How Far Do You Go?

‘Tell him to man up,’ said the taxi driver as we sat in the usual London traffic jam. ‘That’s what he needs to do: man up. Take me for instance. I’ve just divorced my wife of twenty-two years, but do you see me crying?’

We inched forward in the line of nose to tail cars and I tried to concentrate on what he was saying because it was clear he meant well. It was just hard to hear him over the beating of my heart, and hard to sit still when I really wanted to launch myself out of the cab and run away.

I had come to London because my son had told me he was feeling suicidal. This was the second time he had used the dreaded word. The first he had been embarrassed and tried to downplay his emotions, saying he realised it was just the sort of signpost that indicated the need to take action. But since then, a series of long conversations had taken place, each time his emotions had reached a pitch that he couldn’t handle. And each time, as his grief rose steadily to the surface while the initial shock receded, he had been more violent in his speech, more obviously devastated, more deeply upset.

I paid off the cabbie, who drove away with further reminders about ‘manning up’ and stood outside my son’s student accommodation block, consumed with anxiety about what I would find and what I would need to do. I felt wholly responsible, and knew at the same time it was the last thing my son would want. I knew it bothered him that he could not go through this alone; he would much rather be self-sufficient in his sorrow. But he couldn’t. And he turned to me because I have some sort of experience at dealing with this sort of thing; I wouldn’t tell him to man up, or scorn him, or chide him, or try and jolly him out of it. But nor would it be like the movies, with me producing some wonderfully wise maxim at the right moment that would turn him around. It would be ordinary and messy; he would fight me because it got rid of some of his anger, and be inconsolable as it got rid of some of his grief, and I would soak that excess up, because it’s effective and what else do you do?

I have come to the conclusion that emotion is a form of compacted energy, and that it can be passed from person to porous person. And when you have that sort of contagious, toxic energy inside you, it turns into anxiety and, in my case, evil hormomes.

That day seemed to be a turning point with my son, and afterwards his situation improved quite swiftly. He found for himself, and as if from nowhere, the courage to start making things better. For a while we were all happy to my exquisite relief. And then I seem to have made the fatal error of relaxing, as instantly I was down with a stubborn infection. It still returns as soon as I do anything notably energetic. Mostly I haven’t because I’ve been bone weary, and more anxious than normal. When I sit and meditate (which I should do more often), I can feel six months of tension leeching out of me with the density of the ectoplasm that swirled around a 19th century medium.

Then last week, a tragedy. One of my closest friend’s husband had an unexpected but massive heart attack. He never regained consciousness and died three days later. This is bad enough in itself, but my friend suffers from advanced multiple sclerosis. She needs a scooter to get around and can’t always use her hands. She is able to teach still at the university, but had relied on her husband for cooking and shopping and picking her up when she fell over. When her motorised scooter broke down on her way home a few weeks ago, she could ring him and he rescued her. They have a teenage daughter.

Now which of us would that taxi driver command to man up, I wonder? It would be me, right? If I can do something to help my friend, shouldn’t I do it? Well, I figured that my friend’s widowhood would last longer than this particular lapse in my health. There would be plenty of time down the line to support her, and my recent experience of grief is that it lasts a long time and grows more acute before it goes to sleep. Plus, something I could barely admit: when I saw my son that last time, I had confessed that I was growing to hate our conversations because I felt like his emotional punchbag. I’d kept my own feelings to myself up until that point, but I was running out of storage capacity inside. I felt intensely guilty afterwards, and afraid that I had ruined a necessary outlet for him. But it was also true; I forget myself in that sort of intense interaction. Despite the fog of concern and guilt, it seemed imperative now to remember myself.

Then today a meeting was called for the friends of my friend, a strategy camp to consider what practical aid can be provided. I excused myself though said I would certainly hope to help in the months to come. Another couple wrote to say that they had cut short their stay in Spain (supposed to last to mid-September) and were flying back to help. It then transpired that the wife (who has some severe health issue herself) can’t stand or sit for more than ten minutes and could we please meet somewhere with a car park nearby and provision for her to lie down?

And there’s me staying home because I’m a bit tired. Let me tell you, being selfish is tougher than it sounds.




66 thoughts on “How Far Do You Go?

  1. This is all so hard: I’m sorry about your son, and your friend, and about you! “it seemed imperative now to remember myself”: self-care is not the same as being selfish. Sometimes I think of those announcements on airplanes about putting your own oxygen mask on first before assisting someone else. If you don’t take care of yourself, not only will you suffer but you won’t be able to help anyone else. Your restored strength, however, will be everyone’s blessing. So I hope you do take care of yourself. Your friends and family don’t expect you to sacrifice yourself entirely for them: they love you and want you to flourish too!

    • Thank you for such a sympathetic comment, Rohan! This year seems to have been all about being too close to people in extreme situations – life or death for them. And then the question is what can I effectively do? Chronic fatigue is such a nuisance as it goes on for weeks at a low level that seems like it ought to be possible to do more than I do, though when I try, I quickly feel worse.

      I do like your mention of the oxygen masks on planes. That’s a really good visual reminder to hang onto. More oxygen seems to be required before I go back into the fray!

  2. The answer is that you go as far as you can manage and no further. You have so much to deal with in your own life, and your health is important too. I know exactly what you mean about being an emotional punchbag – I’ve had that from all of my children at one time or another, particularly from my youngest who is *very* emotionally demanding. It gets to a point where you have to cut off a little from your own offspring just to keep yourself intact. When I actually told her the effect she was having on me, she was a little shocked and drew back a bit – she’d been so wrapped up in her own issues that she hadn’t thought of anyone else and needed reminding.

    I’m so sorry to hear about your friend – though it sounds like she has a good network around her. You need to do what you can when you can, but not to the detriment of your own health and well-being. Look after yourself, Victoria. x

    • Karen, I’ve been finding it consistently reassuring to know you’ve been in similar situations. On the whole my son is extremely considerate and thoughtful, and he’d hate to tax me, but in the grip of strong emotions and with me not pushing my own needs forward, well, it’s easy done. I’m glad to know your comments had the right effect on your daughter – I do worry a lot that I will inadvertently make things worse, though you’re right that sometimes you do just reach this place where things have to change. Fortunately my son seems to be in a more settled patch and maybe even starting to get over his woes a bit. I do hope it lasts! And yes, my friend does have a good network – thankfully it isn’t just me holding her together.

      • I think our children sometimes forget we’re human beings too, they get so used to turning to us for support. It’s good that they can though – I’m not sure my generation were able to turn to their parents in the same way, and I can discuss just about *anything* with mine!

  3. My heart is going out to you. And I have very similar tugs on me too. And am finding it hard to work out what to do ie what ACTION I should/can do.
    There is plenty to do, always
    But I’ve learned with age and effort that we do have responsibility to ourselves. Who else can look after us first but ourselves. And to be effective later we need to do it ie look after ourselves. You can still send love to your friend, you can talk on the phone to her sometimes, send her meals perhaps or drop off take aways/ready meals from MnS etc. Don’t promise something you’re not capable of, that would be ‘selfish’ wouldn’t it? Oh dear what a conundrum. And ditto re your son. He knows you love and care desperately for him. He needs to find more support elsewhere, not just you. You have limits. If he knows that it’s possible it could help. Cause him to search wider, find dispassionate advice??

    ALL the very very best.

    • Thank you for your sympathetic comment, Carol, that’s so kind. Thankfully my son does seem to be doing a lot better at the moment – hence the luxury of relaxing that brings its own difficulties! I’ve been emailing my friend regularly, and yes, I’m going to be very careful not to make promises I can’t keep which would be upsetting to both of us. But isn’t it difficult to decide what exactly to do? What can I sign up to that I can keep up and fit into my own life for months and months to come? I expect the answers will become apparent and I mustn’t try to rush and fix things too fast!

  4. I echo the comments above. You must look after yourself, not just those around you. So sorry to hear about your friend’s loss and circumstances, but I’m glad to hear that your son seems to be turning the corner. It must have been very hard to write this post for you though.

    That sense of relief that comes after running on adrenaline for a while is always a call-out for opportunistic infections to say hello. I’m having a very stressed time with my teenaged daughter; this week she’s away on holiday with her father – I’ve relaxed a bit – and I can feel that sore throat coming on… Get back to full strength soon. Love and hugs xx

    • Thank you, Annabel – I am relieved about my son! And you are very insightful; I’ve considered writing this post or some variation on it for weeks, going back and forth over whether it was a good idea or not. And still it comes out too moaney, really! It isn’t me these things are happening to, after all, I’m just a bystander who tends to feel overly responsible. Thank you also for the solidarity over post-stress infections – I tend to think it’s only me who succumbs. We must nurse our sore throats together, and at some point share a parenting-teens conversation! Love and hugs to you, too. xx

  5. The most telling phrase here for me is ‘I was running out of storage capacity inside’. There is only so much of other people’s emotions that we can absorb without becoming ill ourselves and thereby demanding storage capacity from other people, which seems rather non-productive when you think about it. I’m sorry if that appears harsh, but if you don’t approach this situation in a practical way then you are likely to unleash even more emotions and compound the problems further. Please, sit down and consider what you can reasonably do to help without putting yourself in jeopardy and then be firm about sticking to it. We none of us want to see you getting ill again.

    • That’s a good way of thinking about it – I don’t at all like being a drain on other people, or indeed backing into their disappointment rather than facing it head on. I make lots of good resolutions but often suffer from incremental excess, gradually taking on more and more, almost without noticing it. You’re right I need to put a firm limit on that! It’s amazing how difficult I find it.

  6. Your post sounds like a cry from the heart, Victoria. Regular readers of your blog will know that you are far from selfish. There are some very wise comments from several of them here. I’m so sorry for your friend but it sounds as if she has a good strong network of support. She will be no stranger to grinding fatigue and will recognise that what you’re dealing with is rather more than tiredness. I’ve a feeling that you are far more kind to other people than you are to yourself. xx

    • Susan, bless you, such a nice response. If I’m hard on myself it’s probably because (and I think you will understand this) for so many years chronic fatigue has meant that I can’t do all the things I would like to do. I’m so conscious of the distance between the way I’d behave if I could, and the way I’m obliged to limit my activities. It makes me feel cross and frustrated with myself – even if overdoing it may have been the cause of cfs in the first place. I always think irony is the driving force of my life! You’re also right that my friend does have a good support network – it is thankfully not just down to me.

      • I know exactly how you feel but somehow I’ve managed to get to a stage where I’ve (almost) accepted that I can’t be the person I think I ought to be (and that tense use may be a bit of a giveaway!). I do feel much better for at least getting a way along that road, and I do so hope that you can find your way there, too.

  7. Stay rested, drink water, breathe 🙂

    Hey this might be a stupid and not logistically possible idea, but you need help helping your friend, who needs help, and the boy needs help helping himself to other people, which eventually would help his self. So, can he put in some routinely scheduled time to help you help?

    Sometimes an in-person comparison of ordeals is a comforting, supportive, liberating education.

    • It’s a wonderful idea – our only obstacle is geography, since my son is living in London. But I do like your thinking! I completely agree that that sort of comparison can be very helpful, and oddly enough they are both grieving lost love and not structurally dissimilar (although there are evidently differences in scale). I do also promise to rest, breathe and drink! 🙂

    • That’s actually a huge and very pleasing counterbalance, Mrs C! I reach a point where writing about such things can sometimes put an end to them going around in my head – it’s a great relief if they’re not too awful for everyone else to read about!

  8. Not very helpful words from the taxi driver.

    It’s really important for everyone to look after themselves and I don’t think that “a bit tired” takes into account the extra important reasons you have for looking after yourself.

    I do understand that feeling of responsibility towards your son though. Not just that he is your son and all the care and protection and love you feel towards him, but a responsibility for the way he *is*.

    Do look after yourself first, though, because you can’t look after anyone else if you’re not in a fit state.

    • Yes, you’re quite right – it’s exactly that responsibility for how he *is* that gets to me. I do feel hugely and directly responsible, even if, looked at from a distance, that might not be so. It’s an odd side effect of only one child, too – that strange feeling that he is a product of my actions. But you’re quite right; I do end up being of no use at all if I’m not in that fit state.

  9. I am so sorry about your friend but it sounds like she has a good support system and all will work out. I hope your son is continuing on the mend and enjoying the hard work at the pub. As for you my friend, it is never ever selfish to take care of yourself. People understand. Contribute what you can when you can. You can’t help others unless you are well and have energy. Kick your guilt out the door, tell him to go find someone else to bother. Rest, get well.

    • Dear Stefanie, you do have such a good way of putting these things. I will see if I can drag that guilt out by the scruff of his neck and drop kick him into a different neighbourhood. 🙂

  10. Sorry to hear this, but I think your respones were fine. I don’t know if I could do that well. We can only do what is possible. Thinking we can do more when we are at the limits is our super perfect self image trying to punch us when we are down. It always shows up when it’s easy for it and we can’t punch back. Tell it you’re not receiving visitors!

    • Dear Bookboxed (now I know) you are so right about that perfect self-image, hah! That’s hit the nail on the head when it has a migraine, as they say. It is the most tremendous bully. I am always so worried about letting people down (and goodness knows I have done enough of it over the chronic fatigue years to get over that by now!). I will stick some figurative ‘Keep Out’ notices around me!

  11. Sorry to hear all you and your son have been going through. I’m glad to hear he is feeling stronger. My son puts me through similar things at times. I guess they know that we love them as only mothers can so we can sometimes bear the brunt of whatever they happen to be going through. I wouldn’t worry about helping your friend. You have to take care of yourself now or you won’t be any good for anybody.

    • And in a strange way, it’s the ultimate gift you can give as a mother – to take the bad stuff and not complain about it because you DO understand your child and forgive them everything. So I wanted very much to be there for him, even as I worried that I wouldn’t do the right thing! Thank you for the motherly solidarity!

  12. This is such a beautiful, heartfelt post. Thank you for sharing it. It’s a dilemma I think we all have, to some degree. There’s always something more to do for others, yet I’ve learned the hard way that running on grit and determination does me no good–nor does it help me do good for others. I see how much others give and do, and I feel terrible guilt about not doing enough. But I think activity is energizing for some people in a way that it isn’t for me. That’s something I have to remind myself of all the time, especially when my energy level is high and I feel I could do everything. Before committing to something, I ask myself if I could stick to it when my energy is low–and what would be the consequences if I can’t. Doing that has made it much easier for me to say no when I need to and better able to say yes when it’s necessary.

    • Oh yes, I really relate to what you say about activity not being energizing – this is so much the case for me. I find a certain kind of lively busy-ness, with lots of people and movement and rushing around really truly exhausting. Periods of contemplative study in peace and quiet make me feel much stronger and, yes, ready then to take on anything…. Which is when I also take on too much. That’s a really good trick to remember the low energy days when experiencing the high energy ones. I’ll try and remember that!

  13. Oh, I hope you are remembering to be kind to yourself! You can only do as much as you can do. Even when another person is suffering more than you are, it is okay to recognize that there are limits on what you’re able to do for them. Nobody is an infinite well of support and energy (physical or emotional). The limits aren’t a failure of love; they are a feature of being human. HUG.

    • Dear Jenny, what a sweetheart you are. I should have your sentence about limits not being a failure of love tatooed to my forehead or something (or maybe some place I can see it easier!).

  14. As a mother, I can empathize with your worries and anxiety. I hope that your son will continue to improve and that you too will take care of yourself and be strengthened.

    • Thank you, Arti, that’s very kind. He’s doing much better lately, and I’m proud of the way he got himself out of his pit of despair. Hopefully now we both know he is capable of that.

  15. Victoria, sorry to hear about your friend, your son’s difficulties (although a lot better now) and your being sick. You are one of the most unselfish people I know so I’m glad that you are taking care of yourself and not over-stretching on helping your friend now. I think your friend will appreciate that you are also vulnerable.
    Acknowledging the feelings, telling the story and setting workable limits are all good therapy. But I hear you about absorbing other people’s difficult emotions. I also really struggle with this.

    • Bless you, Pete. It’s comforting to think that you, who are professional in these matters, also finds it difficult to absorb those dark emotions. I’ve been told to imagine a glass shield in front of me, or imagine having a shower afterwards, and whilst I have tried these things, they don’t make a blind bit of difference! Your comments about my friend make me think that in fact, I might be helpful to her by writing to her from the same place of vulnerability. That I can’t do things either might actually be reassuring to, when she is surrounded by people rushing about looking positive and energetic. I know it always gets me down when everyone looks lively and capable and I’m not. Thank you, that’s really helpful.

  16. Everyone has already said what I can only echo, but one thing struck me in your post — when you said your son turned to you ‘because I have some experience in dealing with this kind of thing’. No — he turned to you because you are his mother, and however much he may shout at you and turn from you, deep down he knows you love him and he loves you. My youngest was very difficult in his late teens and I was sometimes in despair, but now in his twenties he has turned out so well, and has sometimes said how sorry he was to have been such a beast and a pain. Anyway your boy is on the mend, and so will you be if you take it easy and don’t beat yourself up. xx

    • Harriet I’ve kept very much in my mind something you said much earlier about feeling like you’re in the middle of a long dark tunnel and you’ll never come out, but you always do in the end. I remember you saying that about times with your children and it’s been comforting to think about these past few months. I also thought about it when we seemed finally to be coming back into the light! You’re right about the way that mothers are the people who can take the worst and love just as much afterwards. I’m so glad your son is lovely now and a great pleasure to you! xx

  17. Goodness, first of all I am very, very sad to hear about your friend, how absolutely awful. I don’t have much to add to all these wise and supportive comments, except to echo the point that there is only so much emotional support anyone can do. You can’t help anyone if you are ill yourself, and I am pretty sure your son and friend would both be horrified to discover they’d contributed, however unwittingly, to illness for you.

    A lot of friends are willing and able to provide practical help: good. Let them. It is truly wonderful how people rally round. I notice that you have already been emailing your friend – clearly, litlove, you and I have different definitions of the word ‘selfish’!

    I think it’s hard because one so easily feels that chronic fatigue is not as ‘valid’ a condition as, say, that of your friend who cannot sit or stand – a feeling which is plainly wrong. You have very high expectations of yourself, too. Please allow all the comments here to outweigh the guilt voices in your head. Your friend is going to need all sorts of support for a long time, and if you allow yourself to rest and get better now, you’ll be able to provide some of that support in the future. But even then, remember that you can’t do everything!

    (Hope none of this was too condescending or bossy, and that you get better soon.)

    • Dear Helen, what a lovely message! Yes, there have only been a few periods over my experience of chronic fatigue when I’ve felt that it was a genuine illness. The rest of the time, no matter how ill I feel, it seems to be some sort of frustrating delusion. I still think of it as something I can just overcome by will, never mind the years and years that have disproved that theory! And you are right that neither my son nor my friend would be happy at all to think they had made me suffer in any way. My usual way is just to pretend that they haven’t, but it might be better if they really and truly hadn’t! I do always feel so… responsible, I guess. Whatever happens, I have to fight quite hard against this feeling that somehow it was my fault. Though that being said, even I can’t feel my friend’s situation is…. I am listening to all my dear blog friends and your wonderfully realistic and sensible advice – and feeling much more grounded thanks to it.

  18. Dear Victoria, I echo all the comments here and I so understand and empathise with being porous – it’s the word I’ve always used to describe my emotional state when near others who are suffering or in difficulty, but I’ve never heard anyone else use it. But I absolutely know and feel in my heart that you are right to stay away from your widowed friend at the moment. You need to conserve and preserve your own energy for your own soul and your own spirit and self now. You’re depleted and you need your resources for you.

    We feel selfish when we do this and we’re afraid other people will think us selfish but it’s not selfish, it’s essential. It’s like retreating to a cave or a wood or the sofa with a book/movie … it’s absolutely and utterly essential recovery and repair time for you. If I’m sounding bossy I mean to. I’ve been through – in therapy – the struggle with saying no to helping people and I’ve felt hard and cold and selfish for not helping when I felt I should: but the thing is if we don’t preserve and re-energise ourselves we’re actually no use to anyone else and also people come to rely on us for our rock qualities, for our ‘She’ll always be there-ness’.

    One of my girlfriends actually called me AA (the shortened form of Auntie Ange that her children called me) but she added ‘the rescue service’ after it! And – at the time – I thought it a compliment (good grief). But now I know I need time for myself and – interestingly and tellingly – she hardly ever contacts me now because our friendship was based on the things I did for her and when I faced it I realised she only ever called when she needed me … never just for a chat or to see how I was.

    I know what you’re talking about is slightly different, I know what I did was co-dependent and I hope most of that behaviour has long ago been taken away by my emotional dustmen/women to be recycled as something much more healthy. But my point is that however the need of another arrives on our doorsteps, there are times when we must say no. (I used to say yes because I wanted to be needed and liked. But what was really happening was that I had no time for myself because I didn’t think or feel enough for myself.) And you didn’t say no to your son, you told him a truth: you showed him that there was a limit even to a mother’s love and understanding and that will help him in future: he’ll know that’s true for all the people he relates to. He’ll know there are limits.

    How I feel for you … but look how many people, here, understand and want you to nurture yourself xox

    • Angela, this is such a wonderful, thoughtful message, thank you. I think we must be very much alike in our basic natures. It’s funny, I still hold in my heart this belief that I should – must – be a rock steady reliable companion for all the people I know and love. And somehow that gets translated into the conviction that I should do everything, rather than do what I reliably can (which after all is a much smaller thing). And I feel like I ought to be able to withstand any emotion, though I do know that I struggle a lot to deal with extreme anger or sorrow or pain. How interesting that you should use the word ‘porous’ too. I only have to stand beside someone to know how they are feeling – a blessing and a curse. I once had a therapist who said: ‘Porous people, it’s like they’re from another universe. The normal rules just don’t apply.’ I did find that very comforting.

      But this sense that I have to be there comes from feeling I can’t live with the guilt or the consequences of not offering support. I never believed anyone else would actually step in and take care of my son for me (which might be true), and yet I’m still haunted by the same feeling while watching others step in and care perfectly well for my friend. So it would be good to sit with the discrepancies in all those situations for a while, and realise that this inner rule book I’ve drawn up – not just for myself, but rules for how the universe functions – might be full of inaccuracies. Once I was asked what I’d tell my younger self, and I said without thinking: ‘People are more resilient than you think. Things matter less than you fear. Get on with your work.’ Now why is it so hard to hang onto that? Incidentally I know exactly what you mean about finding you have become friends with demanding people. I’ve had that happen to me too, often because I do respond almost unthinkingly to demands!

      But most of all I’m humbled as ever by the love and good sense that comes from my blog friends. You are all completely marvellous.

      • Oh yes, our inner rule books. My (old, but now a dear friend, breaking all the rules) therapist recently suggested I reread Addiction to Perfection by Marion Woodman … I’ve just (re)begun it and find resonance everywhere in it. Perhaps it might be a good one for you too, sometime?

  19. I have completely faced a situation like this. Actually I am going through such a situation, but the self care part hasn’t come yet. I know how hard it is to be selfish. You are in no place wrong

    • Oh I am so sorry to hear you are having to go through something similar! It is the pits. Please, do read all the comments that have been left here. I’ve found them extremely helpful, and I hope you will, too.

  20. In The First Circle Alexander Solzhenitsyn asked: “If you wanted to put the world to rights, who should you begin with: yourself or others?” You understand your own limits, and that takes courage too.

  21. I really feel for you Victoria. Have you and your son considered talking to the Samaritans? It can be a relief to talk without fear of burdening those you love most.

    • Karen, it’s nice to have you blogging again! Thankfully my son is much better now. He did try a number of telephone helplines, including the one for his university, but no one ever picked up, which was not helpful! But I do hope he’s gained strength from realising he can rescue himself.

  22. A thoughtful and perceptive post and clearly a difficult one to write. There are some very helpful comments here and the general message to take care of yourself is a wise one; the emotional and physical costs are draining as you well know.

    I can only offer sympathy and my warmest good wishes to you.


  23. There are some books about at the moment on ‘Mindfulness’. This is very much a synthesis of yoga practice, particularly breathing and focussing, I recommend that you try this.

  24. This very honest post and all the heartful and wise responses you’ve inspired are a huge contribution to those endless questions: ‘how to decide? what to do next? how to accept and live with oneself?’
    You’ve done a Very great thing here.

    • Carol, bless you, you are so kind. The comments here have been completely amazing and I’m humbled by having so much love and good sense at my disposal. I’m certainly thinking that an email can actually do a lot more than I give it credit for!

  25. Dear Litlove,

    I have been a regular reader of your blog for a few years but I think this is my first time commenting here.

    As a person with depression, I just wanted to say that by admitting he needs help and asking for it, your son HAS “manned up”. I wish him healing.

    Do take care of yourself too, it’s not at all selfish.

    • Evie, thank you SO much for commenting – I really appreciate it. And I really like your reasoning here. It WAS brave of him to confess to his feelings and to want to deal with them, which is no easy matter. Hugs to you, too.

  26. A PS, can I too recommend ‘Addiction to Perfection’, the first time I attempted it I HAD to give up it was too painful, too close, later I tried again and found a very great deal in it. It is both wise and insightful. Maybe I should give it a rerun myself.
    The comments here are wise too, learned from life, from personal experience.
    I too am porous and learned it (I suspect) by having to have my antennae stretched at all times as a child – needing to be aware of the atmosphere at home, and to anticipate, for survival both psychologically and physically, the mood and likely actions of my parents in that or the next moment.. My siblings and I were almost always in danger.
    Learning to turn close attention to my own needs is ongoing and hard. I’ve got many, yes, including my children through many sticky times, not dissimilar to those described here. But there has been a cost to my health that I’m only just now recognising, painfully.
    May Sarton writes well on being oneself in Diary of a Solitude and her subsequent diaries, And Marion Milner is another excellent, wise and insightful writer.

    • Carol, such an interesting comment, thank you, although my heart goes out to you to hear about your childhood. How dreadfully tough that must have been. It’s hard to give what you haven’t received as a child, so I hope you give yourself a huge pat on the back for all the love and support you’ve put out there. Thank you also for the recommendations. I rather love this sort of reading – the right insight into these things is as beautiful as lyric poetry to me.

  27. It’s so difficult. I haven’t been keeping up with blogs–reading or writing–this summer because there hasn’t been enough of me to go around. Sometimes there just isn’t.
    Yours in fellow-feeling.

  28. Oh Victoria, I’m so sorry. It’s hard when our children call to us to help, especially when they are in dire straits, because the fear is if we don’t answer, they will take the next step. The hardest thing to remember is that they are adults, and responsible for their own lives. I have been through a similar situation (not to the point of him saying suicidal though) with my own child, and it was very difficult to listen and be sympathetic and caring, and only able to offer advice when he asked for it, and yet it was all he wanted from me. Sometimes being heard, is all that is asked of us. Take good care of yourself, be kind, and gentle – you do have an illness to be aware of. And you might mention (you probably already have) to your son that he needs to see someone about those feelings to sort them out. (although if he is like my son, he won’t. Sigh)

    As for your friend, as you said, once you are better, you will know what you can offer.

    Thank you for sharing with us what happened, Victoria. I often forget that it’s in the sharing that we let people in. You are so brave and courageous and kind, and intelligent, and always you teach – to me at least! – how to be a better person, and strong.

  29. Susan, you are so kind to me! Thank you, that’s so generous and sympathetic of you. Isn’t it hard to just listen sometimes? The urge is so strong to FIX and yet the only value in such desperate experiences is the experience itself and the hard truths that get learned from it. I know that, and resent it at the same time. I’d so much rather be able to wave a magic wand! My son is, thankfully, doing better at the moment and that’s been a great relief to see. I feel that he got there by his own power, and that was good for both of us. Will I remember this in the future? We-ell….. I’ll give it a good try! And now I do have so many lovely comments from dear blog friends to read again and remind me. 🙂

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