Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: Jorinde Berben
Most of my life has been marked by the dance between what I want to do and what I think I should do. Often, the pendulum swung much further toward pleasing others than pleasing myself, but from time to time, there would be a pretty strong counter-movement towards making sure I was happy. By that time I was often so frustrated that this rebellious streak turned me into someone far more selfish than I usually am.
This process took place subconsciously, until recently, with tons of guilt and shame to accompany it.
In my burnout/depression, the pendulum has again been stuck on the self-care end for a while. Not by choice, but at least in full awareness. It became clear to me that my needs are what they are. I could wish they were different, that I didn’t need so much time to process information, or that I wouldn’t get stressed out being around people for a long time, but that’s just not the case. I need what I need. And what we need is different for each of us. I’m a sensitive introvert, often wishing I was an active extrovert, but I’m not.
Yet, I also have people who rely on me for small things or big things. Raising a child with special needs brings with it a whole array of responsibilities. And even though I sometimes resent the demands put on me as a parent, my children have their own needs that are just as valid as mine. My partner, family and friends also have needs that I want to take into account. Not because I have to, but because I want to. That’s a major shift in how I approach my responsibilities.
As this has come into my awareness, I’ve started to make decisions in a much more deliberate fashion, looking for a way to balance out my needs versus my responsibilities. I’ve also learned that meeting my own needs is much more important than I thought, mostly because I turn into a rather unpleasant version of myself when I’m stressed. (I have yet to meet the first person who becomes MORE pleasant when stressed.)
So last week, when my friends were meeting for dinner one evening, I really, really, really wanted to go. I hadn’t seen them in a while, and I know that spending time with them is a great way to feel connected, supported and have fun. The problem was that, coincidentally, my niece and nephew were staying at our house that night, so my mother already had two children to look after. Adding another babysitter to the mix was an option, but wouldn’t help my children, or my sister’s children, feel at ease. My partner had just moved into his new house across the street and was still settling in, so I didn’t want to leave him with 5 children to take care of either.
Previously, I would have gone one of two ways on this: either I would have done anything in my power to be able to go, i.e. arrange an extra babysitter or ask my partner or mother to babysit anyway, and then felt guilty the entire evening, or I wouldn’t even have considered going and perceived the whole thing as another reason to see myself as the victim of my own life. Poor me, raising two kids on my own, unable to spend time with my friends who were probably laughing and having fun together.
This time, I considered it more carefully:
- What would it mean for me to go?
- How much time would we get to spend together?
- Were there other options for connecting with my friends?
- What would the impact be of me going, on my children and those taking care of them?
In the end, I decided that it would be better to meet my needs another way and reduce the impact on my family. I didn’t feel like a victim because of it, though I did feel sad I wasn’t able to go. It was a decision I made out of love, not out of guilt.
As it turned out, a few days after I cancelled, I tested positive for Covid so I was quarantined anyway on the night in question, but having made that decision so deliberately made me feel really good. It showed me that it’s possible to take a more proactive stance on life rather than a reactive one, and when you’re slowly climbing out of a depression that seems to fall completely outside of your control, this means hope.
There is a seductive easiness to putting yourself in the victim role: you don’t have to feel responsible for how your life is going. If you don’t make the choice, you can’t be held accountable for it. But there’s a caveat to being a victim, a really big one: You let go of your power to affect change in your life.
I hope there will be plenty more opportunities to practice this newfound awareness in balancing needs and responsibilities, but I’m not worried. Life seems to be rather full of them.