When I was taking care of my parents, especially the last eighteen months, I was very much running on batteries. I kept needing more power than I was getting, kept pushing myself farther and farther. People would tell me that I had to take time for myself, but I would just look at them kindly, knowing that they had my best in mind but also knowing that there was no time for me.
In the end, that had a huge cost, of course, because my efforts were not specially rewarded as my mother wished. Instead, everyone got treated the same, no matter how problematic they were, as promises made to me were simply washed away by other people’s choices.
How did I keep digging deeper than anyone expected I could, deeper than they could imagine themselves digging?
I was watching a UK TV show where the wife of an Afghanistan war veteran who came home with PTSD and an artificial leg explained how she did it. “You got just be strong,” she said.
I know how I was strong, how I ran beyond fumes, how I pulled out what seemed impossible or super human. I did it through service.
When things were tough, I gave more to others. I went beyond any expectations, not for myself, but instead for the people I cared for. There was a family to be taken care of, so, like any mother, I scraped up every bit of energy I had and gave it to them.
For me, like for so many, service and love are tightly coupled. They mean the same thing, are the same energy, come from the same place.
Now, twenty months after my parents passed, there are demands that I dig deep and do more than I feel capable of. I have spent the last year and 2/3 attenuating myself, pulling back, playing small, living in the shadow of a family that are focused on their own challenges and left me to scrape by with mine. I didn’t have a functioning kitchen sink for seven months of that time, for example.
I “just got be strong,” going above and beyond to do what feels like it will just crush me.
This time, though, the batteries that I used to get me through — love & service — are just flat. They are gone, vanished, vamoosed, empty.
My service to my parents was based in absolute focus. I knew what I needed to do — give them one more good day — and did everything in my power to do that.
I have no focus now. I don’t see any way out and up, no clear path.
This was one of the things that Andy Rooney used to grumble about, one of the million things, missing the shared and common focus that brought the people around him and the country together in WWII. He missed those days when the requirement was clear, when the service required duty over doubt and you could just do your part to help the cause.
I know that in the past I have been able to go beyond and do what is required.
I also know that now I just don’t have the focus to muster the wherewithal to do what needs to be done. I can’t simply man up and be the kid that needs to take care of their parents, whatever the sacrifices are that need to be made.
It is, without doubt, the emotional component of doing the work that is crushing me.
And it is, without doubt, the emotional component of facing the world as an aging transwoman that people have the most trouble engaging and supporting. It is a lonely and isolated place.
I know that I am an intense person. That is just one of my blessings and is one of my curses. It let me deliver a quality of life to my parents, a trusting service, that gave them many more good days in their life, even as it challenges me to move beyond my own hurt to blossom again.
To re-enter the world I got just be strong.
But without focus or the call to service, that feels beyond me tonight.