Posted by: Abby Caplin, MD | November 30, 2009


I love Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen’s teachings in her book Kitchen Table Wisdom. Here is one of them:

“The life in us is diminished by judgment far more frequently than by disease.”

Do you worry about what other people are thinking when you tell them you are living with chronic illness?

I used to. I worried that I would be seen as weak or worse—lazy and a failure (all of these are judgments), especially since my illness was not clearly visible. And the natural response for many people was to offer me assistance, often in the form of unsolicited advice. They usually meant well, but the unspoken message I got was that if I didn’t take their advice, then it meant that I probably wanted to stay sick (another judgment).

Truly such judgments can diminish the life in us. We do this to ourselves, too, through self-judgment, making the healing path unnecessarily difficult. We might believe that if we can’t “do” the things we did before, that we are failures. This is judgment, with a capital “J,” and it is nonsense.

About 20 years ago I walked by a window and saw an embossed metal paperweight. It read, “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” I had to think. What did I want to do, but fear of failure held me back? What negative self-judgments were preventing me from living my life?

This is the challenge and opportunity of chronic illness.

Within reason, of course, what would you do if you knew you could not fail? Might you be willing to act in the world as if you could not fail? It takes courage to manifest your dreams, but the result is you get to live a much better life!

I bought the paperweight. When things get difficult, I hold it in my hand, determined to act without fear of failure, knowing failure is part of life’s journey, but that I am not a failure, and neither are you!



  1. Dear Abby,
    Thank you so much for today’s entry. I enjoy being a part of this blog, even as I learn what this new environment is all about. Your sentence about unsolicited advice caught my attention.

    There are about 15 women from my 1970 nursing class who get together for an annual long weekend. I left the profession quite awhile ago, but most of the others have continued practicing.
    Since nursing school was a terrible time in my life, I always felt resistance at tagging along. I never felt that I really belonged, in part, because of my issues with Western medicine.

    Although my friend’s beliefs about healing are traditional, no one ever judged my own approach. Yet I have judged myself …harshly… to the point where I didn’t attend these very nurturing trips away for several years. This year I got pressured by all until I agreed to come.

    I was shocked to find myself so anxious that I lost my lunch on the way to the house. The first night I sat around the table sobbing for hours as I heard each woman tell me what my attendance meant to them and how they loved me. My room mate said I cried all night in my sleep. A huge, cold, dark weight was lifted from my spirit by the time we left 4 days later. It was an amazing and powerful experience, but what amazed me more was the mountain of isolation I had built around myself, with no help from anyone!! I knew I had some insecurities about my illness, but this was huge and as I delve into it even more, I realize how much it has messed up many areas of my life. I had cut myself off from a source of comfort, support and love that most would envy and I did it, I told myself, because I didn’t fit in.

    Be well

  2. Dear Donna,

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. How sad to have walled yourself off, but how wonderful to discover you have such good friendships, and that you are so well-loved!

    Hang in there,


  3. Thank you for your kind words. One of the many things I learned from that weekend was how dangerous it is for me (and probably all of us) to be alone in my own head. What started out as something rather innocuous grew into a giant beast because I was reluctant to seek counsel.

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