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What are you looking forward to right now?
Plan for the future, even if it feels like it might never come.
When my doctor runs through her list of questions to assess the current state of my mental health, she always asks, “Is there anything you’re looking forward to right now?”
And I almost always answer, “No.”
For the past few years, I have had very little (or often, nothing) on the horizon to look forward to. Right as we were coming out of the newborn phase with Little Guy #2, the pandemic happened and plans—big and small—were paused and then cancelled. Eventually, I just stopped making plans. It seemed better to protect myself from disappointment than carry false hope that things would get better soon.
This isn’t the first time I’ve experienced a paralysis when attempting to plan for the future. Once upon a time, I had cancer, and I refused to let myself imagine any further than the next few months. I wouldn’t allow myself to dream of buying a house, or having a kid, or getting old. I felt like making plans would somehow tempt fate and spoil my chances at survival.
Now that I’m almost 10 years post-cancer diagnosis (!), I find myself more at ease thinking about things in future terms. I still can’t think about the concept of retirement, and I still get a lump in my throat when I entertain the possibility of not being around to see my kids grow up. It’s one of the many complicated gifts cancer bestowed upon me—an appreciation for my mortality, combined with an extreme fear of dying young.
Some of the big things I used to stop myself from daydreaming about have now happened. I had the kid, bought the house, had another kid. Life happened.
But life was interrupted once again with the threat of Covid-19. And there was, quite literally, nothing to look forward to. No nights out. No vacations. No outings with the kids. It all stopped. And it’s been hard to plan when the future feels so uncertain. There is no reliable end-point to the madness, just conjecture. We want definite answers, but there simply aren’t any.
I spoke to my therapist recently about the cycle of tedious repetition I’m stuck in. I told her how every day, it feels like I’m racing to do everything I possibly can while my kids aren’t here, then counting down the hours until bedtime when they are here. Each day feels like something to get through.
Can you guess what she suggested?
Plan something for the future. A break from the monotony of pandemic life.
What’s the point? I thought. There will be another lockdown. More restrictions. More cancellations. More disappointment.
Some of those things might be true. But they also might not be.
Maybe things will be better. Maybe the pandemic will be over. Maybe we’ll finally feel relief. Freedom.
What if that version ends up being the true one?
As it turns out, there are big benefits from making plans—even if they don’t end up coming to fruition.
“We know anticipating something positive actually helps to maintain dopamine levels in your brain. So just the very idea of anticipating something good can physically change your brain chemistry so you feel happy.”
Who am I to argue with science?
Last night, I broke my rules, and planned for the future. I booked a few nights at a cottage for my family this summer. A rush of excitement ensued. Sure, it was tinged with anxious thoughts. But it was there.
Something to look forward to. At last.
Next time my doctor asks me the dreaded question, I’ll have a different answer. I’ll tell her I’m looking forward to the summer, sitting by a lake, watching my kids play in the sand together for the first time.
It might not happen. Just like you, I have no idea what tomorrow or the next day will bring. But I’m making plans.
Maybe you should give it a shot too.
Stray Thoughts 💭
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