Ginger: The Palate Cleanser

I had another rough week.

At this point I, and I assume many of you, can decipher our mother’s tone, especially when she says basic things like: please call me. I knew it meant there was bad news but that it wasn’t urgent, which allowed me to entertain the idea of not calling back for a while. I didn’t.  I picked up the phone and called. The details are irrelevant but basically, a new trauma has presented itself in my family life which brings  up many old wounds, reminds me of many issues other loved ones are struggling with, and forces me to confront my value system. After hearing the news I felt powerless, tortured by this new reality and eventually, very angry. I called many people and professionals for support and it took me a while to work through just some of these feelings. I couldn’t think straight for a day. Until the next massive emotional drama happened, which lasted a few days.

I didn’t complete my goals. At all.

I never know what to do in these situations. I know my life is hard (ex: in the past few months two of my immediate families members were on the brink of death). I want to be the kind of person who takes care of my loved ones, but also takes care of myself. I want to be the kind of woman who is able to be on a long call with my brother about his desire to commit suicide, but then also find the emotional energy to fulfill my goals, like job hunting. But I don’t know how. How do I strike the balance? How do I support the many people in my life who are in serious pain, work through my feelings around the situations and support myself – all in a day or two?

While I process these questions I have these difficult conversations with myself where I start asking all kinds of questions, none of which I know the answers to. Do I get too emotionally involved with my loved ones? Do I only get involved because I want an excuse not to take care of myself? Could I find ways to be more involved with my own goals? Am I unrealistic in expecting to be able to get over this tough stuff so quickly and then be able to focus on job hunting – something that is already loaded and emotionally challenging for me? Is it acceptable to give myself more downtime than I would have liked to deal with these things but then not move forward with my goals? Am I making excuses and being a victim?

Ultimately, I’m drowning. I think I had a mini-panic attack today at work.

Last week was one of the first weeks in years that I had no emergency situation. Everyone in my family was fine. It was the first week in about three years that no one had a breakdown. It was the most productive week in my job search in years. It was short lived.

I guess I really don’t know what to do. However, I do know I need a shift. Tomorrow I’m dying my hair red (get the blog post title…I will be a ginger). My best friend has all kinds of wacky theories about life but one of them is about how a change in a woman’s haircut allows her to feel differently about herself and present differently. That felt like a good step and, fortunately, it was also in tune with my self-care goal. A full hour where I can relax and be pampered.

I also decided to design emotional palate cleaners (again, get the blog post title?). In theory I would have put this in my revised PSP but I didn’t make the time for that this week (this is another thing that I don’t know how to feel about – frustrated? upset? accepting that I tried my best? What lesson should I learn from this?). My point is – I need to find short exercises or activities to do before and after emotionally intensive situations. I need things that aren’t super intensive or time-consuming since I can’t always manage that. Suggestions welcome. I am determined to find something that will help me stay strong instead of getting so unbelievably emotionally drained that I want to crawl into bed and watch TV at the end of the day, instead of doing the things I should do for myself. I have been paying such high prices in the absence of these healthy tools.

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3 thoughts on “Ginger: The Palate Cleanser

  1. I’m sorry to hear that something new is going on. As you mentioned, that seems to be a constant in your family, which also gives you the opportunity to decide how to react.

    IME, it sounds to me like you become a victim to your emotions each time any alarm sounds with your family.
    Additionally, if I really dig, there’s a bit of martyrdom in how, because you – thank God – don’t struggle with the same issues and have a fairly normal and balanced life, you give in to your emotions in order to forego excelling in your career, giving you a part of your life that isn’t as successful and let’s you emotionally bond with the struggles of your other family members in a “see, me too!” sense.

    I question whether this is serving you in creating the life & family relationships you desire.

    I remember a Shabbat meal at Naomi’s when we were dating and a couple, B&Y, that was close with her roommates joined us. At some point someone asked B about her sister S, and B replied that she was pretty sure that S had gone to the emergency room the night before because she couldn’t breath.
    I was floored, shocked and all sorts of incomprehension at how blasé B was being, and I asked her if she wasn’t worried, especially since it sounded like they’re close siblings.
    Her response was “she’s in the emergency room all the time. Until I know it’s something serious I don’t have a reason to worry.”
    Now, believe me, B has a vastly different disposition than you do, and I’m not suggesting you approach life as she does. And as shocking as this was when she first said it, when I met her sister, S, she confirmed “oh, yeah, I’m in the emergency room all the time.”

    What from this story might support you in crafting a way to approach some aspect of your family – without any change to or reflection on how much you care about them?

    You don’t react extremely to a paper cut because it’s just a paper cut. How can you determine what incidents are mental ‘paper cuts’ and learn how to accept those as well?

    How might you recognize and internalize that there is a frequent fire alarm, and you get to start deciphering which fire alarms are a 1 bell alarm, which are a 2, 3, 4, or the really major 5 bell alarms?

    How might it support you to create levels of reaction in yourself based on the information you receive, go through an internalization process, where you assign a level to that ingormation, and have preset responses to that level?

    For example, level 1 is to check in by text within 2 hours, ask how someone is and what support, if any, they need.
    Level 2 could be a phone call to another family member to get that info and same question. Level 3 could be a direct call to the person involved.
    Level 4 might be an immediate call to anyone that can give you information, and Level 5, unclear and I hope you don’t experience those.

    Whatever the system is, it offers you a way to support the family without disrupting your life.

    You get to rely on having a system in place that says “based on the information I have, this is the extent of my emotional involvement in the current situation.”

    Should anything change, in either direction, you get to reassess and react differently.

    I also wonder how your mom reacts – have you asked her? Does she also freeze up?

    Re: Ginger – ha! Sounds terrific, enjoy!!

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  2. I’m not experiencing you as someone who is drowning. I know those are the words you are using, but, I don’t think so.

    You’ve been in ACTION on your job search goal – you really have been. And yes, your life has challenges in it that most people are not facing.

    So, in response to your “how do I do this?” question: you ARE doing it. You are! You’re doing it. You’re being there for your family when you need to be, and you’re also pursuing your goals. You really are, even if this week events happened that called your attention away from your goals.

    I see someone who got thrown a curve ball, handled it, called others for support, shared on here, and through all of that, decided to pay attention to herself and dye her hair red. Red! Bold, powerful, strong. You ARE those things, and that’s what I see. I do not see someone who is “drowning.” I do not see someone who doesn’t know what to do.

    Keep trusting yourself! All the self-doubt and questioning is what’s getting you in a panic.

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  3. I really hear you and relate to that feeling of drowning and overwhelm when your family members are in crisis. I’ve been there this week too. All I can suggest is to tap into your support network — including this group and others you’ve developed. And take things one step at a time. Remember what you’ve learned through this work. You can support but you can’t live their lives for them. They ultimately need to make their own choices about how to live their own lives. Sending you so much love and light.

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