Stop, go. Wrong, right. Love, hate. Win, lose. War, peace. Rich, poor. Black, white. Big, small. Lost, found. Noisy, quiet. Brave, coward. Public, private. Light, dark. Fast, slow. Guilty, innocent. Employed, unemployed. Pass, fail. On, off. Definitely, maybe. Remember, forget.
When I first woke from my Sepsis coma after four months, and for a long time after that in the midst of my ensuing personal crisis, I had a reflex that made me see situations as black or white – in what I’d call, binary terms. I’d just been through 4 amputations and my face had been removed, my head was literally in a mess. It was full of stark alternatives. For about a minute, the most pressing was question was whether to live or die. For about 60 seconds, I thought about that, and whether or not it was fair to inflict my disabled self on my wife and family.
Eighteen and a half years on, I’m glad I got on top of that one quickly and made the right choice. My life is never easy, never comfortable, never pain-free, but it is full of love, light and activity, people and things that I adore and interesting opportunities. The most important thing I’ve learned through these 2 decades of profound change is this sense that compromise can be healing. That things are not binary. That in every situation, there are shades of grey, room for interpretation, ground to be given away, new chances to grow and new things to understand. This is especially helpful when things go against me.
My recent job change is a good example. I’d been working as a staff writer for a company in Leicester on a 6-month fixed term contract, I really loved the work and was hoping the contract would be renewed when it came up for review at the beginning of July. But it wasn’t, and it felt like a huge setback – it was the first well-paid job I’ve had since I became severely disabled and I felt proud I was finally contributing to my family. I’m back on minimum wage in the local call centre. It feels like I might be there now until I retire.
But I’m not being binary about it. In actual fact, going back to the call centre has reminded me that I have fantastic friends there, that simple honest work can be gratifying, plus I’ve found more time in the last week or two for new projects at home. I’m grateful to go back to an employer that will provide me with the security of long term work that won’t just disappear. I don’t earn very much, but I feel like the managers and staff at the call centre respect me. That’s worth something. And now, I have more time to devote to developing our public speaking business, to help our 2 grown-up kids as much as I can, and to enjoy a bit of free time too.
Give, take. Live, die. Cancer, cancer free. Strong, weak. In, out. Promised, betrayed. Smart, casual. Smiling, crying. Certain, unsure. Cold, hot. Give, take. Touch, avoid. Loose, fixed. Travel, stay. Kiss, turn away. Show, tell. Show, hide. Night, day. Confess, lie. Agree, disagree. Sleep, wake. Hard, soft. Bore, entertain. Abandon, keep. Run, crawl. Fly, fall. Friend, enemy. Shout, whisper. Begin, end.
In a way, life is good. At least I know where I stand. And things are not binary, in my mind. You know, over the years I’ve learned to take firm control of the way I think about things. It’s up to me to control that – nobody else. Life’s not all about the difference between success or disaster. Ability, disability. Happy, sad. There’s a path we can all walk in between, safely, creatively, quietly, enjoying the shades of grey, accepting the twists and turns, with love in our hearts.
So, my question to you is, what’s your most pressing problem right now – and in relation to that, what good compromises can you make, and where are the shades of grey that might make you feel better?