This week, someone in my family got invited to apply for two fabulous jobs- all in one day; jobs that she hadn’t been looking to do; jobs that she had perhaps thought about, but never seriously. But jobs that each pay better, and have more authority and responsibility than hers does now. She’s not sure she wants to do either of them, but she’s mulling possibilities now; whereas, on Monday morning as she drove in for work, she was mulling the weather. Now, she’s faced with choices- and with choices, comes some stress.
One of the things that is most frustrating is when you have no choices- when events beyond you are driving what happens next. To feel powerless in that situation can create anger and helplessness.
But it can be equally daunting to have too many choices. When multiple pathways open up and present themselves, you can feel frozen and angry and afraid that you’ll make wrong choice. Too many choices can be as stressful as no choices at all. It may be even more stressful- but it is certainly a very different sort of stress. Coupled with the anxiety of the implications of the choices is the realization that if you choose wrong, the only one to blame is yourself.
I’ve seen it so many times- and experienced it. It does appear that the Universe has a tremendous sense of humor in not providing any options and then providing too many options. When we were going through autism identification for Elizabeth, there were no choices- there was one Early Intervention specialist available and one date available for identification and only one road in front of me. Her sensory and language issues led to one label of PDD-NOS, which led to one therapist which lead to a coordinated approach of treatment between an Occupational therapist and a speech therapist. When she “graduated” out of therapy, her ability in school led to one label of gifted. Elizabeth has always been a sequential child.
This was in stark contrast to my son- where we got choices of which way we wanted to proceed with his issues. Did we want to go down the nutritional route and address his eating issues? Did we want to go with the neurologist and address his issues from a Tourette’s perspective? Did we want to address his anxiety issues? Did we want to address his speech impediment? His attention difficulties? His sensory issues? His oppositional defiance? His strong academics, but not strong enough to fit into classic gifted, but perhaps twice-exceptional? His issues do not fall tidily into one little label. The help that we seek changes depending on his needs- which means that we get ping-ponged between doctors, between medications, between choices, between doing nothing and doing something… anything. No wonder my son’s issues are the ones that have me in knots on a regular basis- we have too many choices to deal with, and I’m responsible for which way we go. Or don’t go.
When Ray is presented with choices, the stress is enough to send him into a very, very dark spot. He is so afraid of making the wrong choice, that he often can’t make any choice at all. Even something as simple as “What do you want for dinner?” is enough to send him into a tailspin. Libraries and stores are terrible places for him- he is overwhelmed with the choices available to him. But he’s too anxious to give up control, which makes him oppositional. I have learned to play the Choice Game with him- which has two steps. The first is to give him two choices. He will reject them both, because they were choices that I came up with, not him- so they must be rejected. I provide a third choice- one that I indicate that I’m not crazy about- and he selects from between the three- often the third. It’s a dance we do- and one that I haven’t mastered yet, because I keep forgetting to come at him sideways. Then, once he has decided, he agonizes about what he missed.
I have always hated that “Road not Taken” – when you’re deciding medication, jobs, colleges… etc.- these are all big choices. Your choice is going to impact your life, others’ lives, and your family’s lives. It’s that Making Up Your Mind part that can be so stressful. Especially when you don’t know everything- especially when you don’t have all the information. Especially when you don’t KNOW. Especially when there might be something else that comes up later- or maybe she makes no choice at all, which is a choice as well.
Luckily, I was raised by a mother who taught me to make a decision carefully- and then stick with it. That spending time afterwards in a “might have/could have/ should have” state of mind is pointless. That if you don’t like your choice, you either decide to stay with it, or you decide to change it, but you don’t spend your time dithering- once you’ve made up your mind.
And so as my family member decides between Option #1, Option #2, she’s wondering if there’s a possible Option #3 coming down the road. Because once she makes up her mind- she’s heading down that path- and there’s no looking back.