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Monica Pickard spent twenty years of her adult life as a child care provider. During that time, with the help of her husband, she raised her son who has been diagnosed with Autism and Developmental Delay. She learned to navigate a world that was new to her – the world of Special Needs. She now shares these experiences and the wisdom they taught her, with love and heartfelt compassion for the human condition.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Fear of Being You

“It is a sad day when you find out that it is not accident or time or fortune, but just yourself, that kept things from you.” ~ Lillian Hellman

            There is a very important lesson we can learn from people with mental challenges. It is to be ourselves without fear of judgment. Many people with mental challenges do not fear what other people think of them. They behave how they want to, they say what they want to, they dance like nobody’s watching and they have no fear of being judged. Imagine living like that! How much more fun would dancing be? How much more rich would your life feel? The most important question is who would you truly become?
            I love to walk into a store with my son, Joshua. If he is wearing a hat he takes it off and waves it in the air, if he does not have one he pretends to wave one in the air, either way, he walks swiftly along 
with a very pronounced bounce in his step. He is happy to be there and he shows the world with his celebration. Some people look at him like he has some marbles loose, but he does not notice. If he sees someone looking at him he just continues his celebration right on past them. I remember the first time he did it, I thought, “Oh Lord, people are going to think he is nuts!” But then I realized I did not care because I know that what people think is never about the object of their judgment, but about their own fear of judgment. It is a joy to see Joshua that way. It is a gift to watch him at Special Olympics practices, too. Sometimes he gets so excited he does a skipping type of thing and he reminds me of a character I have always loved, Martin Short’s Ed Grimley. At basketball practice, he lobs the ball towards the hoop in a casual manner. It does not come close to hitting the hoop, but he does not care. In the spring, he competes in the men’s 50 meter run at Special Olympics, but for Josh, it is not about winning. He just loves being there. He starts the race pretty well. As soon as the starter pistol fires he takes off running, as he gets about half way to the finish line he begins to walk, sometimes he stops and waves to the crowd. The crowd is shouting, “Run, Josh, go!” but he just turns and continues on as if he has all the time in the world. It is not about the destination or winning for him; his joy is in the moment. We could all learn a lot from him about being authentic and enjoying life in this moment without being attached to outcomes. I think about my school days in gym class, never wanting to play sports because I feared being judged for not performing well. It would have been so much more fun if I did not fear the judgment!
Joshua strolling along in 2000
Special Olympics Boys 50 meter Run
            In his book, The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself, Michael Singer says that if you had no fear you could do anything, go anywhere, say anything, you could be your true self and still be happy because there is no fear to stop you. There would be no disturbance inside of you. That is what fear is, it is a disturbance that keeps us from living the life we want. We are afraid of what people will think of us if we say or do what we want. We fear what they will say about us to others, whether or not others will agree with them, maybe we will lose friends, no one will want to hang out with us anymore, or the worst could happen – we remain part of the group, but they make fun of us behind our back! So, in every interaction, we put on a face. Michael Singer says that we have built an idea of who we are; a façade of ourselves that we present to the world. We may even believe this is who we are. It is our public, false, ego self. It is not real. We might be someone who truly enjoys acting goofy, but we will not do it around people until we feel relatively sure they will still love us. We might hate our job and wish we could do something completely different, but when we get to work, our work face goes on and we perform in order to keep the checks coming. We are afraid of how being ourselves and saying what we honestly think will impact other people and how other people’s reactions will impact us, never stopping to think about the consequences of not being authentic.
            One of Josh’s doctors put on a façade as she tried to explain away her confusion when looking at his CT scans. He was four years old at the time. My husband, Josh and I were at her office because she recently had sent Josh to have new scans taken of his brain and we were there to get the results. The first scans had been done when Josh was only one-year-old. At that time, the doctor told us the scans showed bi-frontal atrophy and abnormalities in his white matter. The new scans looked perfectly normal. She placed both scans up to the light box and proceeded to explain to us that the first scan showed a normal brain while the new scan showed abnormalities. My husband corrected her pointing out that she had the films mixed up. She looked again and proceeded to say that the first scan was normal. My husband suggested that she look at the dates on the scans. She did and was shocked when she realized the new scan showed a normal brain. She muttered a few words and excused herself from the room. We waited several minutes for her to return and when she came back in she measured his head and began talking about how his brain was not growing normally, as his head was too small for his age, which explained the bi-frontal atrophy in the first scan, but she said nothing about the abnormalities disappearing. We questioned her about why the new scan would show a normal brain when the first one did not and we reminded her that she had told us his brain would never repair itself from the abnormalities. She continued to talk about his small head and brain. My husband and I both realized she was not admitting that she did not know why his brain had changed. It was obvious to us that she was confused. Years later when Josh was seven years old, we discovered that an infant's brain looks different than an older child’s brain and some doctors mistake it for abnormalities.
            The doctor’s ego would not allow her to simply say, “I am sorry, but I do not know what is going on with your child’s brain.” It would have been so simple and, in a strange way, more reassuring for us to hear, but it was too much for her pride to admit. We would have respected her if she had been honest and helped us figure out where to go for answers, but that is not what she did. Instead, it made us feel like we had wasted valuable time with her as Joshua’s doctor. Her façade of being a knowledgeable pediatric neurologist and her fear of looking stupid took precedence over helping her patient find answers. The doctor had her doctor face on, but we were also displaying a façade. Honesty would have helped us all if we had been brave enough to help her tell the truth. I knew she did not know what was going on with our child. It was obvious the way she spoke to us without confidence and avoided answering our questions, but I was too timid and fearful to tell her that I knew. If I had not been intimidated by her title, if I had not been fearful of her reaction, I could have asked her some questions without judgment or said something to let her know that it was okay to admit her confusion. Instead, I sat there and let her pretend while I pretended along with her. It did none of us any good. We can learn to stop pretending by recognizing our fear and understanding where it comes from.

“When a child is born we look at this beautiful little creature and say, ‘Nice work, God, we’ll take over from here!’ Then our culture takes over and we start to shape this person by our rules. [As we grow] we are told we cannot trust in who we are…” 
~ Dr. Wayne Dyer

            The fear based ego is a powerful force that is programmed into our minds from the time we are born. Our fear comes from our subconscious mind which is our default mind, meaning it is running in the background all of the time. This is the part of your mind that was programmed from birth to age seven before you were consciously aware of thinking, according to Bruce Lipton, PhD. It is not all bad and fear based, however. It is the part of you that allows you to do things like walk without thinking about everything that goes into the act of walking. Your subconscious mind was programmed by your early childhood experiences and these experiences taught you who you are and how to behave in the world, according to the people in your life. This default, sometimes fearful, mind is where most of your life choices originate. The good news is you can reprogram your subconscious mind to be less fearful and you can consciously stop making fear-based choices.
            At some point in our childhood we become conscious of our own thinking, but most often we do not pay attention to our thinking because it is automatic. To stop living from a place of fear, we must recognize when our fear based ego is triggered and we can do this by learning to consciously observe our Self. Observing your Self is the first step towards reprogramming your subconscious mind and overcoming your life of fear. The more often you observe your Self the faster you can begin to change things in your life. Meditation is helpful, but not necessary. Consciously observing yourself is very simple. You do it by focusing your consciousness on itself. This helps to distinguish between your ego thoughts and thoughts that originate from your Being. Here are some questions to help you understand:
When you think, who is the one thinking?
When you notice your thoughts, who is it that is noticing?
When think to yourself, who is thinking and who is listening?
            The part of you that is noticing or observing is the true you; not the ego part of you, but your consciousness; your consciousness is now aware of itself, as it observes the ego. The ego part of you is the one feeling the fear or thinking the negative thought. It can also think loving thoughts and make you feel good, but it is still not the real you. You are the Being inside that can choose to just observe what is going on in your mind and body. You can feel fear, but the feeling does not have to overcome you. You can just watch it happening and not judge it. You can realize that you are not your thoughts and you are not your emotions. Thoughts and emotions are energy patterns that come up within you, but they are not you. You are the observer. You are the consciousness. When you feel fear or any emotion, let that be your trigger to observe your thoughts and feelings. Observe how it feels within, this is the time that you can clearly see your choices: You can consciously choose to continue to act from fear or you can choose to start living the life you want to live. You will still feel the fear, but now you know where it is coming from and you know it is keeping you stuck. You can observe your Self any time you are alone or going about your day. The more you practice it the more you will be able to do it around other people. This will make your interactions more authentic because you will consciously choose how to interact with others. You will see their ego at work and you will see your own ego at work and you can act accordingly.  
            It can be freeing if you let it. You will stand up for yourself and your family more often. You will become your own advocate. If you have a child with a disability you will stop putting up with the bad behaviors of teachers, doctors, and family members, and you will more freely give praise to the ones who do well for your child. If you begin to live this way you will see what a beautiful person you really are. You will begin to love yourself and, in turn, you will give love more freely to others. Living without allowing the fear to stop you will change your life and you will experience the joy that my son displays whenever the urge strikes him.

Be you and be well, My Friends! And always remember to 
“Never let your fears become bigger than your faith.” ~ Stevie Wonder


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