Maybe it’s age, turning 50. Or the impending emptying of my nest, or the nearing of menopause, or having published a memoir, putting a lot of personal truth out into the universe and finding out that only good has come from it so far. But something in the way I’m looking at ‘the truth’ is changing. something has shaken loose, and I’m finding myself trusting my intuition and judgment more and more. And beyond that, being unwilling to stay silent when I have an important truth to speak.
I’m not saying that I am impulsively blurting out everything I think. Or that I’ve gotten the idea that I’m right all the time. On the contrary, I actually am much more settled, too, able to sit with things and think them over, consider different facets, and bide my time, than I ever was before. But if, after all that consideration, I have something to say, I am much less likely to hold my tongue for fear of repercussion. I don’t want to remain silent on all the difficult and uncomfortable issues that arise in life anymore. There’s toxic waste in all the material that gets stuffed and bottled and never spoken of, and I don’t want to be a toxic waste dump.
I’ve always trusted my intuition in my work, and that has served me well. No, I can’t ‘intuit’ a complicated diagnosis, but the part of medicine that is art, as opposed to science, depends on immediate perceptions that are not always backed up by hard evidence. Of course I use signs and symptoms and test results. But I also just ‘know’ certain things. Here’s an example: A patient I’ve known for a number of years has been declining treatment for a condition that is not life-threatening, but that decreases the quality of his life, because he has heard negative things about the medication he would need to take. While I disagree with what he has heard, pushing him on the topic made him angry in the past, so we discuss it each visit but I stopped pushing him some time ago. On his last visit, we had the same conversation that we always have about his symptoms. But I just had a feeling that something had shifted, so I was more forceful with him about the need for medication. And this time, he accepted the prescription. I can’t even put my finger on what was different. I just knew.
In other areas of my life, however, I can sometimes flip-flop. My inner voice will tell me one thing, but ‘evidence’, or other people, will sway me in another direction. I was having a falling-out with my son, who is at college, recently. Not a complete rift; we were talking but we both knew things weren’t right. We’d argued and he’d said some hurtful things. We ended a phone conversation without resolving things, and I was hurt and angry. I knew in my heart that I needed to talk to him face-to-face and that for it to be okay, he would have to apologize for crossing a line into disrespect before we could rehash and repair the actual argument. But my husband said, “maybe you should forget it; I just remember how clueless I was about my parents at that age and I don’t think he’s capable of understanding.” A therapist friend said, “You’ll only make things worse; he needs to feel angry at you.” Another friend said, “Don’t hold your breath; they NEVER apologize.” I almost listened. And I’m sure plenty of people would fault me for holding onto my hurt. But I know myself and I know my son. I also know the power of the words “I’m sorry” for both the giver and the receiver. So I held out for that conversation at Thanksgiving, and it was worth it.
My daughter has told me that she thinks I’m a witch. Not because of how mean I am, although she may think that too. But because I know things she hasn’t told me, and that nobody else has told me either. This is not because I’ve been snooping on her Facebook page or going through her possessions, either; I wouldn’t do that. And honestly, I don’t need to. I’m just in tune with her enough that I often know when something’s going on with her without her saying so. The thing is, I’ve stopped telling her what I know, unless it’s absolutely necessary, because she finds it intrusive. I’m trying to stop noticing some of it. It would be better for both of us. Good thing she’s going to college next year.
Just because I know the truth doesn’t mean I always have to say it. There are lots of times it’s fine just to keep stuff to myself. But trusting myself to know when it’s time to speak up, for my own good or someone else’s, is a good thing. And then doing at the right time and in the right way- that really makes a difference. I know there will be mistakes. Like everything else, it’s a work in progress.