I spent my life believing that I was born to serve. As the youngest of seven children, there was always something for me to do. My parents expected me to clean, cook, and even babysit on behalf of my two oldest siblings, who were much older than me and had children of their own when I was still a teenager. It was never a matter of asking me whether I wanted to babysit; even though it meant not joining my own friends for a fun time, it was just expected of me. I really didn’t know any better and, actually, I think I felt good about the fact that I was so good. So dependable. So un-needy. So responsible. Like I said, I was born to serve, and for most of my life I thought that was a very good thing and that I did it supremely well.
So it comes as no surprise that I married a man whom I also serve. My husband isn’t a bad guy, though I think a big part of what attracted him to me was the fact that I needed nothing, which appealed to him. But I’m sure I was complicit in the way our marriage evolved. He didn’t mind being treated like a king and what I knew best was how to treat him like a king, so together we perpetuated these roles.
It was no different with our children when they were growing up. I was always doing for them in every which way. Now that they are married, I am expected to babysit for my grandchildren with a moment’s notice, run to a store for them if they are in a pinch, make all of the yom tov seudahs, etc.
As you can imagine, I’m exhausted from a lifetime of giving. Recently, I realized that I don’t even know what I want out of life for myself, or really who I truly am, besides being a caregiver to everyone else. These feelings started coming up for me within the past few years, but recently it really came to a head.
I wasn’t feeling well, so I went to the doctor for a thorough exam. After being sent from specialist to specialist, I was finally diagnosed with a serious though treatable illness. In my heart, I believe that the reason I am not well now is because of my severe over-accommodating toward everyone around me, leaving little time or energy for myself. I really believe I lost myself a long time ago, and now I’m paying a steep price.
How do I begin the process of taking care of myself and letting the rest of my family, community, etc., worry about themselves? The whole idea is so foreign to me that I wouldn’t even know how to take my first step. I know it must be done, but I just don’t know how.
Kudos to you for finally understanding that care and maintenance must begin with yourself. I’m sorry to hear that it took getting a serious diagnosis to finally awaken you to this fact, but at least you’ve had your “aha” moment and are ready to start the process toward a healthier, happier life.
Change is never easy. We form habits, good and bad, that become automatic, and even though often they are literally ruining our lives, it’s just so easy and comfortable to keep doing the same old, same old. It reflects living our lives on autopilot, rather than mindfully slowing down and allowing ourselves to take in the messages that the universe is offering us.
You’ve already taken the first step toward change. And that is awareness. Some people never even look within and, sadly, live out their entire lives without any kind of understanding of how and why they are behaving the way that they do each day. These people live in denial their entire lives, accepting the status quo they find themselves in, despite the fact that it is holding them back from living their best lives.
Now that you’ve achieved awareness, you have to choose what exactly you want out of your life at this point. You have to figure out what that “want” is beyond all other wants. Do you want to be able to just say no when others ask for something of you? Do you want to spend considerable hours of your day focused on activities that you’ve never tried before that you believe will fill you with tremendous joy and satisfaction? Do you want to eliminate some toxic people from your life? Do you want to seek out new friends who can add positive energy to your life? The possibilities are endless, but it’s incumbent upon you to determine what will make you happy at this time in your life rather than just making everyone around you happy. Desire is the most powerful component of the human being. In other words, “what you want should be who you are.”
Finally, after you choose your goals, you have to believe that they’re possible to achieve. We are all beings with self-determination and the ability to choose who we are, what we believe, and how to behave.
The time has come to be bold and fearless. Every time you push out of your comfort zone, neurons in your brain create newer, stronger connections. So get ready for this most exciting chapter of your life! You’ve more than earned it and you deserve it. It’s time to embrace it. Once you get on with this new way of living, people around you will just have to adjust their expectations and attitudes. It’s time!
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Hewlett. Esther works with individuals and couples. Together with Jennifer Mann, she also runs the “Navidaters.” She can be reached at email@example.com or 516-314-2295.