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Monday, 18 January 2016

Starting Small


I've never revealed this to anyone. Some of my closest friends have a bit of an idea, but they don't know how far it goes. I've kept it to myself not because I'm ashamed or embarrassed of it, but because saying it out loud diminishes my capacity to do it...

Basically, I want to change the world. I want to get to the end of my life and have people say "He made a difference." Like Steve Jobs, who pursued the path that he thought was right despite the rest of the world telling him he was wrong. Like Martin Luthor King, whose every word was so loaded with knowledge and power that everything he said became a lightbulb for others. I don't know how I can help, or what I can offer that people will want to accept. but it's a feeling that I can't ignore.

Here's my problem... I think of that desire on a very global scale. And that means I ignore the things that need my attention when they're right in front of me.

I have an aunt. She has all sorts of mental illnesses. She's been in and out of psychiatric care and currently lives in government-assisted housing. She uses psychological manipulation to try and get money from her mum and her brothers. She'll call them eight times a day and ask them to drive to the other side of town and take her cat to the vet. She's a hypochondriac, but refuses to do anything about it. She just uses her supposed illnesses as excuses for not being able to mow the lawn - which is why we should come around to do it.

She has religious hallucinations and delusions of persecution. She talks all the time about the flashes of light God sends her, the planes that are circling her house and the people that hate her because she's a prophet. She believes that God has given her the ghosts of all the cats she's had in the past and now they follow her everywhere she goes. She's stopped taking the bus because the drivers get impatient when she stands in the doorway for three minutes, calling for her cats to come in. Oh, and she smokes. Can't forget that one.

A few years ago, this aunt called me up. We hadn't spoken since I was very young.
'I'm wondering if you'd like to be my friend and come over to my house every now and then,' she said. 'I don't have any friends and I get very lonely.'
'Sure!' I said. I loved having an opportunity to help someone out.
That was a mistake.
She added me to her list of the people she could call non-stop. She'd keep me on the phone for ages, repeating the same two sentences over and over about how she was going to publish an anthology of all the letters that she writes and I should help her publish it. She'd ask me to come come to her house every week - an hour's drive there and another hour back. And she wouldn't understand that taking two hours out of my day for driving is a very hard ask.

The kicker is that I could see no way of dealing with this. My Dad has a motto when it comes to this aunt - "Give her an inch, and she'll take a mile." For a short while I was visiting her once every two weeks. Then she asked me to live with her. I looked at the cat vomit that had been sitting on the floor uncleaned since the last time I'd come and told her as politely as possible that it would be too hard for me.
Eventually the fortnightly visits became monthly. Then every other month. I'd tell her I was way too busy to come. It was true, but I'm sure I could have found time if I'd wanted to. Eventually, I started ignoring her calls. Sometimes I was working and couldn't take them anyway. Other times I was getting ready for work. Sometimes though I was just watching a movie and felt that answering the phone would mean quitting the movie halfway through. I don't know how it looks to you reading this, but to me I felt justified in ignoring her calls.

Yesterday she called me again. I was driving to work at the time, so I ignored it once again. I needed to play music from my phone for work, so I switched it to flight mode so she couldn't call me again half way through and sabotage it. After work, I got back in my car and switched my phone back to normal. Sure enough, she'd called me again. Like always, she'd left a half-hour voicemail on my phone.
'L-l-look Michael,' she said. 'Don't bother coming over this is Wednesday. I think you're just like your Dad and your Mum and you're Uncle. You abuse me and neglect me and I'm trying to keep away from all the people that abuse and neglect me. So, don't bother coming over on Wednesday because you abuse and neglect me. I know you see my number and ignore my calls. I know you get my messages. You abuse and neglect me and I don't want to talk to you anymore. Or, um... ever again. So don't bother coming over this Wednesday because you know what Michael? If you don't like me, that's fine. I'm trying to get the poisonous people out of my life, so that's fine by me. I feel a lot better, I really do...'

I listened to this for the whole car ride home. I felt horrible. Not exactly because of what she was saying - like I said, she's manipulative. But because I have this grand, romantic desire to help the world and to make it a better place. And yet here, right in front of me, is a problem in which I can play a direct part. And I'm ignoring it in the hope that it will disappear. Imagine (just hypothetically) that I did become some Martin Luthor King version 2. How could I expect anyone to believe what I say? I have no right to turn my attention to other people's problems while ignoring someone who's within arms reach.

I still don't know how to deal with her neurosis. Maybe all she needs is attention. But I'm going to have to sort it out before I even dream of sorting out the rest of the world.

19 comments:

  1. Michael you are being far too hard on yourself here. You can do a lot, but you can't do everything and you can not help someone who doesn't want to put the work into changing. It's just that simple and it can break your heart.

    It would be like me asking for help with my recent adventure in heart health, expecting you to do the exercising and med-taking, and then accusing you of abusing and neglecting me because you got the benefit of the regimen, not me. That being said: there are a goodly number of people who are willing to put the work in that makes helping them produce a positive result.

    Hmmm, you might look for 'Walk In Their Shoes: Can One Person Change the World' by Jim Ziolkowski and James S. Hirsch; not only does it discuss a subject you're obviously interested in, along with faith, it also discusses the differences between those who want to work toward being helped as opposed to those who don't.

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    1. Oh and if you want to read it but can't find it please let me know.

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    2. That does sound interesting, I'll let you know if I can't find it.

      You raise a good point, I may have to accept that some people are beyond help. But giving up on her seems like a very sad option.

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    3. It does, I know... but sometimes it's the only option.

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  2. That's a tough one.

    There are people who can just suck all of your time away, and it's never enough and you know they're going to end up resenting you.

    I don't know whether it's better to nip it in the bud early or give what you can, ignoring what sounds like lack of appreciation for your limits.

    The problem with helping the needy is there is always so much more need!

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    Replies
    1. Ah too true. It seems impossible to eliminate needfulness altogether.

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  3. Don't let her trap you into a codependent relationship, Michael. Codependency is the dark and ugly side of wanting to save people. Been there, done that, I speak from experience. Focus on making your self and your life the best it can be, not on saving the world and everyone in it. That's the best way to be a force for good because there will be spin-off benefits for others if you are a fully self-actualized person.

    That concludes my busybody lecture for today.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Haha I hope you didn't feel preachy because that was definitely helpful. That is what I put first - making myself the best I can. One of my three laws of social dynamics is that you can't consciously change a person's behaviour. The only person who can do that is them.

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  4. Don't beat yourself up you have not done anything wrong, she is one of those people that cannot be pleased she is a taker and doesn't know how to give so take a breath tell yourself you tired but it wasn't going to work out and then move on

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    1. I think it's more complicated than that. Anyone trying to challenge the zeitgeist will have opponents, and the fact that I have this person right next to me that I'm ignoring is one of the easiest things for them to pick up on.

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  5. You hadn't seen her in forever but she thought you were coming over Wednesday? Yeah, she has issues.
    You can't help everyone, especially someone who only takes and never gives. Don't feel guilty. How can you help the world when you're drowning in the dependency of someone you can't help anyway?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So the next question is what CAN I do for her?

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  6. Wow that's really rough... While I don't think ignoring her or giving her attention is a solution, maybe you can offer to go with her to a drs visit. Perhaps the dr can you give you the best advice on how to help her.

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    1. Maybe having company there would help. She's very paranoid and will often refuse to take the pills the doctor gives her.

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  7. It's obvious that this woman will manipulate and take advantage of you. Perhaps there is a support group somewhere that can offer suggestions on how to deal with her based on experience? That would be my first choice to learn about I could and should not do. Good luck with it.

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    Replies
    1. That's an interesting concept, where would I even find a support group like that?

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  8. I admire Steve jobs
    http://shilpachandrasekheran.blogspot.in/?m=1

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  9. That's so hard. I had a friendship with someone not quite that neurotic, but similar. She played Grandma for my kids and tried to give back occasionally, but the phone calls were forever long, and I had babies at the time. Hopping on the phone could mean one of my littles got injured while I was preoccupied with her. She was sweet and her conversation was valid, but it was also draining. I don't know how I would have handled it if that relationship continued on or if we were related, but I was relieved some when we moved away and the phone calls ceased. It's hard to know where the balance is, but there definitely has to be a balance.

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    1. Absolutely. And it's so easy to brush them aside when we have our own problems to deal with.

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