This morning I woke up depressed. I pulled the covers over my head and considered staying there all day. But my mind just flew from one problem to the next, and the cat’s insistent meow was annoying me. So, I pushed back the covers, pulled on some pants, fed the cat and made coffee. I plopped in a chair with a giant steaming mug and gave myself permission to forgo my morning exercise, and muck around in my brain to see what the heck my problem was. I thought back over the worries that had kept the covers over my head until they drove me out of bed.
Over the weekend I had cared for my nephew. He is in a vegetative state after a wreck last year. Spending a weekend with my once vibrant, daredevil sixteen-year-old nephew was heartbreaking. It was also mentally and physically exhausting – cleaning bodily fluids, washing loads of laundry, pulling and pushing an unresponsive teenage body, schedules and medicines to remember, the fear of making a mistake. I came home feeling every bit of my sixty-one-years and moving gingerly to protect my sore back. It’s the first time I’ve felt truly old. It also made me worry about my sister who is headed towards burnout with the stress of being a caregiver. I was exhausted after only three days.
To top off my emotional baggage, my RAS planned to come visit his cousin over the weekend and didn’t show up. So, of course, that added worry about him (and his sobriety) to my already overloaded psyche.
When I got home, we received a call from my NAS, who lives in a lovely one hundred-seventy-year-old home that he and his wife are slowly renovating. A portion of the plaster ceiling had fallen unexpectedly, making him stressed and angry. The crash happened just seconds before his wife and toddler returned from a trip. What if it had fallen on the baby? We went over to help with clean-up and absorbed a big dose of his tension and frustration.
Then, last night I got an irate call from my RAS. He complained angrily about his boss, and his job. He wanted to quit, even though he is responsible for rent, car insurance and bills. Then, after I listened to that tirade, he transitioned into a rant about his girlfriend’s ex showing up and getting into a fight with him. Fear and frustration came surging through me as I listened. It didn’t sound like sober behavior.
He called me back after his AA meeting and apologized for dumping on me and I told him he scared me. He assured me he was sober and told me the meeting really helped him feel better. But the knot in my stomach was still there at bedtime.
So, I woke up this morning worried about all of it. My nephew, my sister, my RAS, my NAS, my age and sore back, the old house, tempers, burnout, sobriety…
Why do I feel everyone’s problems so acutely? How do I keep from accumulating their worry, stress, burnout, sadness, anger, fear? I love them all so much, I want them to be happy, healthy, and sober. But I can’t cure them of every discomfort. If I had a million dollars and solved everyone’s financial problems, there would still be issues. You only need to look at rich or famous people and see the drama, affairs, divorces, depression, suicide… So, I know, logically, I can’t “fix” anyone’s life for them.
But I keep wishing I could, and then when I realize I can’t, I find myself feeling guilty for having an orderly, slow-paced, stress-free life. I’m retired, have few health or financial problems and am in a happy marriage. I think I almost feel like worrying about them is my penance. Their emotions suck away at my calm. A state I’ve worked very hard to create. If I’m not careful I get absorbed in their lives instead of living my own.
Who would I be helping by allowing myself to drown in the emotional distress of others? If I can stay strong and cheerful, at the very least, they do not have to worry about me. If I get despondent, because of THEIR problems, I just compound their troubles, because now they have a miserable, nonfunctioning mom, sister, or wife to deal with too.
It’s counterproductive to give up on my peace because others are hurting. But sometimes I do have survivor’s guilt. When I’m suffering it’s, “why me?” and then when the suffering stops, it’s “why not me?”
After my own years of stress, anxiety, and depression, I’m very empathetic to other people’s pain, and I’d love to cure it, but I can’t. No one could dig me out of the dark place I was in but me. I had to figure it out myself. It hurts to watch the ones I love be stressed, angry, and tired. But I can not take on the responsibility of fixing them. It is hard, demanding work to control my own emotions and impulses. How smug would I be to think I could control others?
As I was ruminating and trying to talk myself out of my gloomy mood, my phone rang. Caller ID said it was my daughter-in-law. Only it wasn’t. My two-year-old grandson had accidentally dialed me. He was ecstatic to hear my voice and his mama agreed he could keep the phone and ‘talk’ to me. He walked through the house showing me his toys and pets. I mostly saw his nose and forehead the whole time, but it was adorable.
It cheered me up – a lot, those minutes of focused joy. It’s so important to make time for the good stuff – like random calls from a barely verbal toddler. I had been suffering from tunnel vision, focusing so relentlessly on the problems that I was forgetting there are some very wonderful things in my life.
I’ve come through a lot, but I have arrived at a comfortable, happy place. I need to remember that my family will come through their difficult times too. Not because I will fix them, but because they are all talented, hard-working people who are just as capable of figuring out their lives as I was.
I just need to give them time and support. I also want to be as emotionally healthy as possible, so when they need a shoulder to cry on, or a compassionate person to vent to, or a helping hand for the weekend, or to hear Grandma’s voice, I can be there.
Today, I’m taking a ‘me’ break. I’m writing this because writing always helps smooth out my jumbled thoughts. I’m also resting and thinking happy thoughts. As trite as that may sound, ruminating on my family’s problems doesn’t do one thing to help them. It just adds to my stress, which in turn will add to theirs. So, I’m changing the channel and moving on to think about good stuff today.
The sun is shining, my grandson is adorable, I have two adult sons whom I love, TAM is great place to get support, the cat is purring at my feet, and I am a strong woman who can handle whatever life throws at me.