My latest read (which for me means: my latest listen) is a new York Times bestseller by Rachel Hollis called Girl wash your face. I did not pick it out from an exclusive bookstore because of my intense need for ‘self-help’, but because it is free on Overdrive if you are a member of the South African Library for the Blind. I find nothing more relaxing than a well narrated story, whatever it is about.. I was merrily listening along to her insights whilst cooking supper when I heard her say something to this effect, “Whilst you are not in control of what life throws at you, you are in control of your fight. The traumatic stuff that happened to you in your life may not be your fault, but it is in your power to take responsibility for it.”
I found this so empowering. Yay – finally someone gave me permission to be in control… not of what happens, but of how I am going to let it affect me, grow me and shape me! I started to mill over how this statement could be helpful in forming my thoughts about inherited diseases and, my favourite blog topic, living with ongoing loss. We have all had things go wrong in our lives. Life is unfair. (I don’t know who made us think it shouldn’t be). You are not in control of what happens. It is being done to you and, surely someone is to blame? It’s not fair!!
For many years, my way of dealing with sight loss was to do something to be in control. I thought that by controlling the world around me, that I would feel in control… through leading, achieving, competing, inspiring… all of which can be good things, but the motive was to cover my pain, to dress up my fears in a brave armour of capability. Praise for the armour straightened the divide between my shrivelled, terrified inside ‘me’ and the brave, fearless exterior ‘me’. Eventually the pack of cards has to come down and it is usually the family that get the cards flung into their worlds… so they will then makeup their own little lies about themselves to be able to cope – ‘oh, my pain can’t be as bad as mommy’s’, ‘at least I am not losing my sight’ and, ‘I should be so grateful I didn’t get breast cancer’. What a wonderful way to fiddle with the pain-meter so that you underplay your real feelings and put a little misbelief in there – what pain? Be careful , this thing could explode!
What I actually needed to control was my response to loss – to change the way I see it.
So often we compare our ‘wounds’ and either think, “well it’s not as bad as what happened to Jill” or, “what I went through is much worse than Jack so no one would understand me”.
My wise (give a little space for humanity) and patient husband is involved in helping people break shame off their lives. He has an annoyingly accurate phrase, ‘it is not fair to compare’. He has observed that one person may have experienced extremely violent abuse and another may have remembered a scary boy at school look at them weirdly, but both will pick up pain and make an ‘untruth’ in their brains to help them make this ok. Well, who is in charge of the pain-meter? Who do we blame for it’s existence? Who exaggerates or underplays the calibration?
Only I can change me
Another brain smacker form Rachel’s book – went something like this, ”What if you changed your thinking about what happened to you, to the idea that this has happened for you?”
Buzz, hmm, huh, clink, wha?
If Stargardt’s disease happened for me, then maybe my purpose in life can only be fulfilled if I have low vision. Maybe this degenerative disease is the exact catalyst I have needed to press me into a way of seeing that can open up other ways to perceive life and relationships and culture? It has inspired me to search for understanding how a Loving Creator and a genetic mutation can live in harmony. (Article coming soon). This disability enables me to taste wine and identify the butter creaminess, it equips me to hear the level of the liquid being poured into my cup or be aware of the atmosphere in a room.
I find it so refreshing to have my thinking challenged. The problem is, I cannot do this alone. It is only by allowing other people’s ideas into my current thoughts, letting these ideas make me a little uncomfortable, that I can bounce them around in my head looking for existing points of reference, experience and beliefs and then choosing whether to allow the change or spurn it outright. When these thoughts have existed for years as plasters over a childhood pain, it is particularly unnerving. It is so interesting how we play games with ourselves without even knowing it. I so want to catch myself out! An old saying, ‘the heart is deceitful above all things’ is a wise word. If you think it is-not, you may have fallen prey to its tactics. Anyway, I have a suspicious feeling that my so called ‘heart’ is actually hiding between my ears.
So today I decided to pull the ripcord on free falling anxious thoughts and adjust my own pain-meter by just being grateful, present and mindful of my immediate surroundings – to enjoy the blurry view from where I am today! I opened myself to all the things I can be grateful for …the high pitched zing of my desktop magnifier, the smell of washing liquid on my clothes, the purr of traffic far away, the feeling of the carpet under my bare feet. I am in control of my response to my thoughts right now.
What choice is fully in your court today? Who are you allowing to adjust your pain-meter today?
P.S. Thanks to Rachel Hollis for her honest and inspiring book and thanks to SALB for adding this to the latest catalogue.