When the wildfire hit my community in May, it was like a tsunami of flames and feelings. As it burned away homes and businesses, the flames licked even deeper into our hearts and heads, and if we are honest the singe marks aren’t only on our neighbourhoods.
It affected all of us differently, and while the common experience provided a bond we each reacted in different ways. There were feelings I anticipated: loss, grief, fear, worry, anger.
And then there was the one shadow I didn’t expect but that has dogged me since May 4.
I say May 4 because on May 3 this companion wasn’t with me in the car when I fled with 3 cats and a dog in tow. It only appeared the next morning, hovering at the end of my hotel room bed, quiet but demanding to be acknowledged.
Self-doubt had crept back into my life, taking advantage of a moment of vulnerability to reappear.
I suppose we all experience self-doubt, but once upon a time I had it to an almost crippling degree. I hid it under a veneer of confidence, but the veneer was thin and easily cracked. In recent years, though, I had shed the self-doubt as I grew more confident in myself both personally and professionally – but the fire opened a doorway to my old companion, and self-doubt glided back into my world.
Perhaps it was the startling change in routine that invited it or the distance from the safe retreat of my home. Regardless of the cause, I knew it well because we were old frenemies.
Self-doubt makes you question everything. I suspect it’s why I was nomadic in the early days of evacuation, constantly on the move; self-doubt made me question whether to stay or go, like The Clash song but only far worse. Self-doubt made me recheck everything a million times: had I packed everything from the last hotel room? Were all the cats in the car? Did I have enough cash, cat food, clean socks?
I felt adrift and yet I felt moored by the doubt that was my heavy companion, weighted to me like an anchor. Every conversation became cause for dissection and more speculation on the dubious nature of my character, my abilities, and my existence.
It was maddening. And I hoped that when I returned home self-doubt would be left behind, crying on a deserted island of loneliness as I sailed away.
I was wrong. It followed me, although it took a few days to show up as I was preoccupied with “return home chores”. But when it did it began to pick at me, that quiet and yet incessant voice.
It made me question everything from the shade of my hair to my life choices. It kept me awake at night and it nattered at me during the day. It never grew stronger or weaker, just remained there until finally, very recently, I became so exhausted I demanded to know what it wanted.
What it wanted?
What did self-doubt want?
It wanted me to doubt myself of course – but more crucially it wanted me to reaffirm that I believed in myself. Self-doubt was my devil’s advocate; it wanted me to fight it.
And so I did.
When it began to question me, I fought it down with irrefutable proof: examples of my abilities, my character and yes, my existence. I sat down with self-doubt and I laid out the puzzle pieces, fitting them together quickly once I found my rhythm.
Here was the mother piece, and here the friend. Here was the writer piece, and here was the community advocate. I fit them all together, forming a solid picture where once there had been scattered puzzle pieces – and I showed self-doubt that there was no room for it in the completed puzzle of who I am.
The truth is that self-doubt will likely remain in my life forever, as it’s also the tiny voice that occasionally asks very reasonable questions and provokes me to alter my course in a good way; but self-doubt had come perilously close to declaring itself captain of the ship, and it was a mutiny I could not tolerate.
The fire on May 3, 2016, had consequences which we can see with our eyes; but it is perhaps the ones we cannot see but only feel in our hearts that may impact us the longest. Even after homes are rebuilt and neighbourhoods are alive with members of our community once again, the marks left by the fire will remain; it’s just that some of them may not be visible. I hope however they remain visible to our hearts, and that we realize others will struggle with sorrow, sadness, anger, fear, and even self-doubt. I believe that if we acknowledge our struggles openly we then allow others to do so as well, and we continue to provide strength to them to fight their own mutinies.
The equilibrium of my ship had been badly affected by self-doubt; it had made every challenge loom large as a tidal wave and every disappointment look as deep as an ocean trench. My ship was trying to straighten itself, and I was struggling to be the strong captain and right it single-handed, but while I am the captain of my ship, my family and friends in this community are members of my crew. It is with their support, encouragement and help I defeat the mutinies that threaten to overtake me.
Rely on your crew, my friends, and let them fight your mutiny with you, at your side and ready to hold your ship steady as you reclaim your captaincy.
After all, that’s what a crew – and a community – is for.