Yeah, not easy to remember, is it?
As someone pointed out in an email I received recently (thanks Alison), there seems to be themes to our lives. One of the most dominant in my life has been an obligation to family, and the need to prove myself worthy of my existence. Belonging and obligation, and the tension between security vs. freedom, has dictated my actions and dominated my thoughts since I was very small. My mother, particularly, has always been a concern, and it has been difficult for me to maintain boundaries with her suffocating need for love and attention.
Somewhere along the line, thanks to therapy mostly, I was able to untangle that web and make my life, and what I wanted for myself the priority. It became more difficult to stick to those boundaries when my dad became so ill and ultimately died, but I did it. I made a conscious choice to live with my mother then. I did not feel like I couldn’t say “no,” as I so often had when I was younger. I felt it was the right thing to do (still do) and I would make that choice again and again.
My time with my mother has been much longer and far more challenging in many ways than I ever dreamed possible when I made that move 10 years ago, but that’s just the way things are. It’s not her fault, and we’ve both gotten a lot better at maintaining boundaries.
Lately, though, I’ve been slipping back into old habits, and haven’t been taking very good care of myself while taking care of her. I have put her needs before my own, sometimes by necessity, but most of the time just because it was easier. Of course, for a couple of years COVID limited my life, as it did everyone’s, but even since things are starting to get back to normal a bit, I’ve been very conscious of her needs and less of my own. Trying to be super-caregiver, or super-daughter or something – I don’t know what.
And so I was starting to feel something that I felt a lot when I was younger: resentment. For me, with the r-word also comes depression and anger alternately. So I was starting to be a little unpredictable emotionally and downright explosive at times, and that wasn’t doing either of us any good.
As a full-time caregiver, with a full-time job, and 2 houses to maintain, life can start to feel like nothing more than a list of things to do. The reality is that there is always something to be done. I could be productive, working on that list 24 hours a day, and there would still be things left undone. That’s just the way it is, and I know that, but it got away from me. The resentment, depression and anger were eating me alive and still, I just couldn’t let go of the idea that everything depended on me, and I had to just keep going.
Fortunately, those feelings are not so common anymore, so experiencing them again as I had so often in my earlier life, sent up a few red flags, and forced me to figure out what was going on. So I’ve had to sort some things out and get back to finding time for the things I know keep me on track, including mediation, writing and journaling, activities with friends, and the really big one: time alone to just be.
I don’t have to prove anything to anyone, least of all my mother, or myself, for that matter. I don’t have to justify my existence or be the perfect anything. I’m fine just as I am – flawed and totally okay in equal measure – and I can relax in the knowledge that I have what it takes to get through life each day and enjoy it. I can just be me, without explanation or apology, and with love and good humor.
The list will wait while I take a walk, or go for a bike ride, or read on a Sunday afternoon alone in my room. I see to it that my mother has things to keep her occupied while I spend some time online or play a game, or write in my journal. There is time before work to meditate, and going to my room early to read for an hour before bed is not taking anything away from her or anything else. I get up early and I go to bed early, and while she makes it clear that she would rather I stay up to watch TV with her, I just give her a hug and say “good night.”
We don’t have to spend every moment together, even though she doesn’t like to be alone. That’s something she has to navigate on her own. I do like to be alone, and one way of being is not better or worse than the other. I compromise to meet her needs when necessary, and I expect her to do the same. We’ve managed to hammer out a pretty good “happy medium” for both of us in the last 10 years, and the only time it starts to get “unhappy” is when I start prioritizing her expectations over my own.
It’s okay for each of us to be who we are; to love what we love and to do the things that make life worth living. Everything in life comes down to balance, and when I’m out of balance, as I have been, I have to get back to being mindful of and honoring my own unique way of being.
Let it be.