24 February 2010

Learning to Say No

Disclaimer: For some reason, I decided I needed to write this post. It opens a can of worms in my life that I have kept closed for some time now. Please be kind, if you choose to comment. Again, I don't know why I have chosen now to write it, but it started with the hope of figuring out why this blog is such an escape for me, and how I can help my readers to understand more about my life. It doesn't fully address everything I have gone through in the past few years, but it touches on things I haven't talked about previously.

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Awhile back, I went through a period where I was spread too thin in my personal life. It happened very slowly and sneakily, and before I knew it, I was in over my head. I live in close proximity to my parents, my in-laws, my grandparents, and my siblings. Sometimes being a member of my family feels like an episode of Brothers and Sisters. We are all extremely involved in each other's lives, which makes for close relationships, but it can also be suffocating if you allow it to be.

Around the time my parents separated a few years ago, I sort of lost myself. I had an ideal childhood and upbringing. But my parents' marriage became quite complicated, and they split when I was in my mid-20s. While they were both trying to re-build their own lives individually, I, as the oldest child and daughter became the "go-to" girl. My mom had gone back to work after staying at home for twenty-five years, and her boss was a raging lunatic. I wondered how I could comfort her and ease her transition. My brother moved into our condo while he figured out his next career move, and my other brother stayed with us on weekends when he came home from school. My father went through a depression, and spent most of his time taking care of my elderly grandma (who passed away last year). My maternal grandparents were old and their health was failing. My in-laws were pressuring me about anything and everything, including wedding stuff, all of which seemed so frivolous to me when I had so much shit going on in my family life.* Whenever my parents wanted to know the whereabouts of my siblings, they asked me, naturally, because I was the one keeping dibs on everyone. L was hanging in there, but he's only human, and was losing his patience. I felt like I needed to appease him whenever I had a spare minute for fear that he would leave me because I was a mess and had worn myself to the bone.

For awhile I thought I could do it. I could be everything to everyone. I felt the mothering instinct in me surge. This feeling was new to me, because although I have always tried to be a caring person, I was never a caretaker. It felt good. I felt needed, and like I was really extending myself for the first time in my life. But, at some point, I took on too much. I crashed and burned. I also had a big health scare, and realized that I was neglecting my needs, my health, and my life.

I had to take a few steps back. I felt awful for doing so, because I had created a system where I felt people were really depending on me. I was letting them down. Why? So that I could help myself? Selfish.

But sometimes it's okay to be a little selfish. To be honest, trying to be superwoman didn't make me very happy. In fact it made me miserable. I ended up feeling overworked and under appreciated. I started blaming everyone for taking advantage of me. Couldn't they see that I was breaking my back for them? No, they couldn't, because they were just living their lives. They were doing what they always did. Sure, they could have been more appreciative, but it wasn't as big of a deal as I was making it out to be.

I think sometimes as women we are implicitly rewarded for selflessness, and taught that we should never put ourselves first; especially when in the role of mother or primary caretaker. How dare a mom ever consider what's best for her?! What could she be thinking? But everyone needs a break. Everyone needs to take care of themselves. Yes, even moms, even sisters, even grandmas. EVERYONE.

I am doing much better these days. I am finding outlets to keep me sane, such as this blog, which is often my saving grace. I am trying to be clearer with people regarding boundaries. I had to learn how to say "no". It doesn't mean I don't care about others. It doesn't mean I won't continue to help those I love, but it's not a good thing when you lose yourself in the process. My marriage changed, too. I now realize that, as partners, we are both in this for better or for worse. By having low self-esteem I was only further complicating a complicated situation. I shouldn't belittle myself because I am going through a rough patch in my life. We take turns dealing with whatever life throws our way, and we are both worthy and deserve to be in this marriage together.

Do you ever feel pulled in too many directions in your personal or professional life? How do you deal with it?


* There's a lot more to my family story that I am choosing not to tell, if you can believe it.

5 comments:

  1. I can so relate to this post. I have a tendency to get involved in anything and everything and be there no matter the cost. As a therapist (or my attempts to become one) it's another common theme. I think sometimes it's important to look at the givers and takers in your life. Takers aren't bad, but it's important to balance and know your limits. Givers need to have other givers in their life and allow themselves the ability to receive. Which can sometimes be hard it you are the one who usually is doing things for everyone else.

    I still feel guilty sometimes but know that unless I take care of myself there is nothing left to give. Another lesson I've learned is that my husband gets priority before others and if I give, give, give at the end of the day there is nothing left to invest in him and he is who I care about most.

    I'm glad you have been able to reflect and be able to say no. Thanks for sharing.

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  2. I can understand where you're coming from. I have been on a LONG journey (since a divorce in 2006) to figure out how to make myself a priority. Funny though - when we make ourselves a priority, we are happier and have MORE love to share with those ready to receive it and LESS time for the people who aren't ready for it. ;)

    Hang in there. IT'S OKAY TO SAY NO! :)

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  3. I think I understand a bit where you're coming from (I function as the oldest child in my family.) This year I made a lot of progress in learning how to set healthy boundaries for myself - it can be tough adjusting those close relationships. Hang in there! It sounds like you are making changes that are much healthier for yourself :)

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  4. Wow, Carly, I can only imagine how emotionally and mentally exhausting that trying time was for you. Thank you for sharing your journey and it's great to hear where you are now. I totally agree (my bff and I talked about this the other day) that sometimes women give themselves fully to appease other people, but lose themselves a little.

    I'm nor super personal on the blog but it's also helped me immensely.

    I guess when I felt myself pulled in many directions, I tried to re-prioritize but the top one being how can I be mentally healthy and content with x decision - it's a constant process. There are "nos" and that's a good beginning.

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  5. @Michelle: Thank you for your kind words! You always have such wise things to say. You must be an amazing therapist :)
    @J. Darling: So, SO true!
    @Penny: Thanks! Sometimes it isn't easy being the oldest child. It's nice when others understand that!
    @Chic 'n Cheap Living: Thanks so much for understanding! I love your blog - such a great mix of fun, fashion, and some personal stuff :)

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