“Rescue yourself from saving another and knowing what is best for them and you just might find humility, kindness and what love truly means” – Amy Larson
I finally understand fully the concept of putting the air mask on yourself first before trying to help another. You’ve seen it, the diagram that is displayed on every aircraft, of the mother with her small child and the weird-looking plastic gadgets attached to a few strings. They magically fell out of the plane ceiling for the purpose of saving your life? This familiar awkwardly drawn diagram has become quite emblematic for me this year, as I’ve devoted an enormous amount of time to self-resuscitation methods. I am writing about it now as a means to accept and release any residual guilt or anxiety around allowing myself the necessary attention.
Last year I found myself in serious need of an air mask, yet nothing magically appeared above my head when I pressed the panic button. I was hyperventilating, living with an on call daily emergency, playing the role of the caregiver for my very ill and aging mother. This was a role that I had never thought I would intentionally choose. At this point in my life, I had specifically chosen not to have children, pets or even a home to take care of. I give great value and respect for my ability and desire to live a very simple and solo lifestyle choosing an existence that does not require an excess to sustain. For many reasons I was very happy living on my own. Moving in with my mom was a drastic change and shock to the system to be once again living under my mother’s “roof and rules” as an adult.
For the first time in a long while, I was extremely uncomfortable. I felt a stranger in my own skin. It was difficult to be with and see my mother sick, depressed, angry and in pain on a daily basis. It was also difficult to live outside of my personal habits and daily routine. The environment and neighborhood itself also was a new change. Moving from a tropical island to suburban PA took some getting use to. For the first few months, I did not fully process or understand what was even happening. I was going through the motions of being between resisting the scenario entirely and accepting it even remotely. I was definitely dealing with a state of denial.
I’m a person who thrives on social engagement but felt as if I was radiating a vibe of shear dis-ease. This made me not want to be around other people. I retreated, easily pointing out to myself the difficulties stemming from the surface situation. My living scenario was not the only problem though, there was something more deeply rooted causing me to struggle.
I was not unhappy because I was living with my mother or in suburban PA. I was unhappy because I, at that point really could not see clearly or accept truly what I wanted for myself. I made the choices that I thought I needed to (and was expected) to make. I came back to care for mother and play the role, I did not want to play. I was unhappy because I had made my choices out of obligation and guilt rather than love or compassion. Leading with my head instead of my heart, I handed over my power of decision-making to an external expectation rather than listening to my inner guiding compass.
Being faced with the reality of what I didn’t want, was not something that happened by mistake. It was not something that I was forced into by my mother or anyone else, it was something that I chose independently. I realized that I alone had made the decision to move in and that I could either accept the time together as a lesson and opportunity to learn or I could continue to squirm in my self-created misery. It was time to not only to accept my reasons for entering the situation but also time to prepare for and accept what my reasons would be for leaving.
If I chose to put myself in a stifling situation, I could also choose to take myself out of it. I needed to lead my steps with compassion first for myself before being able to be compassionate to my mother or anyone else. By allowing myself room to breathe, I stopped starving my own desires and needs. I started prioritizing my own health over trying to fix hers. This reintroduced balance back into my life, giving me enough strength, energy, and resources to meet my own needs and share with others.
It became very clear that I was not the one and only (and/or the best) person that could help my mom. It was also very clear though, that I really was the only person that could help myself. It was time to do some tending. So somehow, without jumping ship or suffocating myself, I settled into the act of seeking balance and eventually another solution for the situation emerged. In the act of acceptance and self-preservation, I found not only freedom from the struggle, but new solutions to the problem. The slight shift into acceptance and the diligent act of following through opened my airways and provided me with new survival skills that I am still utilizing today.
Don’t forget to keep breathing.
Beth – thank you for your insights and commentary. We met at a retirement party on New Jersey Ave. in PA and we discussed your residing on a sailboat at the time. I was intrigued by our conversation and have been following your blog ever since. Thank you!