The Cognitive Dissonance of Having a Parent with Huntington’s
I’m a logical person. I tend to look at the numbers and make a rational assessment of a situation.
But I also want to be happily surprised rather than disappointed, so I expect the worst to be true. I describe it as being a realist who makes a conscious choice to be a pessimist. That way, I am prepared no matter the outcome.
That philosophy is isolated to looking at my own future. It does not apply when looking ahead for the people I care about. For them, I hope for the best. It would be too hard to think otherwise.
With Huntington’s disease, this philosophy causes cognitive dissonance. The first time it happened was when I believed that I had Huntington’s, but refused to believe that my mother had it. Due to the genetic nature of the disease, that would have been impossible since it was only found on my mother’s side. It hurt too much to believe that she would one day go through what my grandfather did.
More recently, it has happened with treatments. I think it is likely that a medical breakthrough will happen in my future. But I plan my life in ways that presume that to be untrue. This means thinking about my career path as being shortened, or ensuring that I put enough savings in my 401(k) (although that isn’t a bad idea, regardless).
Thinking more about the immediate future, it leaves me breathless to consider there might not be anything to stop the progression of my mother’s disease. She and I are so close that I can’t imagine her not being here. I don’t know who I would call to ask advice about every little thing. I have to believe that a treatment will surface.
Incompatible expectations are put to rest once one of them becomes true, like my mom being diagnosed with Huntington’s. Until that happens, I am simultaneously an optimist and a pessimist. I can’t only be hopeful about my future, because that would leave me unprepared. And I can’t assume the worst for my family and friends. That would make me perpetually sad.
Logically, I know that the two things cannot be true. But this dissonance seems only to occur with things I have no control over, and I have yet to run into a situation in which I must actively choose a side. If I ever did have to pick, I hope I would choose to be an optimist. The world is a better place when you have hope.
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