Once again I’m harnessing the current of social media that has flooded my way; this week there has been a lot of buzz about control. I read one fairly good article about it, and saw many fluffy new-agey memes about it. Now, if my intention truly manifested in my life 100 percent, I would never see another meme ruined by “type yes if you agree,” but there they are.
The article, from a site called getrichslowly.org, asserts that the difference between happy people and unhappy people is in their locus of control. Happy people believe they control their own destinies while unhappy people feel that external circumstances are responsible for their condition in life. This is not a new idea. I first heard it in high school, and there was still a bank of wooden card drawers in the school library back then.
Then you have the flood of social media memes with beautiful pictures and relentless-positive-thinking talk. You know the ones:
- You’re the only one who can stand in your own way.
- No one can hurt you without your consent.
- You can’t change what happens, but you can change your attitude.
These sayings have their place, but these emotional sound bites tend to hit a lot of people the wrong way at the wrong time. Sometimes they lead to victim-blaming and victim-shaming. Everything I could say about it here, Barbara Ehrenreich said better in her book Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking has Undermined America.
I think any intelligent, rational person will recognize that like most things, the answer is in the middle. There is a lot we can do to help ourselves and change our own destinies. And there is a lot of crap that happens that is beyond your control, and it’s not as simple as deciding not to mind.
I’m thinking about this lately because I’m in the reinvention stage of my life following a catastrophic injury, and I’ve been fighting to get disability benefits. I’m on the borderline, where it’s hard to prove, but just as hard to earn a living. I realized, though, after filling out reams of paperwork and dealing with soulless bureaucrats, that this is making me an unhappy person. I walk around feeling wronged all the time. I absolutely was wronged, but my survival is a miracle and I don’t want to spend my time feeling this way.
Once you start tapping into the safety net programs, you surrender privacy and control. Your locus of control shifts outward whether you are aware of it or not; I think the culture is set up for that so you will be more compliant. It started with SNAP (formerly food stamps), when the case worker wanted to phone my mother to verify some information on my application. I am 53 years old! I was going to walk out, but they backed off. I can’t tell you how demoralizing it was to be infantilized that way. When I had to use the bathroom, I had to be escorted back to the caseworker’s cubicle by a security guard. I hadn’t thought about the possibility of stealing anything before then.
I was recently shunted onto Apple Health (Washington’s Medicaid) and I have to submit to a care manager. I’m having a hell of a time finding anyone to listen to the fact that I can’t have a random care manager; I need a qualified physiatrist like the one I already have, but you have to use their doctors. All I did was revise my income on the state insurance exchange and it disenrolled me in my ACA plan and put me on Apple Health, and won’t let me go back and just undo that session. My premium was paid through to the end of the month and I had met my deductible. I was about to schedule an MRI that my primary provider had recommended for a knee injury. Today I visited an advocacy agency to try to straighten all this out. I could hear the privilege in my own voice, the vibe of “I don’t belong here; do you know who I am?” No, they don’t. But I know who I am, and I’m taking back control. It means I have to meet a specific income figure for 3 consecutive months in order to do it, and I’ll meet it even if I have to go back to driving food orders again.
I’m not going to quit posting about my bike adventures on social media just to appease people who might be questioning my inability to do full-time on-site work. I’m not going to defend myself to some HMO case manager every time I want to do something to be actively healthy instead of just maintaining my damaged body. I’m not going to explain myself to people all the time. And that means I have to raise my income, lower my housing cost, and accomplish this reinvention at the world’s pace rather than my own. It’s hard and it’s a lot more work than just “turning that frown upside down.”
I’m curious to know how other people experience control issues in your lives. Most of us are pretty high-functioning (if your disability is indeed hidden), but you still probably have to make a lot of hard choices. There are a lot of trade-offs in our world.