“I am an old man and have had a great many troubles,
but most of them never happened.”
My initial sense was that my “troubles” are (1) fear of being punished, (2) worry that I’ll screw up, blunder, make a mistake, (3) guilt over something I did or failed to do. On further thought, all my troubles subsume under Fear. An irrational, childish fear that, ten days after my eighth birthday, I somehow caused Daddy’s death. I am responsible and deserve to be punished!
I just turned eighty-five. Claiming that my troubles are rooted in Daddy’s death seems a stretch, a copout. This said, anyone who’s had a parent, child, spouse, sibling, or close friend die knows the emotional impact of a significant death dims and evolves but never “goes away!” It becomes part of who we are! Decades after a significant death, a mundane event: picture, sound, smell, touch, triggers those old emotions.
The “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-5” recognizes “Dissociative reactions (e.g. flashback)” as symptomatic of “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.” Labeling flashbacks a “Disorder” seems open to question. My online Marriam-Webster defines the “transitive verb disorder (my emphasis) . . . (as) 1: to disturb the order of, 2: to disturb the regular normal functioning of.” But, what is more in “order,” more “regular normal functioning,” more rational, than emotional reaction to an in-your-face, too-close-to-home, reminder of a traumatic experience‽
To appreciate why I link my fear, worry, and guilt to Daddy’s death, it may help to understand that I view my first eight years as idyllic. I cruised down Life’s freeway in a new Lamborghini. Suddenly I hit head-on with a Kenworth eighteen-wheeler! I sustained life threatening injuries. The scars never go away! Something bumps, a flashback! It hurts!
I have solid reasons to label those formative eight years “idyllic.” On July 3, 1931, thirteen months after my parent’s marriage, my sister May was stillborn or lived a few hours. Five years and nine months later, April 3, 1937, I subjected Mama to twenty-some hours of hard labor. Despite my rude entrance, after losing sister May, it is easy to appreciate my parents’ joy at last having a healthy baby boy.
Evidence of my parents’ love includes an 8x14x4 inch Book of Remembrance: my ”Notification of Birth Registration,” hundreds of pictures, greeting cards, newspaper clippings, a family tree with photos, pages of individuals’ birth, marriage, children, and deaths back, in some cases, more than five generations. Mama left a 2x2x3 foot blue metal trunk with a shoe box containing my baby clothes and string of wooden beads which may have been my “teething ring,” a wallpaper-on-cardboard covered collection of “Deans Compositions,” a half-dozen scrapbooks, albums containing once significant black-and-white “snap shots” of now-anonymous people. What to do with it all?
Back to fear, I should note that rational fear evolved for damned good reasons! When we lived in caves, lions, tigers, and bears were clear and imminent threats to life. Looking into the jaws of a charging Grizzley, the old flight-or-fight response was eminently rational! In our “civilized” world, with urban gunfire a staple of the Evening News, looking into the muzzle of an AR-15 of 357 Magnum, fear is our rational, go-to choice!
In the end, viewed with Mark Twain’s wisdom, the bulk of my troubles, my fear, worry, and guilt, are wasted energy.