Funny thing about confidence: you don’t really know you’ve lost it until you start getting it back. Without an inner voice constantly whispering a “you can do it” nag, a hypercautious agony aunt takes over and plunges you into a fog of jitters. Auntie has excuses for everything. “No, no, no!” she hisses. “Be careful!” “Oh, you really shouldn’t go out tonight. You’re not quite recovered you know!” “Of course you shouldn’t feel guilty about not taking that bike ride! Look at what you’ve been through!” Eventually this irritating scold owns you so completely you cringe at the risks involved with everything. “Be careful of that tea now, it’s hot!” “Don’t trip on that step!”

Unless you had the misfortune to be raised wary (or had a very difficult childhood, the same thing), auntie’s isn’t the default human condition. If it were, we would’ve lost out to the gazelles on that ancient savanna. And auntie’s wariness doesn’t come out of the blue either: some event, more often a series, triggers it. My own triggers – liver cancer, liver transplant, 15 months on interferon to combat a vicious cholestatic Hepatitis C outbreak, a hernia operation that turned into a ride through about six of the nine circles of Dante’s hell – these triggers were so artfully paced and so meticulously reinforced over two and a half years I sometimes feel as if I’ve been behaviorally reconditioned by the man himself, B.F. Skinner. No wonder my confidence went missing.

I’m talking about fear, of course. Confidence and fear should be listed as antonyms in the dictionary. The miseries above morphed into fear morphed into a conviction that doing something, anything, was an artifact of my past. My future held only reactions to an inexhaustible siege of small catastrophes knocking me about until the big one finally gets here. My confidence about living vanished into the simple grit of trying to survive, replaced by a fear of anything that might shorten that survival. For a while that anything seemed like everything.

I started getting hints about how much I’d lost when I managed to make it to Anza Borrego for the spring wildflower bloom. I was still recovering from the worst bit of my “journey” (I’m getting seriously annoyed at that term), the aftermath of surgery in December, my trip into Dante’s Inferno. (Not-so-fun fact: pain caused by metabolic imbalance makes a surgical cut feel like a mosquito bite.) I made it to the desert and even managed a hike or two, and that really got me thinking.

Encouraged by that adventure, my other inner nag (mom, yelling at a 10-year-old me, “Get off your butt and DO something!”) finally got me to the gym gain. Oh, was I tentative and cautious! “Must only do short gentle workouts, Eddie!” “Don’t strain this! Don’t push that!” Auntie Agony had definitely not left the building. I followed each bit of exertion with long rests and more worries that an apocalypse would come down on me for having the temerity of challenging the gods of invalidity. Soon though the rests became less important and the exercise – and my enjoyment of same – increased and I found myself in some warped late-night Sci Fi version of my own old days, i.e., pre-transplant. Only then did I understand: his lack of confidence thing is a problem.

Only time brings peace after a trauma. Our positive thoughts, prayer, walks in desert gardens, our tears – all just help to pass the days and weeks while we wait for time to perform its miracle of distance. Now, time has smoothed over my miseries and I can look at myself again. And what I’m learning is this: What is now is not what used to be, not even what used to be just six months ago. And what is now certainly is not what was two and a half years ago before all this  began. Auntie Agony is trying to make something out of these changes, but she’s wrong. The changes aren’t the issue, how we live with them is. Dealing with the changes, that is confidence.

Keeping up confidence – holding on to life, it is the same thing – is an unending struggle. Trade confidence for fear and you are doomed. The consequences of giving in are giving up.

Not me. Not now. Not yet.

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One Response to “Confidence”

  1. CR Says:

    Age plays into confidence. While I’d like to believe I gain more confidence as I age, it’s quite the reverse. The things that go wrong in life become cumulative with age and create a level of paranoia. For example, last April I forgot to put on the emergency brake in my car when I parked at the office. I was in my office when security advised my car had rolled back and hit a post resulting in $1,500 damage to a fender. I’m now paranoid about forgetting and if I don’t recall specifically checking to make sure I’ve applied the brake, I’ll return to my car wherever it’s parked. Another example – a recent flight was delayed reducing the connecting time to zero. The airline couldn’t tell me if they’d hold. To go or not to go became a major decision. That little voice kept saying don’t do it. I used my experience to ask several questions including how many others were connecting (12) and decided to gamble. For the entire flight, that little voice questioned my decision. In the end, it was the right decision, but a right decision no longer seems to instil confidence.

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