wont get in trouble, and that’s why I always take my book with me. “But what if it doesn’t pass?” Well, then I’d call up my boyfriend or brother or parents and someone would come pick me up and take me home. “Oh … I suppose that makes sense, I’m glad we had this conversation.”
    Bit strange … but it works for me 😛

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  7. “Recognize that voice. High-pitched, but still familiar. Call it by its name.” I like that. When I was thirteen, my therapist told me to name my OCD. I called him Lestat, after Anne Rice’s vampire. Recognizing when it’s Lestat bothering me helps me cut off his oxygen–or in this case blood supply.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I love this. Inspiring, powerful. Very well done. ‘The voice’ that afflicts us all with a nightmarish view of reality… but once recognized for what it is, it loses its power. And the world may be painted in a different, brighter light.

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  9. This one made me cry. The four-year-old hurt. 😥 heart-breaking. It’s beautifully written, as all your posts are. (After using WordPress for nearly a year, I’m slowly learning where to find stuff – and joy of joys! I found a bunch of your posts that I hadn’t seen before, including this one!) Anyhoo, this one really resonated with me. I had to learn to cut off the oxygen to that little “what if” voice that never gave me a moment’s peace. It wasn’t easy. But so worth it! P.S. I too believe your sister is secretly a Jedi Master!

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