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Learning To Live With The Gremlins Called Fear and Guilt
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There are two little gremlins that sit on my shoulder each day and night. I swat at them like pesky flies, but they continue to stick. It’s as if they had glue on their feet, sharp little claws, and such extreme staying power that I would admire them under different circumstances. Their names are fear and guilt. These persistent little buggers came to me many years ago — or maybe I was born with them, as most of us are who are full of the normal human foibles.
Fear of heights, fear of failure, fear of the next unknown event flying at you — list goes on and on. When you suffer disease and chronic pain, there is much to be afraid of. You can’t dispel fear. You have to confront it and look it squarely in the eyes. Fear is normal under many circumstances. Many actors always have stage fright, but they give a good performance in spite of it. Athletes experience fear on a different level as they seek to do their best. The list goes on and on, as soldiers, astronauts, pilots, and everyday people face fear and stare it down.
Don’t we have enough to do living with pain constantly? Why does our mind have to be constantly cluttered with self-doubt, fear of the unknown and guilt?
Those pesky, ugly gremlins talk a lot. In soft, convincing tones, they whisper,What did you do to make this happen? It must have been something you did. Did you eat the wrong food? Did you lift too much? Were you born under the wrong sign? Why you and not some truly evil person, after all they deserve to be punished.
Well, that’s it you know, now you’re “kaput.”
Some of the internal conflicts go on forever. We can’t expect to overcome them but we can stare them down and win the staring contest. We can look fear in the face and say, “Kaput my ass and my great grandmother’s nightgown!” The true definition of courage is not the absence of fear but to perform the dreaded task in spite of it.
To win over fear you must dissect it. To think through a situation, to inform yourself of a procedure, to do a “practice run” in your mind is to take the air out of fear. President Theodore Roosevelt once said, “I have often been afraid, but I wouldn’t give in to it. I made myself act as though I was not afraid, and gradually my fear disappeared.” He demonstrated action as well as faith in himself and faith in life. Faith can banish fear every time.
When I was young my Dad used to say, “Honey, 90 percent of what you worry about will never happen.” In so many ways he was a fearless individual and accomplished much in his lifetime. He did these things in spite of many handicaps. You see, my father was illiterate. Born with a speech handicap he was teased at school and dreaded going; therefore as the youngest son they kept him on the farm to work. Later in life, we discovered he was dyslexic but in the interim he taught himself upholstery and custom furniture building. He made a good living and was always proud of his work and supported his family well. He always had faith that life would work out for him and for all of us. He applied action and faith.
Now, let’s chat about that other nasty gremlin, guilt. I don’t think any well intentioned human being can go through life without some modicum of guilt. When life is shaken by disease, handicaps or chronic pain and we have to change jobs due to those factors, we blame ourselves. We feel guilty and to blame for being ill. We feel guilt when our lack of employment gives us and our families less income. We take on guilt and there it perches, whispering, clinging and constantly present.
I find it interesting that so many folks in this world, who have reason to feel genuine guilt, do not. My husband works at a jail. Most of the stories that come out of there are stories blaming someone else for their predicament. They weren’t loved. They got on drugs…somehow. They had to steal because they were poor or needed something. If they killed someone, they were provoked and the excuses go on and on.
The kind of guilt most of us with chronic pain suffer from is not guilt at all. It is regret. Regret is allowed and can be lived with because it is not nearly as malignant as guilt. Dr. Laura Schlessinger says, “The nest time you feel guilt, ask yourself, ‘Am I really the cause of this problem?’”
We have to be realistic and honest with ourselves. It’s okay to feel regret and sorrow at all we have lost but it becomes malignant when we let it destroy what we have left. Most of us who were successful in our careers have other talents and abilities. We can channel those talents into new areas. My eldest sister was a lovely woman who was a buyer for a large department store. She had style, she had grace and she had psoriatic arthritis. When she could no longer work at her profession which she loved, she made beautiful jewelry, painted wonderful pictures. She preferred painting scenic pictures of barns. She did needlework of many kinds and was rarely idle. She served on various state committees in California for many charitable organizations which were centered on those with disabilities.
We have had a dramatic changes in our lives. That is a fact. We are different and different can be good. We are each composed of many layers and we cannot find and unveil all those layers if we are hung up on fear and guilt. No, you are not the exception and if you keep telling yourself you are then you are wasting time, life and talent.
Face down fear, don’t hide behind it. Stop obsessing about your condition. Put guilt aside and trade it for a modicum of regret and get on with it. You still have a life to live.
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