By the time the doctor in a small town in northern Thailand diagnosed my 11-year-old daughter with Typhoid, we had been on the road for 234 days, fallen asleep in 92 different beds, learned to say cheers in 24 different languages, and dealt with one other major illness. We had learned that strangers can become dear friends, that relics can make even the most boring church interesting, and the right attitude is the only tool you need to deal with most anything the road sends your way. Even so, being joyfully informed by a doctor I barely understood that my 11 year old daughter had Typhoid definitely stretched my attitude boundary.
Admittedly, as this new information sunk in, the thought of packing up and heading someplace familiar crossed both my and my husband’s minds — more than once. This seed of doubt tested our decision to stay the course, as did the comments that appeared on our blog from friends and loved ones who gently suggested that we should throw in the towel and return to the safety and security of home for the sake of our child’s health.
Yet we had decided long before this diagnosis that we were going to spend the year traveling around the world as a family, and it was this commitment that helped us deal with the current situation and figure out a solution so we could move on.
This simple decision, to choose our commitment to our goal over the fear we faced, helped us overcome what came to be referred to as the ‘Typhoid Molly Scare’ along with innumerable other obstacles we faced along the way.
When we allow doubt to sneak in, we invariably let fear take the drivers seat. This fear can sound like “what if” and “if only” and “we should have.” It also shows up in other forms including FOMO (fear of missing out), FOF (fear of failure), FOBJ (fear of being judged), FOSO (fear of standing out), and FOMU (fear of messing up), to name a few.
And when fear is driving, there are no good solutions.
I experienced this the moment the doctor said Typhoid. Fear took over and my mind started spinning stories of mass destruction, my children being ripped from my arms due to neglect and other grave consequences. Yet, when I reconnected to our decision to travel the world, even in the face of Typhoid, I was able to allow joy and love back into the drivers seat. And with that simple reframe, options began to appear.
We could reverse course for a while and head back down the to the city of Chiang Mai. We could figure out the expiring Visa issue. We could seek out a better equipped, more competent and hopefully English speaking doctor. We could find a place to rest and rejuvenate while Molly recuperated. And most importantly, we could find peace in the process, rather than fear.
It was with this attitude that roadblocks became puzzles to solve rather than reasons to quit.
Deciding on a specific course of action first limits and then opens possibilities and it is at both of these junctures that we can get stuck. When we initially committed to traveling for a year we had to give up other possibilities. It’s the same with every choice that we commit to. Once we say yes to this and no to that, we forego some of our options. In my own life, this has often been a is a sticking place and has led me onto the murky path of indecision, which is caused by one thing and one thing only — fear.
When we do choose, if we’re not careful, we can let “the grass is always greener” thinking ruin our ability to make our decision work.
When Typhoid stood in the middle of our road, we asked ourselves if this was a trip-ender. The answer that came back was a firm no. The thought of ending our trip felt like giving in to fear and made us feel lethargic and sad. On the other hand, dealing with the typhoid diagnosis together as a family and making sure we were all healthy and ready for our next country left us feeling strong, connected and joyful.
Once we identified strong, connected and joyful as the way we wanted to feel we were able to start solving our current problem.
The good news is that you don’t have to wait for a Typhoid diagnosis to try this in your own life.
Experience has taught me that if, when I am facing a decision or a roadblock, I can stop, take three deep breaths and ask myself these simple questions, my thinking begins to clear and my attitude moves from fear to curiosity.
- When I think about making this choice do I feel drained or energetic?
- Does the scary feeling taste more like scarecited or dread?
- Is there a way to reframe the situation?
As we traveled along, we picked up many things in addition to the virus that mimicked Typhoid but wasn’t. (Please see above reference to “better equipped and more competent doctor.”) We found a love for meeting and befriending new people, an interest in all things local, an appreciation for different ways of seeing and doing things, a realization that despite our tendency to focus on the negative, most people are kind beyond measure, a weird obsession with the body parts of people long dead and an appreciation for each other, travel and home.
But perhaps most importantly we acquired an understanding that your attitude can make or break you.
When our family of four had decided to travel the world we had, perhaps naively, committed to something much bigger than ourselves… and much bigger than our day-to-day successes and failures. We had unknowingly committed to a yearlong study of the importance of your attitude. And I’m happy to report that our study concluded that the ability to choose your own attitude is truly one of our greatest gifts and most profound freedoms.
Originally published at lisaculhane.com on December 1, 2016.