Here’s one way I’m forgiving myself
Popular opinion has it that people who react as stubbornly as I’ve trained myself to have real courage, which consists precisely in overcoming fear. But I don’t agree. We fearful-belligerents place at the top of all our fears the fear of losing self-respect. We value ourselves very highly, and in order not to have to face our own humiliation, we are capable of anything. In other words, we drive away our fears not out of altruism but out of egotism. – Elena Ferrante, in a recent column for the Guardian.
Like Ferrante, I’m not brave. I won’t waste valuable words on the list of things that frighten me, but please be assured it’s long. And I frequently do not succeed, as she does, in putting on a front – more often than not I run, or I cry, or I avoid the situation altogether. And this, I’m trying to tell myself, is ok. I survive, nonetheless, and therefore I am going to endeavour to stop beating myself up about it, and to forgive myself instead. Sometimes it’s important to face your fears. But sometimes it really is not.
The ‘right way’ to be ill
‘Brave’ is one of the things that’s often said to people with illnesses or disabilities. But I’m not brave. I suppose we’re supposed to be uncomplaining, ‘to get on with it’, to still be doing things and living life as much as we can, and for a long time that’s a pressure I’ve put on myself. That’s what’s gotten me through, not bravery, only embarrassment. There is a right way to be ill, and I’ve tried to stick to it (though I have not always succeeded).
There are few things that terrify me more than the moment when people who I haven’t spoken to in a while ask me how I am, what my news is. I’m not good. There is no news. I’m 24 and since I went to uni I’ve spent more time living with my parents than not. I haven’t had a job since just before I turned 19, and I got a measly 2:2 in my degree. I think I can be forgiven for feeling like I don’t have much to show for myself. For feeling like a cuckoo, a ginormous bird who really isn’t a baby anymore, but is still sitting and taking up all the nest, demanding more, and more, and more…
Am I being too hard on myself? I’m certainly being egotistical. I should stop worrying so much about what other people think, especially since (as I often remind my other anxious friends) people probably devote far less thought to me than I imagine. I have to do what’s best for me, and for my recovery, and not worry about other people’s opinions.
So that’s exactly what I did:
I tried to move away from home recently, and quickly discovered it was going to be far more difficult than I’d anticipated. I got there, and I was immediately unhappy, and ill not long after. In fact, I was staggered by how powerfully my symptoms took me down. I could have stayed. I could have toughed it out. I would, inevitably, as I always do, have gotten better with time. But I could see a way to get better more quickly, more truly, than that. I was scared people would be disappointed in me, that they’d think I could have been braver, fought harder, in short – that they wouldn’t understand. If you are one of those people, I invite you now to not understand, if you cannot. It is not my problem. But I also thank the many of you who do. I moved back in with my parents, as I have done many times before. I am incredibly fortunate, to have them to fall back on again. I will stay here, until I am far, far more recovered than what I previously thought was recovered enough. And then I will try again. Getting well is just as much about setbacks as it is about steps forward, and the knack of it is to learn how to do both.
The more I think about it, the more I decide that for me, there is no wrong or right way to be ill, there is only the way I’ve been ill. I will not sit here and think of things I could have done differently. I did not do them, and I had my reasons for not doing them at the time, and if I do not have faith in myself, then I have nothing left. This is my stubborn reaction. This is my self-respect. This is what will get me through.