How to Live with “Not Knowing”

Knowing is essential to most of us. It calms the fear of the unknown and helps us make decisions. Yet a lot of life comprises ‘not knowing’ and how can we deal with it and live fully in the moment.

We are taught from an early age ‘to know and don’t let anyone know you don’t know.” “Fake it until you make it” is an expression used when we have to deal with the unknown.

Not knowing is about living in uncertainty which can create a range of feelings that block our ability to feel ok in our lives.

Not knowing is scary and can be challenging to deal with in our lives.

My Big Not Knowing

Recently I was diagnosed with stage 4 indolent cancer. Indolent cancer is slow-moving, unlike aggressive, which I had in 2007.

Stage 4 cancer seems quite ominous, yet given that it is indolent and my symptoms are minor at this time, the recommendation is that I “wait and watch,” along with check-ins with the oncologists to see if anything is changing. “Wait and watch” protocols are set in place to track how I am doing.

The doctor could start treatment and get rid of cancer, yet this type frequently comes back.   Since it is slow-moving, “wait and watch” is the recommendation I’ve received from several people.

Now, this is a significant unknown for me. The first time around, in 2007, treatment started immediately, and I felt it could heal from it – which I did for 14 years. Stage 4 cancer gripped me, and I faced significant fear.

Having a cancer diagnosis a second time is significant stress, though not doing anything but watching has added tremendous inner pressure. I’m a doer, and not doing isn’t my first choice.

I am still digging deep into myself to sit with the unknown.

I did what I usually do, head out to the internet to research this type of cancer, and more so, how to sit with the unknown.

The process for me is similar to how many people feel with the unknown – no matter what the situation occurring:

What Surfaces Up in Not Knowing

  • Vulnerability
  • Fears
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Denial
  • Worrying

What does knowing create?

  • Safety
  • Control
  • We have a plan

How can you deal with “not knowing.”

  • Research what you need to know, and don’t linger forever in the research mode. You may not know everything, but enough to decide what is best to do next.
  • You are in control of your emotions, so gather the information you need and make the best decision on acting or feeling in a given unknown situation.
  • Write, write, write down your worries – it’s good to write down all of your concerns around the unknown situation, reflect on them, and decide the next best step.
  • Most decisions you can reverse or revise when you get more information. Sitting in the unknown and worrying will not support your well-being
  • Distract yourself – sometimes the unknown is truly scary, and you need some distraction to break the cycle of concern and worry. After a break, go back and tackle the unknown and make your best decision given the information you currently know.

When is ‘not knowing’ potentially good for you?

To not know – can it ever be good for you?   Sometimes the journey is a gift:

  • not knowing exactly where it will take you,
  • showing up and doing your best,
  • having faith, it will work out,
  • and let go of worries that most likely will not be of concern for you in the future,
  • releases a lot of good energy for you to use elsewhere in your life.

How to be comfortable not knowing

You can create actions to guide you through the “not knowing.”

  • Focus on what you know today about a situation or what is essential for you to do to feel better about yourself.
  • Reframe your resistance to being anxious about the unknown to accepting it is the state right now.
  • Trust in yourself to figure out how to best handle a situation, even a challenging one.
  • Find ways to take care of yourself during the journey of the unknown.
  • Being anxious will not help you deal with the unknown; it will only take the good energy you need to deal with whatever comes up and support your well-being.

How do you live today with not knowing?

Living with not knowing doesn’t mean you deny the situation. It’s more about proactively researching and defining the variables in the present case and making the best decision for you at the current time.

Decisions don’t indicate that all will be well; instead, you decide how to move forward with the most information you find.

For me, this is how I’ve dealt with it so far

  • I went into shock and just froze with the information.
  • I took some valium for the first pet scan and my first meeting with the oncologist. They wanted to know why I only got five pills – I call it my pet scan valium.
  • I recorded the sessions with my oncologist because fear, shock, and other emotions blocked my clarity. I heard a lot of what she said, but I remembered only one thing clearly that fostered my fear even more. By myself, listening to the session allowed me to receive more information about what I was dealing with and helped me decide what I wanted to do.
  • I reached out to others who had contacts in the medical field, and they too agreed that “wait and watch” was a good action at this time.
  • Still struggling with not doing anything to get rid of this cancer, I scheduled therapy sessions to talk it out and got a great perspective that helped me start dealing with the unknown. The reality is there is no insurance policy if I get treatment – this type of cancer can come back. So waiting to see if it has a real impact on my daily living was a good decision. So far, it has only a minor physical effect.
  • I reached out to a dietician to see if I could tweak my eating habits to create the best body environment. Never too late.
  • I scheduled massages to offset the tension in my body.
  • Started back to meditation to help me stay grounded in my energy.
  • I started working with a “mindset” coach to help me change my view of potentially dying from this cancer to a more fluid way of handling the diagnosis and moving forward in my life.
  • Most importantly, I decided to follow the oncologist’s recommendation, which has allowed me to release some of the stress of “wait and watch.”

The above helped me DO SOMETHING, besides wait.   Digging deep into myself, I realize that my life in this world always had unknown in it, so it’s still the same now. Each day, I remind myself that I have a choice – do I let the cancer diagnosis govern my day, energy, and joy, or do I face it and let it go for today. It’s not always an easy choice to make each day, yet it’s mine to make if I decide to.

Your Thoughts

What unknown challenges are you dealing with now?   How do you handle not knowing?   Do you have emotional tools to work with the unknown in your life?

Women’s Group Topics

The scary place is called the “unknown.” We have all been there and assume we will still revisit this place. How can we listen to each other and support each other in the unknown?

Be well,

“To fully enjoy the ‘richness’ of our lives, we need to stop long enough to visit with ourselves.”
(Pat Brill)


Other Topics You May Be Interested In
Be Like a Cat and Relax and Nurture Yourself
The Benefits of Journaling
How to Let Go of Ambivalence





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