you cannot know what would have happened

Today, I look fine on the outside. I am smiling with colleagues and hugging my daughter and presenting myself in my usual way. I am, however, beating myself up big time on the inside. I feel like I made a big mistake, the kind of mistake that happens in the scale of months, not minutes. I have been giving myself up one side and down the other, so distraught, so upset, such a fucking idiot.

After a long walk, I have (mostly) recovered. And I've realized that, though it may be muted today, there is a strong possibility that you are doing the same thing to yourself about something big.

You responded too late, you're in the wrong career, you said no, you said yes, you weren't there at turned out to be the most important moment, you haven't lived up to your potential, you married the wrong person, you misunderstood, you spent all your money, you sacrificed too much, you didn't listen to your gut, you let yourself be swayed/used/run over, you did any one of a million things related to children and having them or not having them or parenting them.

And now and maybe forever you will privately beat the hell out of yourself for it. Sometimes the knob will be turned way down low, sometimes it will hum along in the background at a fairly tolerable 2 or 3, and sometimes the dial will be turned all the way up and you will be so mean to yourself about it that it will leak out and you'll be mean to the people around you, too, without even really intending that.

If you are hollering at yourself for something--real or perceived--that you wish you had done differently, I hope you will believe me (and I hope I will believe me) when I say:

You cannot know what would have happened if you had made a different choice. You cannot know what ripples would have rippled to change your life for the better or for the worse. You cannot know whether you or your family would have had less pain or more money or better anything. Maybe you would have had better one thing and worse another thing. Maybe not. You cannot know.

It is winter, holiday time, the end of the year, and maybe this all makes us a bit more vulnerable. Oh, how I love you. You are not an idiot, and you are not alone.

PS: I fully intended for this post to be short. And then. Thanks for making it all the way down here.