My Sidekick: Guilt

Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to take a moment to introduce you to my friend Justine. Justine is more of a sidekick, than a friend. She travels with me wherever I go, often consuming my time, my thoughts, and my smiles. When she’s not busy attempting to control my life, Justine is shelved in my mind in a jar labeled “guilt.” 

I’m not sure when Justine became a staring role in my life. Perhaps it was when I was three years old and threw an epic tantrum in the middle of the local mall. Those shiny chip bags secured with clothespins to the cord above the Orange Café (it was literally shaped like an orange!) were just so tempting! I’m sure I wanted the green bag, although the truth is, I’ve never even really liked potato chips, or for that matter, the colour green. 

My mother and her friend had just finished the Passover shopping. I think it was the fourth day of the holiday and we were scrambling to fill in the pantry gaps. Maybe I was bored with the food? No; that shiny green bag lured me in. I WANTED IT!!! I had to have it, and since it was forbidden, I was even more determined to get it. 

My mother was humiliated by my outburst. She tried everything to get me to stop even going so far as to bribe me with my favourite chocolate bar. Nothing made me happy. She carried me out of the mall while I kicked and screamed. 

Her childless friend had quite a bit to say about my tantrum. She spewed parenting advice left and right. My bum was sore from the swat that I endured, my cheeks were stained with tears, and to be honest, I think I ended up with the chips, and as sour grapes would have it, I didn’t enjoy them nearly as much as I had hoped to. Maybe I didn’t get the chips, I don’t honestly remember, but I do know that the salty crunch of chips brings me back to that exact moment and it’s impossible for me to truly enjoy them. 

I’ve learned a lot about Justine over the years. She isn’t just there to yell at me about eating unhealthy, or forbidden foods; she has many voices, and wears many hats. 

Justine rears her pointed finger and stares me down when I feel inadequate. She’s always there to remind me that my needs are secondary to those of others, and that wanting anything is the epitome of greed. Justine loves to remind me that I’m selfish and that I should always put others first, but she complicates my life by not helping me understand who needs to be first of all the others that come before me. 

When I buy myself something frivolous, she’s there to remind me about my debt and the fact that other people in my family want, or want something that I could, or should have bought them. Maybe they have too much as well, and I should be donating that money to charity, or saving it for a trip? Maybe I should save for my future, my hopes, and my dreams? Sometimes I’m grateful for Justine’s sense of responsibility and focus, but other times, I am weighed down by her judgment and I lose sight of anything that I’m trying to accomplish. What does make me happy? Why should I be happy? Does my happiness come at someone else’s expense? 

In my current life, that’s what it would appear to be. My happiness is always at someone else’s expense. That makes me selfish. What is my greatest fear? Being selfish. In reality, what am I? SELFISH. I WANT my time alone. I WANT time to read, write, listen to music, and eat food without having to share. I WANT to go out alone with my friends. I WANT. That’s the problem. When I want, others have to suffer. 

When I need the house alone, everyone else needs to figure out what to do with their time. Money gets spent. Everyone gets resentful because I asked for time. Justine asks me why I need to be alone so desperately. Why can’t I listen to my music with everyone at home? (I really FEEL my music and there are no interruptions when I’m alone! No one else enjoys my music and I honestly just want to enjoy and appreciate it.) What about phone conversations with my friends, why can’t I talk when people are home? (Again, the interruptions, and sometimes, I need PRIVATE conversations because my friends don’t want the others in the house to hear what I’m talking about with them because they don’t want anyone else involved in their private lives.) It really comes down to the selfish desire to not be interrupted, to not have to take care of someone else’s needs for a few hours. It’s selfish. Justine tells me so, and given the others’ reactions, I know she’s right. 

Justine plays with my time. When I finally get a moment to myself alone in the house, she insists that I accomplish everything that I need, or worse, WANT to do. I have to write, eat, read, shower, have conversations, and clean and cook for the family. I have to EARN my time by cooking up a fabulous meal, or cleaning and doing chores that no one else wants to do. If I don’t, then what was the point of everyone going out? Why can’t I read, or write, or whatever while they are home? I’m selfish. I waste time. 

Others have this way of always putting themselves first. They don’t see it, but I feel it. When we travel, I always have to plan around what he wanted to see, and do, not around anything that’s important to me. I had to set strict limits on time with my friends, or family because they didn’t want all of our time invested with them. I didn’t have an issue with that. What I had issue with, and continue to have issue with when we do things that are “for me,” is their needs must to be put first. 

It’s difficult to find the words to express this, so please, bear with me. (See Justine justifying my inadequate writing?) When my friend was in town, I wanted to go downtown to see him alone. I knew it would be a challenge to get there, and back, and I knew my anxiety would be strong with the challenges, but I wanted to do it regardless. Everyone wanted to join me. Part of his logic was to assist me in getting downtown (feeding into my anxieties that I can’t do things alone and making me feel inadequate and as though they were doing me the biggest favour in the world by joining me) and part of their logic was based on the idea that we rarely go downtown.

Justine had a field day that day! She made me responsible for EVERYONE!!! Thankfully, my friend is incredible and he didn’t stand for Justine’s nonsense. He pushed Justine’s handshake away and let her linger like a cloud over everyone else, rather than over himself. 

Justine really plays up when she feels that I’m being selfish, or demanding. She gets her greatest joy from reminding me that I come last, that I am inadequate. 

You see, Justine does more than feed my guilt vein… she also preys on my anxiety and my fears. Justine makes me feel unworthy. She strips me of my confidence and my convictions. She allows other people’s voices to be stronger in my head than my own. When I tune her out and stand up for myself, I am proud. I try to not allow anyone, or Justine to get me down. It’s hard though. Pushing Justine out of my head and out of my healthy mental space has me feeling as though I’m always fighting. It’s exhausting. Standing up for myself has me constantly trying to prove myself to everyone and myself. Feeling worthy, feeling good enough, feeling confident…it all comes with a price because eventually I crash and Justine takes over. Sometimes it’s easier to sit down and have coffee with Justine than it is to argue with anyone. Sometimes it’s easier to just walk hand in hand with Justine than it is to take a day for myself. There has to be a balance. I need to figure out how to accomplish that. 

There are some things that I feel no guilt over that many others, many people believe I should feel tremendous guilt over, but I don’t. Those judgments revolve around removing my mother from life support. My aunt wanted me to believe that I was selfish for waiting a couple of days to release my mother, but my decision was educated and based on my needs and the advice of the doctor with whom I consulted. I needed to be there when it happened. I didn’t want my mother dying alone. At first, I felt tremendous guilt for being the one to say “Please remove care,” but then I realized that I didn’t feel guilty about that at all. It was the compassionate thing to do. I felt guilty that she had suffered for a month on life support when I knew full well that it was not what she had ever wanted in life, but then I reflected that she had removed her dnr and that she did in fact want to live. I’m sad. I’m broken for the loss of my mother, but I feel no guilt. 

I feel guilty for my need for independence. I think that’s my strongest need and my heaviest weight. 

I feel guilty when I have to be the voice of reason and logic. Far too often, I butt heads because people are impetuous and don’t plan ahead, or think of consequences, or repercussions of actions. I feel awful when I have to be the one who says “no” to something because of logistics, circumstances, or whatever. They often mean well, but just don’t think things through, and I’m left picking up the pieces.

I constantly feel inadequate. I constantly feel as though I have to justify myself. When I’m exhausted after work and I don’t want to talk to anyone, I sit down at my computer and either chat on line with friends for a bit, or just veg and waste brain cells until I feel human enough to interact with everyone. I’m told that I’m “antisocial and that I should get my iron levels checked because I’m tired all the time.” But I work on my feet and my job is incredibly stressful and I have to be constantly thinking and interacting with people. Then I come home and I have to think about making sure that everyone tells me about their days and they have everything that they need. I make supper and, and, and, and, and… then there are the after supper needs. I feel overwhelmed if I don’t take a few minutes, or even an hour to just unwind and not have to interact with people. But Justine reminds me that other people have needs and I can’t put mine first. 

I guess it’s fair to say that Justine justifies all of my guilt by submerging my needs, my wants, and my desires. She doesn’t allow my confidence to surface for fear of being prideful. She doesn’t allow my opinions and choices to surface for fear of being selfish. Justine wants me to give, not take. She wants me to please, not enjoy pleasure. Justine allows others to manipulate me. She encourages me to shrink and become invisible. She’s my best friend, and my worst enemy. 

It may seem as though I am blaming others for Justine’s existence. I am not. I am simply trying to convey how my guilt is often a shadow in my life because of how closely my feelings, and other people’s control, or manipulation tie into one another. I know that I am responsible for how I interpret what is handed to me and for how I feel. I know that others aren’t the cause of my burdens and that I need to learn how to move forward regardless of how they dance with my emotions. 

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