On Control (or lack thereof)

Maya Foster - Ecuador

March 17, 2019

Our brains are pattern recognition machines, fine tuned to process our

surrounding stimuli and create predictions and respond appropriately. When

we are given stimuli A and B, we are inclined to respond with action C, as

opposed to any other letter. We are constantly intaking, analyzing, and

synthesizing, all faster than a supercomputer and on less energy than it

takes to power a lightbulb. But, sometimes, our brains are wrong. Sometimes

we come to incorrect conclusions, or misinterpret the evidence we’re given.

Sometimes we consistently come to these incorrect conclusions because we

have been proved correct just enough to convince ourselves that we’re

correct. Sometimes we’re just wrong.

My brain is wired to expect for illness to lead to catastrophe. This

probably occurs for a multitude of reasons, but the most prevalent one is

that in the winter of my freshman year of high school, I got pneumonia. I’d

been sick for a few weeks, a common cold or maybe a touch of the flu, but

two days before winter break was over I was rushed to the ER for an asthma

attack that my inhaler couldn’t fix. After some chest x-rays, the doctor

came into the room and informed us that there was fluid buildup in my lungs

and that I needed antibiotics. I cannot tell you what the worst part of

this was. Maybe it was the isolation (I was essentially quarantined for

weeks), or the anxiety of missing so much school at such a critical time.

It might’ve been the fact that I was cut from dance pieces in our February

show because I missed so many rehearsals. The consequences of this illness

felt like punishments for getting a sickness I never asked for. A sickness

I couldn’t control. And for someone with an ongoing struggle with anxiety,

the notion of being out of control is paralyzing. It is the ultimate

trigger. Since then, more than ever, I expect for common colds to become

life-threatening illnesses, for small health problems to be death

sentences. This is, quite obviously, a flaw in my wiring. A pattern for

which my brain has assigned an incorrect outcome.

Naturally, the first time I got sick in Ecuador was terrifying for me. In

September, I got a cold that developed into a little bacterial throat

infection, nothing serious. I went to the local clinic, a doctor that comes

to an empty room near the church every third Sunday, struggled through

trying to tell him about my symptoms in my terrible spanish, and got some

antibiotics. Yes, I missed a few days at my new apprenticeship, but it

wasn’t the worst thing to ever happen to me. The next two times were a bit

harder. The first was an intestinal infection (which required some pretty

harsh antibiotics), and the second was a viral throat infection that I just

couldn’t seem to shake. In January, I started to feel a little sick, just

some stomach problems here and there. But nothing was consistent and I had

some good days mixed in with the bad, so I assumed all was well. About a

month ago, I started to only have bad days. After five visits to the doctor

and two rounds of antibiotics, I’m left feeling about the same.

I’m frustrated. I’m exhausted. I feel so utterly out of control. And I’m

fighting myself, trying to balance taking my health seriously and spiraling

into hypochondriacal madness. But, I feel like I’m doing what I came here

to do. I’m wrestling with discomfort. I am usually uncomfortable, either

physically and mentally, but I’m living through it. I’m finding joy, I’m

learning, and I’m growing. Maybe this is despite my illness, but maybe it’s

because of it. I’ve been thrown a lot of challenges this year, and I’ve

lived through them all. Every day, I prove to myself that I’m stronger than

I ever thought I was. I’m living my life, I’m not in control, and I’m fine

with that.

The human brain is astounding. We often hear the phrase “hard-wired” to

describe our minds, when in reality that isn’t the case. We’re soft-wired.

We’re malleable. We have the capacity for change. This concept is generally

referred to as neuroplasticity. When we take advantage of it, we can pull

ourselves out of depression, re-train obsessive-compulsive behaviors, and

recover from brain traumas. I’m working on altering my response to

vulnerability and lack of control. I’m learning to be patient with myself,

and to deal with things as they come. It took getting sick in a foreign

country (four times!) for me to get here, but I think that’s worth it in

the long run.

Chao for now,


[image: blogphoto.jpg]

Maya Foster