It’s been an unsettling few days for me, more so than usual. I’m always unsettled as a year ends and new beginnings are on the horizon but this year’s run up to Xmas, the death of Nelson Mandela and illness of friends has knocked me a little sideways. My thoughts have been going deeper to identify the cause of this, always a risky thing to do because I never know what’s going to pop up. Those of you who have read my blogs know that one of the issues I struggle with is unworthiness. I know where those feelings come from and also know that they generate fears that affect and determine my thoughts and actions, but what to do about them?
For as long as I can remember I have been afraid. I was afraid of the dark, of heights, of being submerged in water, of tight places, bees/wasps, spiders etc etc. Some of these fears were generated by actual events, others were just irrational phobias. I’ve learnt over the years to recognize that they were also really about something else; the fact that I feared rejection and never felt safe. We all learn coping strategies and most of mine have been to confront my fears head on. I now never put a light on in the house unless it’s necessary, I’ve climbed mountains, abseiled down waterfalls, been caving, windsurfing etc. I can pick spiders up and put them out of the house and sit still when a bee or wasp lands on me. But I’ve never really successfully confronted my fears of rejection or being safe.
There has been so much press celebrating the life of Mandela and his achievements, not only as a man, but as a black man in apartheid South Africa. What he went though for his beliefs, and then to come out the other end and recognize that in order for all the people of his country to move forward there has to be forgiveness and reconciliation, puts most of us to shame. All that time in prison, the beatings and torture, seeing good friends and family members tortured and killed, and yet he emerged as one of the greatest forces for peace, an elder statesman with a true heart and vision for letting go of the past, that the world has seen. If he can do all that after all he has been through, then why can’t I let go?
Obviously I’m no Nelson Mandela – you don’t get many of him to the pound. Yet he was human, like the rest of us and I’m sure he had his own dark days, was fearful at times and may have given up hope occasionally. But what struck me when I first read Long Road to Freedom was his capacity to put all that to one side and to see the best in people caught up in the political machine of the day, to love them enough to want to change the system for the betterment for them all. And for future generations.
Earlier this year I read Antji Krog’s Country of My Skull, which is a full account of the Truth Commission’s work in 1996-8 using testimonies of oppressed and oppressor about human rights violations committed between 1960-1993. It is a harrowing read. Yet the fact that people survived those years, and were able to draw on inner resources to keep moving forward, is an amazing monument to the enduring strength of the human spirit. I have never been tested in that way but doubt that I would be brave enough.
Of the two motivators – the avoidance of pain and the pursuit of pleasure – I’m a definite avoider. I don’t do things that might make me vulnerable or hurt and therefore feel envious of other people’s success when they have taken risks. I am ashamed of my mean-spiritedness but I own it because it is easier to accept than to acknowledge being afraid. I was bullied for a lot of years and perfected how to cover it up, to pretend everything was fine; it’s a habit that has stuck. But fear of rejection stops me wanting things, reaching for things, even enjoying them, and fears about my safety/security are no longer about my physical being but my emotional health. I’m not afraid to take risks with my physical being but steer far away from any emotional ones because my body heals much quicker than my soul. And therein lies the problem.
The last couple of weeks have caused me to reflect quite seriously about who I am and what I want from life. We never know how much time we have left but whatever it is, it’s never enough. I don’t want to waste my days only half living them, but the old fears of failure and rejection have been bubbling up just under the surface and I need to let them go. I’ve discovered to my delight that there are people around me who I can trust and lean on when I need to. My family have always been a good support but I don’t want them to worry about me, which they do already because they don’t live nearby. I also don’t ever want to be a burden to anyone – I used to worry about falling downstairs and not being found for days or weeks. Not because I’d die alone, but because someone else would have to clean up the mess! I bang on a lot about human rights but always about other people and their entitlements. What I’m learning is that they apply to me too. I have a right to be here; I’m just like other people, a basically nice person doing my best. I don’t need to put on a brave act because I am brave already. I’ve overcome much more than I give myself credit for and although I’m not a Nelson Mandela, that’s okay. I’m a Kriss Nichol and no-one else is like me either.