This is the final entry in an 11-part series of blog excerpts written by Bea V. Larsen, JD, Center for Resolution of Disputes. These eleven blogs also appeared in Care Management Journals, Volume 15, Number 1, 2014. Full sample downloads of this journal are available here.
I have become reluctant to travel on my own. I find reasons to put off planning a journey, despite anticipating pleasure once at my destination, and even though I am well accustomed to traveling alone. For Len and I often chose to visit our distant children separately, knowing we were able to connect with them more intimately in this way.
So what’s going on?
In my determined effort to think this through (at least what’s available to me on a conscious level), and get beyond this self- imposed limitation, the source of my aversion is becoming more clear. It is humbling to realize, and then acknowledge, that it is embarrassment that is standing in my way.
For years I’ve adhered to a personal rule never to visit anyone for more than 2 days, so I always travel light. But even lifting a small rolling suitcase into an overhead compartment with ease has become a challenge and is at best awkward. And now I envision arriving at an unfamiliar or ever-changing airport, getting temporarily turned around in a crowded maze, and not being absolutely sure which ground transport to use to get to my final destination. All of these imagined difficulties magnify and give me pause.
Of course, none of this makes any sense. There are always kind people more than ready to give assistance in myriad ways, and I know that well. But, somehow when on my own I need to feel and appear completely competent and in full control.
Now additional life changes are getting in my way. A pinched nerve in my back (vertebrae do tend to collapse in on each other a bit as we age) causes one of my legs to occasionally feel unreliable and walking any distance is no longer comfortable, so not only do I limit my travel out of town, but I walk far less on my home ground and choose destinations with parking close by. (Friends encourage me to rely on the cane I was told to purchase and recently did, but still am reluctant to use.)
In some way, I know this new reticence relates to the loss of my partner. I could disclose any vulnerability or failing to Len, and in the telling suffer no embarrassment at all, and receive comfort and reassurance. After confiding in him, or even just knowing I could later phone and report some misadventure, my travel troubles lost significance.
So, recently I’ve begun to disclose my thoughts about these personal weaknesses, for so they seem, first to my children and then to close friends. Doing so has generated a most welcome camaraderie of intimate disclosures and interesting conversations about the unique sources of embarrassment for others, some quite unlike my own, but equally limiting.
This emotional state, embarrassment, is not shame for some hidden moral wrong, but simply a witnessed loss of dignity, seeking to avoid drawing unwanted attention to some physical flaw and then be judged less competent in other ways as well. Apparently for others, as for myself, this need to avoid exposure influences decisions that objectively make little sense but allow us to hide our “defects” from public view.
An important truth I recently read sparked my decision to put these thoughts into words: embarrassment is the death of possibility.
So, with these insights at hand, is there a trip on the horizon? No, not yet. And has the cane been unfolded (a folding cane so much easier to hide away) and used in public?
Well, once, accompanied by a very dear friend in an anonymous mall.
But perhaps my public admission is the next step, quite literally, to acceptance and the defeat of embarrassment.
And here’s another useful truth: to take a step forward, you have to momentarily lose your balance.