(As part of helping break the stigma surrounding mental health, we have decided to share real and vulnerable stories of defeat, hurt, hope and healing with you on the blog. If you have a story which you’re keen to share with our community, please email us at email@example.com)
Story submitted by Anonymous:
I’m a giver by nature. I love to help others, heal others and be there for people. My entire adult life was based on this notion of giving to others. Then, life happened and I was on the receiving end. I got very sick and people had to come to my aid. That was an eye opening experience for me.
Allow me to rewind a bit, to when I was healthy and able to be there for others. In my early twenties, I was so focused on giving to others. Looking back, I often helped others at my own expense. I would stay up way too late for my own good because a friend needed to talk. I would ignore the fact that my husband just came through the door because I had a donor on the phone who was willing to donate money to a cause that I was raising funds for and I ignored my husband. Years later, I realized that I was doing everyone a disservice if I wasn’t willing to care for myself and those in my inner circle, my husband, my children and others that were very close to me. That’s when it hit me. I thought I had to apologize for living, for having fun, for doing something other than helping to save the world, but I didn’t! We only get one life to live and I learned too late, that it’s better to live a balanced life and save a couple of people on the way, rather than saving the whole world and losing yourself in the process. Sometimes, you need to put yourself first. After all, you can’t pour from an empty cup.
So I stopped apologizing for having a life. I started creating boundaries. I saw the dividends of my hard work. It was very hard work to go against my giving nature and say “No”. As someone who enjoys being there for others in their time of need and helping to lessen their pain, when I don’t show up, I would feel badly. Even with all of the rationalizing that it was the right thing to do, it often felt like I was doing the wrong thing. As I learned to say “No” without apologizing for it, I appreciated the times I was able to say “Yes”, that much more.
About a year and a half ago, I got really sick. Between a neurological issue and a gastrointestinal problem, I haven’t been able to go for a month without going to the hospital for pain management and other emergency issues that doctors have yet to get under control. I’ve been frequenting hospitals ever since and therefore, I’m on the opposite end of the giving circle. It’s a tough place to be for most people, and especially for someone like me who is used to being on the giving end. However, from what I know now about giving, and having recognized in myself how freeing and helpful to all parties it is when someone doesn’t apologize for having a life, I now encourage the people that want to help me to do the same. Say “No”, and don’t apologize for it. Let’s try to stop apologizing for being there for ourself, who is most important person in the room. It’s normal to have other things to do. It’s normal to be busy with your children, your job, and your significant other. It’s normal to be busy with things for YOU. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a wonderful thing to be there for others but it’s more important to be there for you.
Often, people want to support others but they are too busy with their own lives, and that’s okay! But so often, I’ve witnessed people who feel like they’re letting others down because they can’t show up for the people they care about. It happens. People have jobs and children and whole lives that they can’t just stop to help other people! The fact is that sometimes, our lives don’t allow us to be as present as we’d like to be. Others have been conditioned by religion or society that giving is a good deed and one’s sense of worth is based on how much they give or do. All too often, instead of communicating, people retreat and go into hiding instead of reaching out to tell those they care about how they wish they could be there but just don’t have the time to do so. Wouldn’t it be better to hear an acknowledgement of the situation rather than radio silence? By acknowledging that the other person is hurting, even if you can’t be there physically or emotionally, you are giving them the space and encouragement they so desperately need.
These are realities that must be recognized and validated. Don’t let them lead you down the rabbit hole of guilt. Instead, find small ways to show that you care without it taking up too much of your time. Send an e-card, a voice note or a gift card. Check in when you can but know your limitations. For those on the receiving end, knowing that you want to be there, and your attempt at showing it, means more than you’ll ever know.
Let’s talk about the people on the receiving end of this circle. When you reach out, we feel hope. We feel cared for and loved, but only when it is done correctly. Call without expecting the receiving person to be able to speak, or for them not to want to speak at that moment. Give without expecting things in return. For those with mental health challenges, people often can’t express their needs, but they want you to try. They don’t want you to give up on them. Some ways to show you care without encroaching on their personal space might include some chocolate with a note that says ‘I’m here and I care!’, or a call to check in once a week, even if they don’t pick up the phone. When you can’t be there because you have a life, it’s okay. There are others who can and will be there and we’ll manage, but I always appreciate the honesty that the statement ‘No’ comes with. It means that I’m important enough to you that you can tell me “No” now, but you can still be there in very small ways, without disrupting your entire life.
The circle of giving keeps turning and the hope is, that we will always be on the giving end. However, the reality is, that at one point in everyone’s lives, each of us will be on the receiving end. Let’s learn how to give and receive gracefully and most importantly, let’s learn how to say “No” without shame when we can’t be there in the way we would like to be.
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