I want to tell you something it took my mother roughly 70 years to learn: Fear and worry can be giant stalkers and thieves. I grew up with a mom whose two primary emotions were fear and worry. Admittedly, there are times these can save a life. But usually they steal from your life. Fear and worry for decades have colored how my mother sees and interacts with the world, “Take a hat or you’ll get sick!,” “Let’s go now (2 hours early), there’ll be traffic!,” “No, I’m not going. They only invited me because they were being polite.” These are not life-savers, they are life-stealers.
My mother’s automatic response to most situations is: “You shouldn’t X, because Y will happen and Y will be terrible!” Fear and worry affect her decisions and expectations of others and the world. It is a heavy load to bear when fear and worry are what you hold most close, simultaneously creating comfort, distress and so much limitation.
I’ve pointed this out to my mother for years, since I was a teenager actually. She is wholly aware and agrees, but knowing and doing something to change are two different things. When she imposes her fear and worry on me, I stop her as quickly as I can. Sometimes graciously, sometimes not so much. She has learned at these times to back off. It is self-protection for me: I don’t want to absorb her negativity. I love my mother and I know after years of trying, I will not change her and I don’t want her outlook to change me. Funny thing is if you met my mother you would think she is lovely, warm and personable, and perfectly normal, all of which she is. And she harbors these demons.
I have seen these emotions narrow my mother’s world and opportunities, like the friends not made because “They don’t really want me” and the job offered not taken because, “I won’t do it properly” when hands down she would do it better than anyone. I’ve been ruminating about this because I recently read a quote that captured these thoughts so well and reminded me how easy it is to nurture fear and worry living with diabetes:
“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” Cornelia (Corrie) ten Boom.
So succinct, so profound, so true. I shared this quote with a group of patients I presented to a few weeks ago in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. If you spend time worrying about the future, complications or premature death, you will not change anything except probably feel worse than you already do. However, if you take that same investment of time and energy to do something productive and useful – like learning how to and eating healthier, being more active, going to the doctor and spending more time doing what you enjoy, you will change everything.
Corrie Boom was an interesting woman – the first licensed female watchmaker in The Netherlands who after WWII became a preacher traveling the world preaching forgiveness. During the war Corrie worked with the Dutch underground recusing Jews, until in 1944 her entire family was arrested and sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp. When released from the camp – due to a clerical error, otherwise she would have died there like her sister – Corrie returned to the Netherlands and opened rehabilitation centers. Soon after she went back to Germany where she began preaching, bringing her Christian beliefs about the power of forgiveness to over 60 countries. In her post-war experience talking with other Nazi victims, she discovered that those who were able to forgive were best able to rebuild their lives.
There is more and more literature coming out about the power of positive emotions, which I believe just as strongly as I believe negative emotions are disempowering. While fear and worry provide the comfort of feeling like you’re doing something, in actuality all you’re doing is using up time and energy that can be put to actually improving something.
My mother’s turning 80 this January and in many ways she is recapturing much of the life she gave away. While fear and worry are still fond friends, she has found a way to turn her head away a good deal more often now and see them as the thieves that they are.