An Unlikely Escape

I’ve given a lot of thought in recent months to escapism. What is it, what it means, how it manifests for different people. For me, I rarely drink alcohol and don’t use recreational drugs, but I have my own form of escape, of addiction: caregiving.

My mother has suffered from memory loss for many years, and it was eight years ago this summer that signs became apparent enough to warrant doctors’ evaluations. There were so many appointments that I drove hours between law school classes to take her various appointments. Nearly three years ago, we got the official diagnosis, and since then, it’s been a slide into late-stage dementia.

In that time, I graduated from law school, chose (with the guidance of several law professors) to take a break before taking the Bar exam, if I would take it at all (I never did). I took a job in media again, intending that I could do anything for a year, but liking it enough and having flexibility enough that I stayed for nearly five. In the end, though, I was worn out from the caregiving and the challenge of balancing caring for my parents while also exploring my interest in my own business that I chose to leave.

But I’ve been thinking more and more about how caregiving has become an escape, an excuse. I don’t have children, but I’m at that inevitable point in life where I’ve effectively become the “parent.” Had I not been local, my father would no doubt have figured out as much as he could on his own. But being present and being here has allowed me to focus my intention so acutely on trying to be the “good daughter” – to prove myself for whatever reason – that I’ve honestly lost sight of what it is I want in this life.

And now at 40, I have some ideas of what that is, but I’m not entirely clear on it.

I just returned from vacation, and these thoughts are sitting forefront in my mind. I left Florida for the first time in nearly three years, and while it was a good trip overall, it was not nearly the trip I was hoping for. But in many ways, it was just the wake-up I needed: I saw that playing the role of caregiver, whether for my parents or for friends, is not fair to me, that I’m not putting my own needs and demanding what I want enough. It was, most painful to realize, an acknowledgment that I have long held myself as being less-than, less-worthy, than others, that my own needs don’t matter so much.

This is a particularly personal confession, as it could be seen as resentment or callousness. I hope it isn’t taken as that. Instead, I hope it is seen as a point of taking my power back. I don’t not regret any of the last eight years; in fact, I’m ever grateful for them, as I know that they were a lesson in selflessness. I will acknowledge that for a very long time, I was incredibly selfish in many ways.

There should be a balance, though, between caring for others and caring for self. And it’s about care and kindness, not selflessness and selfishness. No one needs to be a martyr, just as there is no need for narcissism. Self-awareness is key, and at this point in time, my awareness is that I have more power than I ever thought possible.

I’ve given a lot of thought in recent months to escapism. What is it, what it means, how it manifests for different people. For me, I rarely drink alcohol and don’t use recreational drugs, but I have my own form of escape, of addiction: caregiving.

My mother has suffered from memory loss for many years, and it was eight years ago this summer that signs became apparent enough to warrant doctors’ evaluations. There were so many appointments that I drove hours between law school classes to take her various appointments. Nearly three years ago, we got the official diagnosis, and since then, it’s been a slide into late-stage dementia.

In that time, I graduated from law school, chose (with the guidance of several law professors) to take a break before taking the Bar exam, if I would take it at all (I never did). I took a job in media again, intending that I could do anything for a year, but liking it enough and having flexibility enough that I stayed for nearly five. In the end, though, I was worn out from the caregiving and the challenge of balancing caring for my parents while also exploring my interest in my own business that I chose to leave.

But I’ve been thinking more and more about how caregiving has become an escape, an excuse. I don’t have children, but I’m at that inevitable point in life where I’ve effectively become the “parent.” Had I not been local, my father would no doubt have figured out as much as he could on his own. But being present and being here has allowed me to focus my intention so acutely on trying to be the “good daughter” – to prove myself for whatever reason – that I’ve honestly lost sight of what it is I want in this life.

And now at 40, I have some ideas of what that is, but I’m not entirely clear on it.

I just returned from vacation, and these thoughts are sitting forefront in my mind. I left Florida for the first time in nearly three years, and while it was a good trip overall, it was not nearly the trip I was hoping for. But in many ways, it was just the wake-up I needed: I saw that playing the role of caregiver, whether for my parents or for friends, is not fair to me, that I’m not putting my own needs and demanding what I want enough. It was, most painful to realize, an acknowledgment that I have long held myself as being less-than, less-worthy, than others, that my own needs don’t matter so much.

This is a particularly personal confession, as it could be seen as resentment or callousness. I hope it isn’t taken as that. Instead, I hope it is seen as a point of taking my power back. I don’t not regret any of the last eight years; in fact, I’m ever grateful for them, as I know that they were a lesson in selflessness. I will acknowledge that for a very long time, I was incredibly selfish in many ways.

There should be a balance, though, between caring for others and caring for self. And it’s about care and kindness, not selflessness and selfishness. No one needs to be a martyr, just as there is no need for narcissism. Self-awareness is key, and at this point in time, my awareness is that I have more power than I ever thought possible.

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