Monday, May 20, 2013

A Year in Review Part 2

Yesterday I wrote a little bit about what was happening a year ago, and how it affected me. I included a letter that I wrote to my dad, and I got an amazing response from some of you, invisible audience, who chose to make yourselves visible to lend support, encouragement and your own stories to my family and me. Thank you.
I talked a lot about then, but very little about now. Now, as I said, I am living in Panama, writing a book. The actual process of writing – which brings joy and meaning to every single day here – is helping me to unravel the things I have been through over the last year, to realize what part I play in my own story, and how my role needs to be different.

Selfish. It’s a word that I have to relearn, in a new context. Coming to Panama felt selfish. Going to Canada last summer felt selfish. Doing things that I need to do, regardless of what others want and need of me, feels selfish.

And they are. Making decisions based solely on what I want and need is a selfish act. My mistake is not in admitting to being selfish, but in considering selfishness to be a bad thing.

I cannot take care of others if I have not taken care of myself first. It is not my job to be a martyr, to give and give until I have nothing left. There is only one person responsible for me and my ability to take care of myself, and that is me. Not only can I not expect others to do this for me, I shouldn’t. It’s not their job, just as it’s not my job to take care of anyone else at my own expense.

In my original letter to my dad, there was a line that I removed when I posted it on my blog.

Originally, I wrote:
“I know my role, but I want you to know: if it were in my power, if I could change it, fix it, take it away, or even take it upon myself, I would do it. I would not hesitate for a single moment, if it meant you would never wake up depressed again.”

I took out the line first because I realized that I have learned something essentially important in this last year: that it is never my job to take someone else’s experience from them, no matter what that is: depression, sadness, or even joy. Once I started thinking about it, however, I realized that I did take it upon myself.

I have been told many times in my life that I am sensitive, too sensitive even. It’s true: I am sensitive. I can also feel others’ pain. Part of the reason that I felt I had to leave last summer was because I felt Dad’s pain so thoroughly that I started to get depressed myself. I found myself reflecting his symptoms back at him, and struggling with them, too. Recognizing this has been a huge step for me. I can let myself get flooded so much with someone else’s feelings or emotions that I start to feel them myself, whether it’s panic, fear, depression, or even enthusiasm or joy. Realizing this has made me realize that there is another possibility: I can pick up on someone else’s state of mind, and just let it go. I don’t have to take it on.

There’s a more important lesson that has come out of this, though. When I read through my letter to my dad and found that line I had written in October, I realized that I had taken on his pain, and it didn’t lessen it for him at all. Instead, my action doubled it: I could take it on myself, but that did not diminish what he felt. I was sharing it with him, but not in a way that lightened the load. I tried to sacrifice myself for him, and instead caused both of us to suffer instead.

This is what I’m here to learn, invisible audience. This is why the book is not finished. My entire life I have been picking up on the people around me, and thinking it was my job to fix it, lessen the pain or heal someone’s wounds, without realizing that I was not actually helping them. All I was doing was hurting myself so we could stand next to each other: both in pain, both bearing open wounds; theirs legitimate, mine self-inflicted.

I need to say here that, despite all the soul searching I am doing, despite the sometimes tough days that I have when I realize that I have inadvertently been making my life much harder than it needs to be, I am incredibly grateful, and ecstatic to be figuring this out. I love where I am living and what I’m doing, and I am grateful for the chance to do it. So please, take any part of my writing that appeals to you or helps you, but don’t for a minute think I am suffering in my revelations. I am here to learn something, and I’m learning it. When I look around, I literally see rainbows, I watch lightning storms roll in and cause the lightning bugs to blink furiously in response, I go for walks up dirt roads lined with fragrant pine trees, and I stand on stages, looking out into darkness, and hope that my performance touches someone. It is not always an easy existence, but it is a fulfilling one, and I am infinitely grateful to be having it, because it’s just mine. All the feelings I have around it are – finally – just my own.

Love and all my own kisses