Monday, June 3, 2013

6 Ways to Build Certainty in an Uncertain World.

Last week I talked about how routine brings comfort. Routines are regular procedures we create to give us structure and rhythm in our day.

This week's post explores the value of certainty in our lives. Unlike routines it brings comfort by existing outside of our life structure.

Benjamin Franklin famously said, "Certainty? But in the world nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes.”

 I like to think there is more certainty than that in the world.......
I know that I can guarantee with a great degree of certainty, that my son Benjy’s bedroom floor will always be a mess. Marks and Spencer will always sell underwear and that my sister Anna will have at least one parcel delivered to my house from eBay each day of the four weeks before my Mum  arrives from London and takes them all home for her.

I think certainty and predictability are very comforting. These two attributes help structure my family’s life, help us manage our expectations about others’ behaviors and give us a framework in which to function. Too much predictability however can make life seem rather boring (not sure I know how that feels) and too little leaves you unsteady on your proverbial feet.

When Jonny’s pain from trigeminal neuralgia* was escalating in mid - October 2011, the only thing that was 100% certain was that he could not continue indefinitely in that vein. Much of what we had assumed would be certain in our lives, was now in question. 

Would Jonny ever be pain free?

 Would we find a way to manage his pain? 

Would he be able to go back to work, to travel, to laugh? 

Would we be able to resume our life as we knew it, before trigeminal neuralgia invaded it?

With all this uncertainty I became very focused on things no one could change and that I could rely on. I marveled at the colors (colours) of the autumn leaves, the size of the glassy moon mid-month and  Macy’s having another sale. Even Benjy’s messy floor seemed comforting. (Benjy – please note: this was only reassuring for that brief period.)

Awake at 6:30 a.m, I would soak up each sunrise that was emerging reliably every morning, but was never a carbon copy of the day before. 

One morning however the sunrise was so staggering that I went knocking on the boys’ bedroom doors to make sure they didn’t miss it. As you have probably guessed they were, predictably non-plussed at my excitement but grudgingly took a peak.

In the certainty of the sunrise there was the implausibility of volcanic magnificence as you can see from the pictures above and below, taken outside our front door. This to me was the perfect balance of predictability and surprise: in this case volatile, breathtaking beauty.

Outside our front door

 Now that’s the kind of certainty I can live with.

And now 20 months on what can I tell you, I have learned about managing uncertainty? 

How can I suggest ways to bring comfort  to you when there is the kind of imbalance in your life that makes you fearful, sceptical, tentative and exhausted? 

What can you do when the only thing it seems you can be certain of, is that things are changing rapidly and do not appear to be in your control?

 I would suggest you look for the people and things around you that are very unlikely to change whilst you are going through so much uncertainty. I cannot promise 100% certainty but high levels of it are comforting. Here are some high degrees of certainty  I found that helped in uncertain times.

1. Nature -the rhythm of the seasons was very reassuring. The Autumn leaves in Fall, the contrast of naked trees against a blue sky in winter, the cherry blossom and tulips in spring and the heat of summer. These certainties were comforting as I sat on our porch through the long months before and after Jonny's surgery.

2. Family and Friends-the kind who call and text and email and turn up whether or not you can respond. Friends who know how to support you without trying to solve the unsolvable. I suggest you make a list of those people with their phone numbers. So that when you cannot think clearly about who to call, their names are easy to access.

3. Meal times that mark out your day. The certainty of these helps break up a day, when you can only think ahead an hour at a time. Have someone encourage you to eat these meals, so that you are feeding your body healthy fuel so that it can function when nothing else is certain. Fill your meals with food you know with certainty you will like and will feed you healthily. My Mom made me sandwiches when I went to the hospital every day to be with Jonny during his 2 week stay, so I knew I had something ready  to eat. I took yoghurts and fruit and baby carrots that would fit any meal description and were easy to take in small amounts.

4. Pets. I do not have a pet, but many people have told me that the certainty of their pet's unconditional love was extremely comforting.Whether they were out of the house for 5 minutes or 5 days their pets were thrilled to see them and the guaranteed response to their homecoming, was always cathartic.

5. Find a professional ally as part of your support structure. Depending upon the cause of this upheaval in your life, find a professional or team of professionals who can be your  reliable go-to people when you need expert guidance and certainty:-

 A lawyer you trust to guide you through divorce. A therapist to 'hold your hand' as you battle an illness/depression/ major life change. A doctor/medical professional to guide you thro the labyrinth of healthcare. An educational consultant to coach you through the myriad of needs your child with special needs may have or  a life coach to help you manage a challenging job or life challenge.

6. Remind yourself of the comfort of your routines and the small things that give you pleasure every time. That cup of tea or coffee, the taste of milk chocolate on your tongue, the smell of a pink rose, stroking your dog's ears. Whatever it is, don't forget the small things that ground you when pieces of your life have been thrown in the air.

One thing is for sure, I will certainly reply to any message you leave for me!

Take care


*Taken from The Johns Hopkins Website

"Trigeminal Neuralgia is an extremely painful condition usually involving one side of the face. It usually occurs spontaneously. It has a characteristic feeling of “shock-like” pain which travels through the face in a matter of seconds, but can occur in a repetitive fashion. Sometimes it is triggered by specific things ,mostly it starts and stops for no reason and an episode can last from minutes to hours at any one time.

The intensity of the pain is exceptional, and it is felt to be more severe than experiencing a heart attack, passing a kidney stone, or even having a baby. There is no other pain quite like this.
Trigeminal neuralgia can be very active for a time, and then seem to disappear, sometimes for long periods, but always recurs later, often with more intensity. We also know that the most commonly accepted theory of what causes trigeminal neuralgia is vascular compression. There are blood vessels that travel with the nerve, and if they cause pressure on the nerve or irritate it, pain can occur.

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  1. Dear Gilly,
    you posted a sunrise at about the same time as I posted a sunset. what an amazing photo yours is.
    I would have got out of bed for that too.
    We have actually seen the sun two days running , most definately "not" a certainty this year.

  2. I saw your picture. It is beautiful too. Views like that remind me of the constancy and surprise of the natural world. I find them VERY comforting and uplifting. 2 days in a row of sun -that is something to rave about on the UK!
    Thanks for commenting Jo.