It’s a complicated issue. Stay with me.
I have made no secret on this blog about the fact that I have a psychiatric disability as well as a physical one, and I am willing to talk about it as much as I can because I get really tired of the stigma around mental illness that I see in society. Some events in my life over the past couple of months have triggered a huge symptom that I deal with, and I would like to take this opportunity to explain a little more about it.
The biggest aspect of my psychiatric diagnosis is that I struggle with is “real or imagined fears of abandonment.” I am aware that for most people, they expect others to move in and out of their lives. Major circumstances such as graduations, new jobs, family commitments and the like mean that people are in our lives for a while, and then they move to different parts of their journey. To someone without the particular diagnosis I have, that is simply how life works. The saying goes that “people are in your life for either a reason, a season or a lifetime.” And that makes sense, right? Because most people who are my age are not surrounded by the same crowd of people that were present with them when they were kids.
And while I understand that logically, when people move out of my life it hits me much harder than most. Immediately I internalize it and question what I did wrong and what I could have done differently to make them stay. When I am triggered badly, the only way I can describe what I am feeling is that there is a gaping hole inside me that simply can’t be filled because I am terrified that I won’t ever deeply connect with anyone long term. And every time people move on from my life, it can be overwhelming to know that I have to try and make connections with other people, all over again. A long time ago, I was known to be clingy and needy in most of my relationships, and those behaviors only created the opposite of what I wanted. So I began to get professional help, in the form of counseling and coaching. Now I can truly say I am a work in progress, and am committed to doing the intensely challenging work required to improve in this area of my life.
Where does this fear come from? I probably won’t ever know a definitive answer, but one theory is that I spent the first six weeks of my life in an incubator, and the only touch I received during that time was from medical personnel. It makes sense to me that, because of the circumstances surrounding my birth, I was scared, I didn’t feel safe and secure, and was yearning for love that was not available to me at the time. Maybe that situation had long lasting effects.
These days, my fear of abandonment issues come out in quirky ways sometimes. Every once in a while, when a caregiver asks to work fewer hours or takes a vacation, I have been known to tear up. Or when a caregiver that I am close to has three days off in a row, I have been known to panic because, in an irrational moment of fear, I have convinced myself that they will not come back and they never liked me to begin with. I do my best to shield my caregivers when thoughts like this run through my head. These are my issues. And most of the time, this is, after all, just a job to them.
One of the things that complicates this issue is the fact that I need to surround myself with caregivers in order to get my needs met, and I am aware that the position of caregiver has one of the highest turnover rates of any job in the country. Another thing that makes this issue complicated is that I have to ask my caregivers to help me with the most intimate physical things that I do. And it is difficult to have emotional boundaries with caregivers when I can’t have any physical ones. Additionally, since I don’t drive, most days caregivers are the only people I see. I become much more attached to them than they do to me. It just happens.
All of that simply is what it is. This is not my favorite part of who I am, but I also know I can’t help it. And I often have to remind myself that, in the same way that I can’t blame myself for having cerebral palsy, I am not responsible for my psychiatric diagnosis either.
This aspect of my personality is often misunderstood, and I sincerely get that. If I had diabetes or a broken arm that required special care, that would be easy to explain to those who are around me.
So what do I do?
When I have a caregiver that I am particularly fond of, I ask them to stay in touch with me on some level when they stop working. Sometimes they offer. Either way, my preference is to have a discussion, to communicate that there are several simple things they can do to make this process much easier on me and to let them know that I don’t have any expectation that they will be a major emotional support in my life. Rather, what I mean is that I would sincerely appreciate an email or a text message from time to time, just to let me know how they are.
I don’t keep in contact with most of the caregivers I have worked with after their employment with me ends. But there are those gems who are few and far between that understand me when I tell them.
“It’s a complicated issue. Stay with me.
In whatever capacity. For as long as you can.”