I think I'm going insane. Or rather I wish I was. I could have a nice little nervous breakdown and be submitted to some cute little hospital, where I could have my OWN room and bite everyone in the nose that irritated me. Instead I wander around playing a part-time shrink for anyone who's interested. It's an automatic reflex by now. I even do it for myself. I don't have any formal training, so I can't demand money for it. Which I don't quite get, since I have 20 years of experience.
As far back as I can remember my mum would tell me her problems, and they were never few or easy to solve. But I have a good life. I'm healthy, I've got a wonderful & supportive boyfriend, I'll be finished with my studies in a year or two. I've got friends, he's got friends, I get on very well with his friends, he's nice towards mine. I'm currently working on a project that's quite demanding and once it is finished I'll have to "get a job in the real world". That scares me quite a bit, but there is really little point in worrying until the moment of truth is at hand. Or so I tell myself. And then there is my mummy dear. She lives on planet Uggadugga, CA 3 light-years away, somewhere in the middle between chronic hysteria and severe paranoia. You make a left-turn after major depression. She's got no friends (how could she, they are all out to borrow money from her?), doesn't live with my dad (he was, is and will continue to be married as far as I can tell) and both her parents are dead. She's got 2 sisters who have been very helpful, but tend to evaporate for weeks at a time - and who can blame them? So I'm her life, her soul, her hope for the future. Her manager, her garbage bin and her all-around guilt carrier. Everything she never was.
Something was bound to go wrong. And so it did, I went to see a shrink. For the woman who accused me of spiting her when I stopped taking milk in my coffee, just imagine what this meant. I saw the shrink for about a year and it helped me quite a lot. Then he told me I was "all right and didn't need to come anymore". Did I feel rejected? Yes, but in a very happy and a positive sort of way. I really thought that from now on life would be better. Guess what, I was wrong! Not wholly wrong though. For the next 3 years, life truly was better. I found my boyfriend, made new friends and moved 3000 kilometers away from my mum. Slowly I built myself the kind of life I wanted, not that my mum thought I should have. I don't know what I did right to deserve my boyfriend, but he's been rock steady through the whole thing. Even during out first year together when I would break down and cry 3+ times a week without reason.
But recently all the old junk seems to be resurfacing. I feel like I've been poisoned, I go around with a severe headache, nausea and listlessness. Only, if I was poisoned, why should these symptoms disappear when my beloved is near? And resurface with double intensity every time my mum contacts me? I've tried everything from firm kindness to downright attempting to alienate her without results. I've suggested she go see a psychotherapist, to which she replied: there is no shrink that can stomach all that I've been through (Ever wondered why no one else could hear that loud piercing scream you were emitting?).
In short then I can feel myself developing severe anxiety. My boyfriend is changing jobs, my cousin has cancer, one of my friends is well on her way to becoming a single mother, another friend of mine is severely depressed and I just feel like sitting in the middle of the pile screaming my lungs out. Instead I keep my back stiff, head clear, chin up and check 10 times if I took my keys with me this morning. Step out of the line in shops to check if I really do have the right amount of money with me - for the third time. Miss the bus because I can't find the bus card I'm holding in my hand. I think you get the picture...
I know that I need to do something right now, but can't figure out where to start. Should I push harder on my mother to get some professional help? Should I go out and get some help for myself? Should I confide in my boyfriend how I feel (he knows a great deal of it, but I haven't told him about the anxiety part yet). Or should I simply give in, have a decent breakdown and get it out of my system?
Dear Option Seeker,
It is nice to see that through it all you have maintained your sense of humor! Humor is a wonderful coping mechanism! You and I just might be related - I think my mother is from the same planet as your mother ;~) (This is one time I'm glad my Mom doesn't have internet access ;~) The sad truth is we can not change the behavior of other people, but we can change the way we react to them. It sounds like your mother doesn't understand how her venting affects you. Some role reversal may also be in action here.
It also sounds like you are taking on the burden of your family and friends by trying to solve all of their problems. That is a lot to expect of yourself. Three things spring to the front of my mind - caregiver stress, burnout and emotional exhaustion. These can lead to full fledged depression and to the physical symptoms you described. For a great and humorous article on burnout see the stressdoc.com site. We must take care of ourselves first before we can take care of others. If we give and give and give, eventually we have nothing left to give. We must replenish ourselves.
Among the options you listed in your question, finding some help for yourself in coping with this situation and setting boundaries with others seems to be the best option. Confiding in your boyfriend may also be helpful. You mentioned that you had found help before and that is a good sign that you can be successful at it again. Your school may even offer student-counseling services at no charge. Replenish yourself and enjoy the wonderful aspects of your life!
Telling someone is the first step in getting the help that you need. Depression is nothing to be ashamed of and you are not alone. A professional can help you sort out these problems and offer appropriate options. Try it! You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
This question has been answered by Ramona Wesling, LCSW. Ramona's expertise lies within topics such as women's issues, relationships, violence and trauma issues and chronic and terminal illness issues. She uses an eclectic wellness approach to her counseling and works out of the Difficult Run Treatment Center in VA.