Briefly, before I start this article, I want to thank those who read Ristretto Rain and did a review on Amazon. I now have 13 and am approaching newspapers and etc. about doing big reviews to a large audience. I don’t know the number of sales yet, but its been well into the hundreds. That may not sound like much (and will recoup less than 10% of the cost of producing the book), but most books never sell more than 100. Only the top tier books sell in the tens or hundreds of thousands and those have big publishers marketing their books. So thanks again.
The Problem of Guilt
Guilt is one of those emotional feelings that all people, (well almost all), experience. Some of us encounter it higher levels than others. Some have accused me of being arrogant, because I love to have “lofty” discussions about things, such as truth. But nothing could be further from that truth. Even before cancer, I was often insecure and guilt-ridden. Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a classic story of how someone can internalize real or perceived guilt and it can haunt and control them.
I must explain, this posting is about one of those observations I make about the human condition of guilt and it is not just about my guilt. I will draw from my story to make my point. I often share more candidly than some people feel comfortable with. For those people I think they see my writings as a deeply personal plea for help, sympathy, or pity. I am certainly not “compliment, sympathy, or pity trolling” and will not let any such comments through to the public in this case. I appreciate the good-will intent of those who wanted to do so. My goal here is to create resonance within that place of guilt that may dwell in the soul of others. If people want to share their own stories through comments, I will allow those to go public.
I think there are several genera or forms of guilt. The most notorious is that guilt which comes as a result of someone intentionally and for selfish reasons, causing great harm to someone. Macbeth may have killed King Duncan (you have to read again to see). This is example of such agonizing guilt.
Then there is guilt of the second degree, where the harm is the guilty person’s fault and from intent, but not necessarily with a malice of intent. For example, someone making a bad decision to drive while intoxicated, even though they know the risks, and causing the deaths of others.
The next level is where there is no poor judgement or intent, yet the guilty person’s actions caused great harm. The worse such guilt I can imagine is, and I know of two such cases, where someone accidentally runs over and kill their child or grandchild with their car.
Lastly, guilt by association is where someone is bathed day in and day out by guilt over something which they have no control nor whose actions caused the harm. For example a parent who is homeless after a forest fire and has to sleep in their car with their four kids. I bet this problem is far more common that we think. Illness can be one of those.
I never knew that cancer would have so much guilt. All illnesses do. For 38 years I heard (mostly woman) tell me how guilty they felt because their migraines kept them from being a “good person.” A good person in that case was one who worked hard, cleaned house, cooked, and raised the children. . . or had a successful career.
While illnesses may carry guilt of many forms the type that I experience is tied with my self-esteem or self-worth. I think that is often the case for people as with the migraineurs mentioned.
Two years ago I imagined myself going into retirement age, getting in the best shape of my life, continuing to work and bring in income until I was 90. This was interrupted when cancer struck and when I was preparing to go back to work, I was laid off. This topic is coming to a head right now for me (and has been on the back burner since diagnosis) because, after finally finding a chemo that works with almost side effects, and then spending hours over four months to find the very best insurance to cover this expensive chemo, my new insurance created a “co-pay” for me of about $30,000/year. I’ve spent many hours on the phone for the past three weeks trying to find coverage to no avail. That is more than I’m earning from Social Security. So, the difficulty for me as a man to go from being a provider for my family for 38 years and now being a financial drain, creates incredible guilt. Yeah, I hear what you are saying and thank you for those thoughts.
But this is where I want to connect with your own struggle. It is hard isn’t it? On the physical level, fighting cancer as been 100 times harder than anything I’ve ever done before such as climbing Mount Baker. However, the emotional battle is even harder. It is a constant fighting the thoughts of worthlessness. The fear of being extraneous to the world trumps the fear of death itself. In my book Ristretto Rain, I tried to depict this struggle through the eyes of a cancer sufferer whose family did abandon her.
The fear of being extraneous to the world trumps the fear of death itself.
I’m going to dive really deeply into the personal and I suspect that some reading this will relate. When I was an evangelical it was very offensive to talk about struggles because we lived in a false narrative that we always were “victorious” in life. But do understand, I don’t consider me nor my struggles as unique and many of you reading this are dealing with physical pain, cancer, loss of a child, divorce and many other crises. That’s why I’m writing this.
I saw a funny cartoon once on FB. It was a woman laying in bed with her eyes almost closed. It said something like this, “I am just dozing off when my brain said, ‘Let me inventory all the miserable failures of your life and the people who hate you because of them’.” The next frame her eyes are wide open and the clock says 3 a.m.
For me at least, the night times are the trenches where this most brutal emotional battles take place. I’ve been a light sleeper for 20 years, but since cancer, my sleep has been very interrupted due to things like twitching and, like last night pain, where I had pretty severe neuralgia in my right arm (side effect from chemo). But once awake that nasty little voice inside (in the Christian story, Satan is the “accuser of the brethren” ) starts to say bad things to me.
Bad Voice: “Mike, you are totally worthless. You bring nothing to the table now. You have no impact on this world except to drain from it. Denise would be better off without you. You are a failure. Your cancer has made you more loathsome. Virtually everyone in this world hates you.”
Good Voice: “That’s not true. I have intrinsic value because I’m created in God’s image. Everyone doesn’t hate me. Most people don’t even think about me like I don’t think about them. But those who do, they don’t hate me. They say such nice things.”
Bad Voice: “Look how much your treatment is costing you. You are not worth that much. You will leave nothing for Denise to live on if you die. You are a drain. She will grow to loathe you.”
Good Voice: “That’s not true. Denise loves me. Money is just money. She will never go hungry.”
You get my drift. But this battle for my soul is brutal and constant. I do pray throughout the night for God’s mercy and if I can’t have that here, that I would be taken from this earth. It is a prayer framed on all sides by sweat and many, many tears. That’s why I have reacted in anger to people (and it’s happened twice) who confront me that I must not pray or have a good relationship with God because I share my struggles here on this forum. Haven’t you had those conversations between the good and bad voice?
This emotional article is a lead up to a more academic article that I’m working on about this type of struggle. So, there is no point here except to expose the raw human condition. . . okay, my condition. Maybe you relate or not.