Loneliness can be a funny thing. You can have a wide social circle, have many contacts, hundreds of facebook friends, and still feel alone. I, however, have a handful of close friends, my partners family are lovely, an i enjoy being active on instagram. Yet i still feel alone sometimes. Not in the sense of having no-one around necessarily, my partner is wonderful and very understanding, his family i can talk to about anything, and even though my sister has a busy life a couple of hours away i know i can call her anytime. For me it is the social aspect of friendship. Many months can pass between seeing some of my close friends, they have children, partners and lives that keep them busy, and up until recently i was looking after my Nan on a daily basis, so i had very little time.
I just need to say before i continue, some of you may not agree with the way i write about my Nan. I understand, obviously this is going to be quite a one sided account. I will try and give context where possible, but it would be impossible for me to give a detailed backstory of every situation, family breakdown or event that has happened. Know this, i love my Nan, and i most certainly would not exaggerate anything for the purpose of this blog. Thats not me.
I never really thought much about how looking after Nan impacted me, or maybe i did but chose to push it to the back of my mind and ignore it. It was a tie that meant i felt obligated never to not go round and see her, even if i felt tired or unwell, as i felt i would be letting her down, or for fear that she would pass judgment at me, and there would be some sort of backlash for not going. Social events had to be planned well in advance, or around the time i would visit her. If i went out i would make sure i was back in time. Sure, she managed when we went on holiday, she had carers going in but i had to stock everything up, plan every meal so it would be easily accessible, and i know she had the carers do the bare minimum when they went in. She would cope, though, but still i felt i couldnt take any other time off. I would feel guilty as she would tell me she has no life in her flat, she cant go out shopping or do what she wants, and that i didnt realise how lucky i was i could do these things.
Guilt is a big thing i suffer with, along with worrying. I cant switch my brain off. I feel guilty for the slightest of things, even not to do with my Nan. I constantly worry if i have said the wrong thing in a conversation, or done the wrong thing. If i have upset someone, or let myself down in some way. My worry brain takes over, if there is a conversation to be had at work i go round and round in my head with the possible dialogue or outcomes until i feel frazzled. And still i struggle to switch it off. I find it difficult to voice my opinions, to be assertive. Years of having my Nan as the main figure in my life, has unfortunatley taken its toll. Its not something i really paid a lot attention too until recently, but its been in the back of my mind for a while, years maybe. We could never have a discussion, my opinion wasnt right or valid, i didnt do things her way so they were wrong, even if i got the exact same results how i did them. Many times i would be told she was just putting me right for my own good, so i knew. Everything had to be just so, to the point i would worry when i got home that i had left something out of place. If i forgot something it was unacceptable, she couldnt understand why i forgot. Never mind that i remember all the other things, or that i work full time, have a house to run, and my own things to remember. In here eyes, it just wasnt good enough that i had forgot.
I used to drive a 1.5 hour round trip to do her shopping at a specific supermarket after work, as she didnt like the stores nearer. Why did i do it, you ask? Because it was easier. It saved the arguments. If i bought the food somewhere else, on principle she wouldnt eat it. Thankfully, about a year ago a store of the same brand opened up near me, so that did shorten my journey time, but at the same time there were a lot more requests to just ‘pop in’ after work to pick something up. My partner says he doesnt know how i did it for so long, but i just did. I felt a sense of duty, and i love my Nan. I wanted to help, even though i question sometimes whether it was truly appreciated in the end or just expected.
Another occasion that sticks vividly in my brain involves me cooking dinner for my mother in law. We invited her round for mothers day dinner, and i made the mistake of telling Nan. Not a mistake really, i guess, i had asked to go round half hour earlier to give me more time to cook. I still spent the same time with my Nan, doing everything she needed and giving her some company, then i went. The next day when i went back round there was an undeniable atmosphere. I cant remember exactly what happened, but i got told i was selfish for having my mother in law round for dinner, that i always put my partner and his family above her, and that i didnt care about her.
Still, i went back. During the years, i have had her make threats towards me when she has been in hospital and wanted to self discharge, that if i didnt help her leave or get her a cab, that she would kill herself. When i refused to call her a cab from a care home she was recouperating in (she has been there less than 24 hours) she threatened to kill herself. She called me away from work, apparently in a terrible state, only for me to get there and find she had evacuated her bowels and wanted, no, expected me to clean it up. Im ashamed to say at that point she was still able to get herself in and out of bed onto the commode, but didnt. More than twice since then she has asked the same thing of me, and i said no, which did not go down well at all. The threats were empty, deep down i knew that. Never has she done anything to endanger her life. Still part of me worried that she could, or would, if i didnt do as she asked. But there goes the cycle, reinforcing her position, her self importance, and making me do what she wants.
Still my sense of duty prevailed, fear of her doing something stupid if i didnt co-operate. Fear of how she would react to me. Guilt if i didnt. One thing about a narcissistic relationship i have realised, is its not always easy or apparent you are in one. You do what you need for a quiet life, and its only now that i am removed from that toxicity that i can look back and start analyzing it all, to make sense of it and how it has affected me. And in doing that, i can take control of my life, my behaviours and starting repairing them, learning how situations can be dealt with, learning to be assertive, that my opinions and feelings matter just as much as someone elses, even if it means we dont agree.
This in a roundabout way brings me back to my start point, loneliness. I need to learn to be social again. I dont make friends easily, in a crowded room i feel uncomfortable. I get baffled easily by the fact people have so much to talk about. Crochet has helped me in this, in that when i go to a weekly meet up it gives me something to talk about and do, and its what i post most about on Instagram. I’ve also discovered, that there is still a massive stigma around mental health, even within my own social circle. Unless someone has experience of mental health, or is very empathic or understanding, it can be quite easily dimissed, be it as a phase, attention seeking, or through lack of knowledge – not an actual problem. Most of my friends are caring, understanding, ears there for when i want to talk. Maybe they have had experience with mental health issues, or know someone that has. Others, arent able to understand so easily.
One persons worries may not bother someone else. Person A may be able to handle a barrage of proverbial crap their whole life and be completely fine. Person B might encounter some hurdles, stumble briefly but make their way through. Person C may trip on a rock and be completely blindsided by that, immediatly immobilised. Im not very good at metaphors (or whatever the correct description is), but my point is, everyone is different and handles situations differently. Just because you are struggling, you are no less of a person, no weaker, of no less value than someone who wouldnt bat an eyelid, and it most certainly does not mean you are attention seeking or imagining it.
I have been told this recently, that i was over sensitive and imagining things. I was having a particularly bad day, after a few good ones. I’m not sure why, and i cant explain why. There was nothing in particular that ‘set me off’. But being told, yet again, that it was just all in my head, did nothing good for me. It still haunts me now, i try not to let it, but it makes me feel like i have to put on this facade, especially at work, to act ‘normal’ and happy. Or be prepared to explain why im not in as good of a mood as previous days. Ignorance, im discovering, is a problem with how mental health is viewed. If someone can’t see a physical symptom, or understand the particular problems, you can be dismissed quite easily. Hearing someone say ”I dont understand why your being like this” or ”You just need to stop thinking like that” are like red rags to a bull for me. Maybe this bothered me so much as its such a similar reaction to what my Nan had in the initial confrontation, dismissive, i dont have a problem, that i just need to pull myself together.
Trust me, if it was that easy, i would! I get more frustrated and anxious after hearing them, as i think im failing, that im not doing enough, not getting better quick enough. I’m doing the things i need to to help my recovery, im under the doctor, part of a group therapy session, and i wont stop there. I like reading about psychology, how the brain works and processes things. I’m making the effort to be able to function properly in everyday life, but unfortunately its not a quick fix, it takes time, and effort.
My advice to anyone, especially if someone around you is suffering through something you dont understand, is to research it. Spend 5 minutes reading up about depression, anxiety, or any mental health issue, and you might get even the smallest insight into what could be going on, that can then help you be a positive force in helping the persons recovery.
With Anxiety and depression, i think people expect to see panic attacks, glum faces, complete breakdowns. Other signs like frutration, anger, intense emotions, lack of sleep, lack of interest, low energy and crying to name a few, i feel in my experience can be misunderstood as just an outburst, not part of the deeper issues. I certainly dont want to end up a quivering, sobbing, frustrated emotional wreck when trying to have a conversation, unable to express what i am feeling in an eloquent way. Words fail me, i cant rationalise or explain what i want to, which adds to the frustration. But it happens to me, normally with a person that doesnt understand, because im trying to have a conversation i dont want to have. It leaves me feeling down beat, exhausted and emotionally and physically frazzled. That, more recently, has lead to me distancing myself from some people, because i dont want to, or rather, shouldnt need to offer explanations all the time. If i dont seem particularly happy with you one day, its not a personal attack, im not angry or annoyed at you. Maybe i just didnt sleep well, maybe my brain is running at 1000 miles per hour and i cant focus, maybe im trying hard not to cry, or let a thought bother me, or maybe i just dont feel good for no real reason at all. Don’t isolate me for being different or moody, talk to me, i might say i dont want to, but i would appreciate the fact you asked, and try to be less of a bitch.
I’m starting to realise that to help my emotional well being, that i need to be around people that i want to. Not necessarily that are constantly supporting me in an enabling way, but that have an understanding, and make me feel included and normal. With people that i can talk to if i want to, the same as i will always happily lend an ear to anyone that needs it, do what i can for anyone that needs help. These people may be few in my life, i have no other family relationships other than my dear sister. But the few friends that i have i hold close, and treasure, and i will always be there for them like they have been for me.
This post might seem a bit all over the place, jumping from one topic to another. I find i just write, then re-read to make sure it makes sense in some sort of way. I’m not a proffesional writer, i just write from the heart and as a way to unclog my head. If you have made it to this point, i thank you greatly.
More soon x