A very real part of my experiences with anxiety, depression, and grief is the self-doubt. Whenever I become anxious about something, whether it’s about an upcoming CF appointment, something work-related, or even if it’s something as minor as my plans for the afternoon, my mind runs through countless possibilities; the good and bad, the likely and unlikely possibilities. For whatever reason, I have convinced myself it’s better to be aware of the unlikely and scary possibilities because then at least I can try to be prepared. A truer result is that, instead of being prepared, I become anxious. I assume, no matter the likelihood, the bad possibility is the fate I’m confined to.
Now, extrapolate this feeling of worry and fear to other aspects of life, such as self-esteem. One of my goals for myself on a daily basis is to try to do the right thing as often as possible. I understand that there will be times I will disappoint myself and I will disappoint others, but disappointment is so painful. The idea of disappointing others and myself scares me. Disappointment is a painful emotion and being disappointed with others is something I don’t enjoy, though I try my best to be understanding and compassionate when someone feels as though they have disappointed me. I try to use this same compassion when I disappoint myself, but then the pendulum swings too far in the other direction and I feel like I’m giving myself too much of the benefit of the doubt and not being harsh enough on myself.
I’m writing all of this with the knowledge that most of these feelings are irrational or at least somewhat pointless. What is the correct moral code, anyway? I don’t know if there is a universal moral code, but I do believe that treating each and every person with compassion is of the utmost importance. Admittedly, I disappoint myself in this way sometimes. I have to reconcile my compassion with my disdain for people that abuse their positions of power. How do I reconcile this worldview of treating others with compassion when I have such a vitriolic opinion of politicians like Donald Trump and Mike Pence? Well, my rationalization of this is that Donald Trump and Mike Pence and others are immensely powerful people in positions where they have the power to do right by others, but instead abuse that power to enrich themselves, and push false, damaging, and prejudiced narratives. My disdain for them is founded in my belief that we need to make this world a better place for all of its occupants, so my compassion for the people that have been abused by powerful people is the basis of my ill feelings. I can get a little too passionate at times, but again, my moral code calls me to use my position of privilege to ensure that people that need to be held accountable are held accountable for their actions.
I never want to pretend to be a hero because I’m certainly not. If you’ve ever caught me in a deep conversation, I’m full of self-doubt and self-loathing. I never want to be self-righteous and when I’m worked up, I am aware that at times it can come off that way. I’m trying to be better about that. I don’t believe my moral code is perfect by any means, and I’m always actively trying to better myself.
When I try to figure out what I think the basis of this self-loathing and questioning I’m a good person, I think it’s due to a lot of guilt I feel regarding Alyssa’s last few years. We were obviously very close as siblings, but we had a strange relationship at times. Our approach to our health was different in a lot of ways. I’m obsessively compliant and adherent, I work out 6-7 times a week, I constantly research to figure out ways I can experiment to improve my health, I’m definitely more independent. Alyssa wasn’t that, so there were times I had to push and prod her to help her better understand why she had to do what she had to do. This meant we fought sometimes. Sometimes the arguments would be worse than they should have because we were both passionate and emotional people. I think I’d get upset because I wanted her to be as healthy as possible and I never wanted to lose her; I think she’d feel like she was disappointing me or felt like I was getting on her for reasons out of her control. I tried to understand. Looking back, most of her health issues were probably out of her control. I didn’t have that epiphany when she was alive, so I never got to tell her I was sorry for being a little too tough. I don’t think she resented me for those arguments, and I think she always knew it was because I worried about her so much and I cared as much as I did, but the fact that I will live the rest of my days without being able to apologize for that will continue to haunt me. This guilt burns me so bad because I know I should’ve realized this sooner. I know I shouldn’t have been as hard as I was on her. I know I should’ve appreciated the time I had with her more.
I lived for years knowing I’d watch my sister decline. Knowing that affected how I approached our relationship. I think I held Alyssa a bit at a distance because I didn’t want to come to terms with knowing she wouldn’t be there forever. I convinced myself that if I didn’t start treating our time together as if it would be limited, that the time wasn’t limited, that she would be there forever and we’d be able to fight like siblings forever. I held my sister at a distance until she was gone and it’s too late to ever change that. I’m only now realizing how much these thoughts over the last five and a half years have fucked up my mind. I lived my life knowing my sister would die before me, from the same disease that could very well kill me, and I still didn’t swallow my pride or pain and treat our time together as the most valuable thing in the world. I worried about school or girls or going out and drinking instead of spending time with her and letting her know much I admired her or how much she inspired me and the world around her. Of course I wrote pieces about her and constantly talked about her glowingly; I even obsessively researched medications and treatments to ensure she was getting the best option available, and so I could educate her and my family about what was happening. But I know I could’ve been and should’ve been better. She was my best friend and my big sister and one of my biggest supporters.
I know I can’t hold this over my own head forever. I have to forgive myself the same way I’d hope Alyssa would forgive herself if the roles were reversed. I’m sure she had some regrets in her final days about our relationship. I wish it was easier to simply forgive myself, but that isn’t the case here. My sister is gone and not being able to explain myself to her means I will have to slowly and surely learn to love myself and forgive myself. It is up to me to find out the best way to do that. This is exactly why I write, to hopefully spread messages about lessons I’ve learned, to communicate stories of my experiences that can potentially inspire people to do some self-reflection and soul-searching.
I want to make sure I always do right by those I’ve wronged, including myself. This piece is a step to reconcile those emotions. I hope I haven’t harmed anybody, though I’m sure I’ve disappointed people. If I have harmed you, know that I’m truly sorry and I don’t believe I did so on purpose. I hope you can forgive me and I hope I can forgive myself.
I feel a lot of guilt that I got to have such a normal life compared to my sister. I moved out, went to college, started a career, all while she struggled every single day. I think she was proud of me but still, I think she envied me. It still breaks my heart whenever I think about the things she missed out on. I know that hurt her so much.
Reflecting on all of this guilt I’ve felt has helped a lot. It’s made me realize that getting through this will take a lot of self-reflection and self-care. No matter what people think of my intentions or who I am as a person, I’m going to have to believe I am who I try my hardest to be: a compassionate, understanding, decent person. I believe that, no matter what happened when times were difficult, Alyssa knew who I was in my heart and that the reason I was hard on her was because I loved her and wanted the best for her. Tearing myself apart for something I can’t change won’t make me act better in the future. I can only use this as an opportunity to reflect on how I wish I would’ve acted and decide for myself that, from here on out, I will take a step back and ensure I’m compassionate towards those in my life. I know Alyssa would want me to appreciate every day, just as I think she did.