becoming a self in history, becoming a self in my street

Mark Chitty

I had a privileged upbringing. My stable family and expensive education had given me a can-do approach to life which had always seen me through any difficulties and challenges I had met.

In my late twenties, with a burgeoning career in London, a happy marriage and a demanding two year old son, my wife Ruth suddenly became seriously ill. At first I met this situation with my usual optimism. “Ah, she’ll be back on her feet in no time” I would say to friends and family. And even as the weeks of pain and sickness turned into months of hospital visits and no clear prognosis, I continued to behave as if ‘next week’ Ruth would be better.

A cycle of endless work unfolded. My mother-in-law came up from Devon to look after my wife and son during the week. I took over in the evenings and weekends. The months passed. My life was gradually squeezed thinner and thinner.

Then one unremarkable evening, many months on, something happened. As usual, I came home from work, I plodded through the routine of putting my son to bed, I helped Ruth out, and I finally collapsed on the sofa with a beer, staring vacantly at the wall. But this evening I was struck by a new thought. I had been doing this for 8 months now. Ruth was still seriously ill. ‘Next week’ things were not going to be any better. Shit.

This realization prompted a fundamental shift in my thinking. For the first time in my life I couldn’t fix a problem by doing. Ruth was ill. Nothing seemed to help. She might be ill for years. She may never even get better. So now what? How could I live with this new reality? Was there a way to stop fighting it and bend with it instead?

With this change, this facing of facts, this admitting defeat, there came an internal letting go of my rigid mantra that had always declared: ‘This is who I am and this is how my life should be’. This shift suddenly opened up a whole new set of creative opportunities. My helplessness, when I finally acknowledged it, turned out not to be crushing and disempowering as I had expected. Instead it opened the door to a new roomful of inner resources I never knew existed: resources that could foster inner fluidity and help me to see myself not as a fixed point, an immutable pillar of rightness in a world gone wrong, but as a creature that could adapt and learn and grow and change its perceptions and responses to the world. I had found a whole new axis of movement in which to cultivate being alive.