Wishful thinking, a misnomer if ever there was one, since thinking’s not involved, is not the same as self deception. The latter really believes the lies to self, while the former is a type of hope. If wishful thinking becomes a habit though, it can solidify into self deception, which has probably caused more misery in the world than any other human habit. It’s very noticeable in addicts. They wish they were more clear headed, more reliable, and eventually convince themselves that they will be….. the next time. Probably my most dramatic encounter with self deception was in Vietnam, November 1969. I was waiting with my infantry platoon for the helicopters near the staging point for my first combat assault. Being the newest guy, I was intent on not showing the other guys how scared I was, so I kept my mouth shut and listened to the banter. Mostly, the theme was “I’m not worried, it’s the guys next to me that are going to get hit.” I asked an older guy if the others believed that. He said, “if we didn’t convince ourselves that someone else would get shot, we might not get on those helicopters.”
In war, the bullet that finds you, or the mine you step on, is the sudden, unexpected end of wishful thinking. But the same goes for ordinary life, except substitute drunk driver for bullet and cancer for a mine. Any moment can be your last, or at least the last moment of normalcy. March 11, 2016, I was flying high. I had just snagged a job that was perfect for me, and was starting to cook dinner, dreaming about how my second day of work was going to be so good. Suddenly, I was on the ground, partially paralyzed by a hemorrhagic stroke. When something like that suddenly happens, what usually follows immediately? “This can’t be happening” or “any second this will wear off.” More wishful thinking. That’s more picturesque than self deception, and since I really didn’t believe it, I wasn’t deceived. Believing you will get better is necessary for hope, which is necessary for the motivation to put in the work to get better. That’s a constructive form of wishful thinking. I worked hard in rehab, overcame a lot of frustration when I wanted to give up, because I believed the work would pay off.
It did. Within 6 months of the stroke, I was walking almost normally. Months went by, and a part of me noticed that not only was I not getting better, but slowly, subtly, I didn’t was losing function. “It’s just a temporary plateau” I told myself, “I will start improving soon. It’s been three years since the stroke. I am considerably worse than 6 months after the stroke. Do I still think I will get better? Did I seek every remedy, from physical and occupational therapy to scans, medications, diet and exercise? Yes. What do I tell myself now? “I might get better, but after 30 months of no progress, I probably won’t. Nevertheless, I will continue to exercise to the limits of my ability, and arrange my life to make it easier to function within my limitations.”
I resisted putting the house up for sale, resisted using a cane all the time, as long as I maintained the wishful thinking that I would get better. It took 30 months of stasis to admit that I am a disabled person, and to make appropriate arrangements. Selling the house too large and inconvenient for me, moving to a fully furnished ADA compliant apartment on the ground floor, getting a smartwatch which connects to a monitoring service, and using a quad cane most of the time fit my reality rather than my hopes. I don’t intend to be one of those people who hold onto the illusion or self deception that they are as independent as always when they are actually unsafe in their lifestyle, resisting help or advice to change to a more manageable lifestyle. I’ve seen how that usually ends. Broken hips or other injuries, hospitalizations and children obsessed with fear about how their parents are doing. I have three daughters in their 20’s, and I want them to live their lives without worrying about my health.
If you are reading this, and either an older adult, or the adult child of elderly parents, there’s an important document you need to create. For anyone, regardless of health, life or consciousness could end in an instant, even more so for the elderly and infirm. If you suddenly died, will your survivors know how to deal with and access your assets and debts? I created a document that lists my assets, including websites, usernames and passwords, and debts, where income is coming from and where it is deposited and how I pay bills (all are paid online). This document is both physical and electronic, on a password protected memory stick. I have told my children and former wife–their mother–the password and the location of the physical document, and have a will which names my personal representative, a durable power of attorney (in case I am alive but incapable of making financial decisions) and a healthcare directive (also called healthcare power of attorney). The latter two documents are on my refrigerator along with a comprehensive list of medications, allergies (none), medical history and my blood type. I also have a healthcare directive on file with my main medical providers. The documents on the refrigerator are so the paramedics can grab that information. I also have a lockbox on the front door containing a house key. I was alone when the stroke hit, and managed to call 911, and worried paramedics would have to break in, but the door was open. The combination to the lockbox is on file with a website, Smart911.com. along with a lot of other information for paramedics. Anyone can sign up for an account. I would advise readers who live alone to go on their website and see what information they can file for paramedics or the police and fire departments.
When I started this post, I didn’t intend to get personal in it. But then I thought, maybe this can do readers a service. Delaying taking care of things like I suggested is usually the product of self deception. You don’t want to leave your loved ones with a mess, do you?