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What Happened When My Insecurity 'Gremlin' Reappeared During COVID-19

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“Seriously?  You’re back? Why? We broke up so long ago…”

The Gremlin that Rick Carson writes about in his book, “Taming Your Gremlin,” has found his way back to me during this uncertain, novel time with the coronavirus.

Please know that this is not a welcomed re-unitement!

Gremlins can take many forms. Some people may see them as an evil image. Mine is an internal chatter of doubt. I first met my Gremlin years ago while living in my childhood home on Sycamore Street. His presence filled in the parental gaps as my father died at a young age of 40 from alcoholism. My mother, struggled with her own sobriety and, over the years, developed a deep depression.

My parents were absent and I was alone. My Gremlin became a companion with a consistent voice of insecurity. He was a hollow pillar of support that became so familiar I barely noticed that he was there; however, his absence would have been greatly noticed as I wouldn’t know how to survive without his help, guiding me safely throughout my day.

Upon waking, my mind would immediately begin assessing my environment with a series of questions that the Gremlin composed:

  • What day is it?
  • Has something happened? Was it my fault?
  • Did I do something wrong? If you would just tell me, I would try to make it better…

The Gremlin and his questions helped me to gently maneuver throughout my day until I could once again return to the safety of my own bed.

With this process, my Gremlin convinced me that I was not OK. He subconsciously communicated to me that I was not good enough unless I could control a situation for the good of all. He convinced me that I was responsible for more than my own. I felt inadequate and was on guard; worried that I would mess up and be abandoned by others as I was by my parents. I felt that if people got to know the real me, they would be disappointed. So, I learned the Gremlin’s dance and practiced the art of control from an early age.

I moved throughout my life as a perfectionist. Not only did I practice my daily questions, I then began seeking fulfillment from completing one project after another. As challenges were placed before me, I would think, “OK, I can handle this. I can handle anything.”

Unknowingly, I perfected the art of being busy. I didn’t feel worthy unless I had an accomplishment. Unfortunately, this feeling of worth and pride quickly faded after the project passed, so I took on more to fill the void.

The Gremlin led me down this path for years. Then one day, I woke up, wondering how I got myself into such an overextended mess. It was difficult to concentrate on the project before me.  I was so stressed that even a touch from a loved one felt like a cut on my skin.

I had pushed myself to the breaking point, and I knew it.

“I” could not handle all that I put on my plate.

This was such a humbling experience. One that I am forever grateful for.

So, I sought out help. I found a wonderful therapist who guided me along my path of behavioral wisdom. Behavioral wisdom is my fancy way of saying I have sought out much-needed therapy through books, counseling and with the fellowship of others who have had a similar up-bringing as mine. This Behavioral Wisdom has helped me develop new tools to live by.

This wisdom has helped me recognize that my Gremlin, my internal chatter, that once allowed me to identify stressors in my youth, was a coping mechanism I used to survive the chaotic life I was dealt.

I am grateful that I can now detect my Gremlin for who he is and identify his old tactics as they are trying to resurface during these novel times of 2020. Our world has been dealt a plate full of instability. The combination of COVID-19, politics, loss of loved ones, and cruelty against others has brought back the familiar feelings of insecurity and fear.

With these feelings, my Gremlin has returned.

“I see you, Mr. Gremlin! YOU are NOT welcome!”

“I see you trying to work your way back into my life. Yes, you may have a new dialogue, but it is a familiar one. I see you planting seeds of anxiety. But, now I know, it is I who gets to choose if I will tend to your thoughts or remove them as weeds so other healthy habits can thrive.”

So, what do I do to keep my Gremlin at bay?

I practice daily gratitude.  

This is an art that has allowed me to find the joy in my past. I can now see strength where I thought only weakness forged. I recognize the angels that have been placed in my life, those that provided love, friendship and guidance all along the way. I try to find light and hope even when sadness seems to carry the day. Practicing gratitude shifts my focus from the challenges life has given me and focuses on the blessings. The blessings, oh how many there are…

I identify and honor boundaries.  

When life throws curve balls, it is easy to try to catch them all. I can even try to catch balls that are not my own. When I do this, my life is out of balance. Identifying boundaries has allowed me to not only learn how to take care of my own knapsack, but to let others take care of theirs as well. Boundaries have created a path for me to walk in life.

I practice forgiveness.  

2020 has been a wake up call for all of us. It is teaching us that life is uncertain and is too short.  It is our decision to live fully with a peaceful heart. With this in mind, I recognize and embrace that resentment only hurts myself.

I seek acceptance and let go of perfection.  

I am a bundle of flaws and strengths all meshed together. My strengths, when over-functioning, can transform into flaws. Letting go of perfection, accepting myself and a situation for what it is, is not easy. It is a goal that I have to keep in check daily. I try to remind myself, it is easier to admit that I and all in this world are flawed and that is OK. With this acceptance, there is also the commitment that when I wake up, I seek to do what I can.

One of my daughters asked why I was writing this essay. Such a great question!

I write to share. I write in hope that my experience will connect with others. I write to warn others that their own Gremlin may try to resurface when life is uncertain and scary. I want you to know that is this is a natural occurrence and it doesn’t mean something is “wrong” with you.

I urge you to be on the lookout for your Gremlin. Remember, you don’t have to listen to them. You can seek alternative ways, better ways, to handle difficult situations.

As many others have said during this novel year of 2020, I write to remind you that:

“You are not alone.”

“We should not only be kind to others, but also to ourselves.”

And, always remember, “You are not alone.”

Header image via zimmytws/Getty Images

Originally published: December 23, 2020
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