So here I am… taking on the role of caretaker (again). But this time, I’m not OK with it. This time, the person who needs care is perfectly capable of caring for himself. This is a person with whom I’ve set clear boundaries in the past so he exhibits as little control over my life as possible. Setting boundaries is something with which I struggled most of my life. I was unable to set boundaries with myself. I took on too much. I pushed myself too far. I was never good enough. I put others before myself. I was unable to set boundaries with others. I allowed others to take advantage of me. Sometimes people hurt me and used me because I could never say No. I have learned over these last two years in grad school how to find balance, to say Yes to myself and to say No to others. I discovered how to be giving and kind and loving and hard-working without harming myself.
Yet, here I am… once again… attempting to balance what is right for someone else and what is right for me. Here I am drawing a line in the sand.
When I arrived home after my week in Glasgow, I discovered my mom was in town. While I was out of the country, my grandfather was hospitalized due to a severe kidney infection, high blood pressure, low pulse and vitamin deficiency. My mom came up to get some things in order before I returned. Namely, she set up automatic bill pay, arranged some finances and hired someone to take care of the yard and clean his house. She also finalized some things for the condos she and my grandfather purchased because she wanted to make sure they would be ready by September when she moves here. After a week of madness, she had to return to Alabama. She has two more months at work before she can retire, she’s trying to sell her house and she’s a single parent. She has a life.
I’m the only family member who lives here. My mom did what she could over the phone, but I’m it. There I was in a rehabilitation center every day for three weeks while his kidneys healed, his blood pressure stabilized and his strength returned. This was a familiar scene given what I went through with my grandmother last summer. It was also unfamiliar. My grandmother was bed-ridden. She needed someone to be with her. I was very close to my grandmother. My grandfather is not dying. He just got sick, stopped eating and didn’t feel the need to take care of himself anymore. I do not have a very positive relationship with my grandfather, for various reasons I wish not to discuss in detail here. In short, I do not want him to have any control over my life. To put it another way without going too far: He is an alcoholic.
He comes home tomorrow. He is not allowed to drive and he refuses to hire an assistant. Heaven forbid we spend any of that money he’s been saving since he was 15. Lord knows, there’s no reason to spend money to make life more convenient for someone else when you can have it hanging out in the bank when you’re 82 years old. So here I am taking care of a house, managing bills, buying groceries and keeping track of medications for someone else. He is perfectly capable of doing these things for himself. The reasons why he won’t take care of himself are some of the same reasons why I am not close to him. But… he is family. Because I am the only family he has here, he expects me to play this particular role for him. I’d be happy to do the things I was doing before, but I have to set boundaries so I can be OK. He knows I will not cook for him and I will not clean for him. I do not have the time or desire to do either for him. Hell, it’s a struggle to do those things for myself. I think most of my friends and family know it is less about my time and more about his control. Daily I receive text messages from family members who know the situation: Take care of yourself.
I have responsibilities just like any other adult. I pay my own bills and manage my own life. I have one of those good 9 – 5 government jobs. I am a graduate student and am trying to finish my Master’s thesis this summer. I can barely balance those things. I haven’t been to yoga or the chiropractor in months. I keep gaining a pound here and a pound there as the summer progresses. I want to make time for friends, but I find myself relying more and more on the Internet as my sole form of communication. I was supposed to move next month, but now I have to wait until September. I was so looking forward to making a fresh start and finding a more balanced routine again. I was looking forward to leaving behind the one person that I feel continues to hold me back emotionally in my personal journey.
I know I must maintain balance in my life because I value it and I need it. Balance and boundaries go hand in hand. If we don’t establish clear boundaries with ourselves and with others, we can’t possibly find balance. Without boundaries, the rocks keep piling up until it is too tall to support itself. I was so good with balance. I could stand in Tree Pose for hours if you asked me. I always loved the balance board when I was in physical therapy for my hip injury. Each day, I was able to equalize my footing as my right hip became stronger. But right now, I feel my feet slipping from underneath me. I feel wobbly. I know I am about to lose my footing and will need to grab hold of something before I fall. Right now I’m questioning whether my boundaries are ill-defined. I know if one rock falls, the tower scatters.
I read this draft and realize all of this may give you the impression that I’m selfish. Who wouldn’t want to do these things for a family member? Remember, I am not talking about my child or an ill parent. This is someone fully capable of being a grown up. I did take care of someone once… although I think bathing someone who can’t leave the bed is a little different than cleaning a bathroom for someone who just doesn’t want to clean. We can easily say what we would do if we were in a situation when we are not in that situation. It is understandable if that is your impression. My friends, family and I know the truth.
Have you ever been responsible for another human being who wasn’t your child? Have you said No to someone so you could ensure you would be OK? Have you said Yes to someone and hurt yourself in the process? How do you balance managing own life and someone else’s when it isn’t our desire or responsibility to do so?