Carrying Guilt

Cartoon depicting stick figure hauling a weight labeled "Guilt"
ID 121202141 © Zdenek Sasek | Dreamstime.com

Hello dear friend,

I’m not sure what to write today. What I had planned to share, upon discussing it further with the person involved, well – permission to share was rescinded to preserve their mental health. And that’s absolutely okay – it is their story to share if and when they are ready and while I think it offers an important perspective in terms of mental health journeys, I’m not willing to jeopardize their journey in favor of clarifying my own. I’m…well, I’m sad and worried and regretful that my mental health journey is still such a pain point for them when I am doing so much better. So I guess what I want to talk about today is guilt.

It’s a strange thing, isn’t it? This feeling tied so closely to shame and views of our worth and our own morals. This feeling that occurs when we know we have done something wrong, something that in some way harms another. I’ve heard a phrase time and again – “do no harm, but take no shit” – and well – is it possible to entirely follow that? I’m not sure. In “taking no shit”, don’t we automatically cause some harm? I guess it comes down to this – what value is there in standing up for something versus letting it go? Which causes less harm to all parties involved? Not easy questions to ask myself in the heat of the moment, but I’m trying to ask them more and more often. What about you – do you have any tips or tricks for determining how to handle sticky situations? For how to make decisions in situations that may lead to you feeling guilty later? I think the best one might be “treat others as you want to be treated”.

So what do we do when we are already feeling guilty? What can we do to process through it? Do we always deserve to process and heal from it? I came across a quote from Maya Angelou recently that I’ve been thinking about a lot – “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” I think, in looking back at the things over which I feel guilt, that I often still carry that feeling because I feel like I still deserve to be punished, even if I learned the lesson to not do whatever it was again. That’s…not an easy feeling to heal. It takes time and thought and reflection. Did I make the right choice at the time? If I am in the same situation again, what can I do better? Have I apologized to any other party involved in the situation? Have I done what is in my power to make it right?

For me, one of the moments over which I carried guilt for many years is tied to the death of my paternal grandmother. She was diagnosed with a terminal disease when I was in third grade. I saw her for the last time near the start of my fifth grade school year. She came down to visit us for my sister’s birthday. Less than six months later, she was in the hospital and we knew she was suffering as the disease progressed. I remember seeing a shooting star as I was in the backseat of the car, riding home from our weekly dinner out. I made a wish – “Please, please don’t let her be in pain anymore. Please make her better. Please don’t let her hurt anymore.” I remember hoping that somehow, some way, she would heal. A few days later, as my sister and I were watching a long awaited episode of Sailor Moon before school, Mom got the call that Grandma had passed. Can you see where this is going? I grieved, of course I did, but the minute I saw Dad cry – for the first time ever in my life – the niggling uncomfortable feeling I hadn’t fully acknowledged bloomed in to full-fledged guilt. At that young age, I somehow knew that I was responsible for her passing – after all, it happened just a few days after I made that wish. I didn’t tell anyone that I knew it was my fault, but every time I would see Mom or my sister cry, that weight would get a bit heavier. It honestly wasn’t until a few years ago that I looked back and realized I had been carrying this blame and guilt over something I shouldn’t have – I looked back and realized that I made the best wish I could at the time and my intention was to help her no longer suffer. That was a good intention, a kind intention, and there really was no possible way that I had control over her passing away. If I had any impact at all, if my wish somehow manifested, it was in releasing her more quickly from pain that would have just continued to increase her suffering.

It took literally over a decade to come to that realization. Sad, huh? I often think it would have been good to learn how to heal emotionally and mentally at a younger age, but the important point is that I did eventually learn. I’m not saying I’m fully healed – there are definitely other things I am actively working through and I know that as long as I am living, there will always be something to work through – such is the nature of life, no? It can’t always be rainbows and sunshine…but during those moments, when I can feel the warmth of the sun and feel safe enough to face myself – past, present, and hoped-for future, that is healing really occurs.

I guess what I’m trying to say is – don’t let guilt linger. You don’t have to carry that burden around. Once you’ve learned the lesson, please work through the healing process to release that heavy emotional weight. You deserve to feel free to move forward. Yes, I’m sure you and I will both continue to make mistakes, but this journey is about learning and experiencing what life has to offer, right? So as long as we continue to also try to fix our mistakes and to learn from them, we are welcome to cut the cords of guilt.

Please be gentle with yourself, my friend, and be as gentle with others as you can, as often as you can. I’ll be doing the same. ❤

Until next time, and with love always,

Katie

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