Being diagnosed with a chronic illness often leads to self-examination of your mind. You think you made mistakes somewhere down the path of your life and now karma has come to bite you very hard. You want to know why this happened to you and ‘why not someone else who deserves it far more than I did’ and others will comfort you, saying that ‘bad things happen to good people…’
However, does it comfort you? What do you do? Do you really believe that you are a bad person because something bad happened to you? Do you feel the world now owes you because of this?
Often existential questions go through my mind after issues arise and not just since my own MS diagnosis 8 years ago but ever since I can remember. I ‘wonder’, often with almost child-like wonder. I tend to think about the how, why, when and who of life, of my place in it and I ask myself who I am and whether I had or will have a purpose in life. Of course, I don’t think like this every day of every year – I’d have gray hair at the age of 40 otherwise – but I do go through phases where I am stuck on a certain subject and I have to turn inward to look for answers.
Right now, I am in a phase of questioning again. Do I (want to) forgive and forget; can I forgive and forget or do I forget first (which often happens because of my memory issues) and forgive later? Alternatively, do I just forgive and get on with it? When does the ‘testing’ of other people end and when can I relieve them from questions asked? Do I feel the world owes me because of past issues that crossed my path? Is not forgiving a sin and do I actually have to forgive and forget? Are there moments that will simply continue to float around in my mind because I find them unforgivable?
The first question of wanting to forgive? If circumstances are reversed, I admit that I have hurt people in the past. Not because I wanted to, but because the situation, the reason or the person drove me to say things I would otherwise never say. I don’t condone my own actions at all and I take full ownership of them. Admitting I was wrong comes easily enough if indeed I was wrong. However, please allow me the same generosity because quite often other people will be upset about things that do not upset you. I do want to forgive if or when the situation provides me the space to do so. Given time, I will settle my thoughts somehow, allowing myself to see sense when before there was none.
I can forgive, but I cannot forget,
is only another way of saying, I will not forgive.
Forgiveness ought to be like a cancelled note – torn in two,
and burned up, so that it never can be shown against one.
Henry Ward Beecher
The second and third question of being able to forget and do I forget first and forgive later? These questions beg me to sit down and smile. Quite often, after thinking about negative moments in life, I actually see tiny rays of light shining through the cracks. It is as if time really does erase things that don’t need analysing anymore. On the other hand, perhaps I am just very lucky to have cognitive problems because of my MS and I really do forget things quite easily, so it is as much a neuropsychological issue as a physical one. Never a dull moment when you have MS!
In other words, unwillingly I forget.
Do I willingly forget? Not always, because quite emotional issues have a tendency to remain active and they are scraped on my memory with a thin needle, so forgetting is often hard, if not impossible. The mental and emotional imprint is burned too deep to forget. One very example of this is when my physical being is attacked because of disabilities I never asked for. The hurt of this might lead me to drawing a line under a friendship, painful as it is.
When my illness and myself were called into question by what I thought were fantastic friends in the past; my illness suddenly became the ‘monster’ in other people’s eyes and they forgot that I was more than just my illness. But I didn’t change, my priorities, my body and my way of life as a result did. I am still me, I still have a soul, feelings, emotions, aspirations and dreams. I wanted to be treated as ‘me’ and not as ‘you with that dreadful illness’ but healthy friends found I was not the same anymore in their eyes, and my illness was not what they thought it should be, again, in their eyes.
“In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies,
but the silence of our friends.”
Martin Luther King Jr.
So we will remember such strong emotional imprints, we will try to forget but we will always live with that memory somehow. Perhaps it will be a watered down memory, but it will be there in the back of your mind. Again, I want to forget and I might just forgive the people that hurt me, but forgiveness will choose a different partner: I have and need to forgive myself more for allowing those people to hurt me.
The last question is easily answered: no, the world nor its people owe me because of issues we came across. If anything, because of where I feel I am in life, I feel like I owe the world instead. I want to give others support and understanding when they go through rough patches in their lives because I have been in that same spot they find themselves.
People sometimes say that I am intuitive, very good in sensing things and in helping others make sense of their issues and their world. In 2003 I started a degree in psychology but had to defer after being diagnosed with MS in 2005. I have yet to pick up where I left the degree and hope that someday I will be able to continue studying. In the meantime, I finished a (shorter) counseling course to help others but again, because of my illness, I have yet to start my counseling career. The world owes me nothing, and I expect nothing from life safe from what I create myself and how I deal with it my own way.
In the end, it all boils down to the ability of letting go. Try not to carry heavy, past burdens with you every day. The past is the past, some memories should never be forgotten but remember that the future is right ahead of you. It is tonight and tomorrow; it is a new day and a bright beginning of a new you. You can change the future and time really does heal if you allow it to. And forgive yourself. But most of all: stay positive because remember: falling on your face is still moving forward.
© Willeke Van Eeckhoutte and Ireland, Multiple Sclerosis & Me, 2011-2013. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner are strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Willeke Van Eeckhoutte and Ireland, Multiple Sclerosis & Me with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.