I always thought of blogs as being narcissistic, business related, or as my sister's, a way of keeping in touch or memorializing.

But, by necessity, I am learning a lot about myself. I find I need to get my thoughts out, and it helps me to know that someone else will read them. So I have created this little space for myself, to express the things I have trouble saying (be it emotional or physical trouble), to share what I'm going through, and what I'm learning through it.

I absolutely welcome comments. It's nice to know how people relate to what I'm saying.
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Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Guilt to Gratitude

I have worked hard for the last 15 years of my life or so to keep guilt at bay. But never has it been harder than these last few months.

Guilt is such a waste of energy. It is a turning inward of anger, frustration and helplessness. It is a self-involved lens that combines two very opposite seeming ideas: I am all-powerful, and I am no good. It implies that there was choice, effort or pre-determination that all worked towards a bad end. And it is all a mental construct - it is my thoughts about what I am feeling, which is really anger and sadness, along with the human drive to find explanations and causes for everything.

These last couple of months, with the mega-flare I've been experiencing, and my old classroom pretty much crashing and burning, and with all the ripple effects both of these situations have had, it has been very very hard not to look for cause and effect and find at the center of it all my illness. I have not said that I am ill in quite some time. I know now that I am safe to say so without falling into the trap of focussing on the negative. But there it is.
I am doing my best, fairly successfully, at looking at this through a lens of gratitude, rather than guilt, because I know that all the people I mention below do what they do because they are good people, and they do what they do willingly, because they want to support me in my recovery. I'm just really overwhelmed this morning, and I know that writing this out will help get it out of my head and allow me to refocus that lens.

As my illness waxes and wanes, so do the effects it has on my family, but since the flare started, the mold scare, and now the trip to California coming up, there is no question how much I depend on them. My parents are worked to the bone. My father is juggling care of his mother, my son and me, along with running his company and trying to keep up with his own household. He's not a good juggler. He prefers linear modes of operation. And when he juggles, because he can't focus on any one piece, he doesn't feel that he can do any of them justice, which I know is very frustrating. My poor father even has to deal with me taking over his prized and precious living room - the one space in the house that has always been neat, tidy and clean. But it is also the most comfortable space for me right now, and he has shown me in actions and words that my comfort and recovery are more important to him. That doesn't mean however, that it does not affect him. He is also very concerned about my mother's load.

My mother...my mother who is doing all the morning driving, who is feeding two extra mouths, and whose kitchen and the mess made therein reflects this reality. My mother who is trying to care for me while supporting the rest of the family - my mother who is our center of gravity. My mother is, beyond her duties as principal, stepping into my old classroom to teach parts of the curriculum because my replacement bombed so badly (at least I know she will enjoy working with the students again) that he had to be let go, in the middle of the school year. She takes time from work to take me to all my appointments, which often means longer hours into the evening, and even more work at home on the weekends. She goes out of her way to buy my supplements and goes to specific supermarkets to meet my dietary needs, as well as dealing with my father's Celiac constraints, and my son's variable preferences. She plans and plots and implements outings so we can share experiences that are enriching. Unlike my father, she is a consummate juggler, so I worry less. I also know she can find peace and re-energize herself effectively.

My sister and her kids have less of my parents, because I am in their home, taking up so much of their energy and time. Even my son's father and stepmother are feeling the repercussions of this flare, as they are forced to take on the drives back and forth (they live just outside the city), adjust their schedules, and, more recently, I even had to ask them to take the boy out to buy socks and underwear, because my mother has no time to take him, and I just can't. My dear friend, my back-up at school, is having to take on greater responsibility for the classroom. And all of this is directly due to the fact that I am ill.

I don't actually feel much guilt right now around my son, or my students, because I know that this is their path, and that dealing with the adversity that the situation has caused them will actually make them better, stronger, wiser human beings - they are still malleable, still growing, still developing many aspects of their personalities and belief systems.

But I am an adult, and my personality and belief-systems are harder to change, as those of my parents, my sister, my ex, my friends, my son's stepmother. We are all fully grown, and most of us pretty set in our ways of looking at the world. My go-to reaction used to be blame - guilt, shame and blame. My habitual way of dealing with anger and sadness is turning them against myself. But if I want to recover (and you know I do) then I have to find other ways of processing my emotions. And thank goodness I have a therapist who agrees!

So once I have told myself the full story, full of emotion and drama, guilt and blame, and expressed the thoughts that were flying around and distorting or masking the actual events, I can look at them more clearly:
I got sick. People stepped in to support me. The school hired a new teacher. I had a flare. The new teacher failed. People took on heavier loads.

Right away, I can see that there are only two events in 1st person. I got sick, and I had a flare. The rest were not of my doing.

But there it is, the first piece in the cause/effect story: I got sick. And that is where the guilt lies. So I need to take myself through these mental exercises:
Is it my fault I got sick? No. Did I want to get sick? No. Am I doing everything I can to get better? Yes.  Breathe. Ok.
Is it my fault that the school had to hire someone else? No. Is it my fault he failed? No - maybe. Maybe there was more I could have done to support him. Really? No. Not really. Not without affecting my health again. So was it my fault he failed? No.
Is it my fault my sister has 3 young children and a demanding career? No. Is it my fault my Mom doesn't help her as much as she used to? Well, no. Not really - it is my mother's choice to put her time and energy where she puts it. It is my sister's choice to ask for more help if she needs it. So my fault? No.
Is it my fault my father can't juggle? He he, no. Is it my fault he is juggling? No, it's not, because it's not my fault I am sick. Is it my fault the living room is getting messy? Well, yes, but I am making every effort to keep it as clean and tidy as I can. Does he know that? Yes, he does. So is there guilt here? No.

Guilt implies that it is my fault, that it was under my control, and that I am to blame. I cannot control any of the situations above. I am not all-powerful. I am not the center of the Universe, and not everything that happens has anything to do with me. But I have tried my best, in each circumstance, and I am therefore also not good-for-nothing. There is no reason for me to feel guilt. I give support where I can, I show appreciation, and I act with respect. And yes, I feel anger and sadness about each of the things I have mentioned here today. I do. And that is natural, and normal and even healthy, so long as I can keep the thought-forms from becoming more powerful than the emotion itself.

And so it comes down to this - I can see the effects that my situation has on those around me. I see them very clearly - perhaps more so than they do, because I can also sense the emotional components they are not necessarily willing to look at. I go through these exercises because I have no energy to spare on feeling guilty, and I don't want to spend my life feeling guilt. It is not pleasant, it is not healthy, and it is detrimental to my recovery. So out it goes!

And as I said above, I replace the guilt with gratitude, because if I am not the one in control of the actions people take to support me, then they are, and I am grateful that they care enough about me, my son, my classroom, my family, to do so. Gratitude puts the onus where it belongs, and instead of closing my mind, heart and world as guilt does, it opens them, and reconnects me to the people and things that evoke gratitude. And that, most definitely, is supporting my recovery.

1 comment:

  1. This is so timely for me. I benefit much from your wisdom. xoxo