Wednesday, January 11, 2017

When A Giver Has Given All They Can

I'm a giver. I think that's true of a lot of us with mental health conditions. We seem to be a particularly empathetic, sympathetic, and understanding bunch. We know what it's like to not be understood, to be identified as a label instead of a person, and we don't want others to feel so un-cared for as we have. We want to put ourselves in other people's shoes often, because we wish more people would put themselves in ours before judging. We don't want to ask for what we're not willing to give, and so we give. And we give, and we give, and we give.

But there's a problem with being a giver. And that problem is that eventually, unless you're one of those people who will be elevated to sainthood soon after your life has ended, you run out. One day, the giving well is just gone. And it might be someone asking you for something big, or even something tiny. But it doesn't matter. It isn't about what they're asking, not really. It's that you physically, mentally, emotionally have nothing left to give. For me at least, this is especially true if it's one or a few people that have been bleeding your giving supply. Because the problem with being a giver is that those who take so often don't tend to replenish you equally. They promise they will one day, but they can't just now. Or maybe they don't even realize how much they're asking you to give. I'll at least hand them that. Maybe people don't understand that just because you're willing to give, just because it comes naturally to you, just because you're always so prepared to put others first (often because of your lack of self-esteem or self-worth) doesn't mean that it takes no toll. They may not understand how much it still drains you. They may not see that you need to secret yourself away somewhere after a particularly rough bout of giving to replenish for a while. They may not see that if you have to give again and again in a short period of time, you don't get that time to replenish, and that at some point, you're stealing from yourself to give to them.  You're using up your mental, emotional, physical energy so that you can offer it to them, and that when it comes to yourself, you have nothing left. And when illness already has you living with limited energy, this is no small task.

What people don't understand, when they ask you to give and you finally can't, is that it's not about that one issue. It's simply that one request that puts you over the edge. Think about it this way: Say a friend asks to run a 5K with them. You think, "Yeah that's no problem, I can run a three miles or so." But part way through the run, they tell you it's a 10K. You think, "Wow that's rough, but I think I can manage the energy."  Then, as you're nearing the 10K point, thinking, "Thank god. This was way more than I bargained for," they say tell you it's a half marathon. Your friend really wants you to finish the run with them so you grit your teeth, fight through the pain, and keep going. And as you're nearing mile 13, exhausted and hurting, thinking "Holy crap I did it!" they say, "Actually, it's a marathon."  So you run and run this race that you didn't expect on energy you really don't have. And at mile 25.2, you just run out of steam. Flat. Done. Completely. You feel like if you take another step you will physically, mentally, and emotionally collapse. And your friend looks at you and says, "I thought you were a runner? You can't even run a mile?  That's all you have to do."  But clearly, they haven't asked you to run a mile. They've asked you to run a marathon, when what you thought you were agreeing to was a 5K. You can run a mile. You just can't run another mile. You've made it 25.2 and have given it all you have but you have no more. Now, sure, you could maybe walk it, limping in hoping you don't collapse on the finish line. Hell, you could probably get on your hands and knees and crawl it. But how much damage might you do? What if you don't make it? What if because you've pushed yourself way past the limit your illnesses will allow, it takes you months to recover. That's right, months. And besides, the point isn't that you may be able to crawl and gasp your way into the finish line possibly. The point is, your friend thinks this is about running a mile and that you're not willing to run a mile for them. And no matter how much you say, "I can run a mile! Just not after 25.2 of them!", they don't understand.  Because they really, really want you to finish this marathon with them. And they can not understand why you can't run one mile. After all, you said you would run this race with them! Why are you going back on your word now?

That's how it feels to be a giver, especially a giver with a mental health condition and a chronic illness. You give and you give and you give. You give until you finally drop. Like a stone. At least mentally and emotionally, and sometimes physically. And when you do, nobody understands. Because being a giver is just who you are. You always give. And because in a vacuum, they've just asked you to give this one thing that they think shouldn't be that hard for you. But first of all, we don't live in a vacuum. We live in the reality of all the other things you gave first before this one thing came along. Secondly, it's unfair to judge what "should" be easy or hard for someone else to give. My brain (and sometimes body, because of ME/CFS) don't work the way others' do all the time. So maybe, for whatever reason, what seems like a small deal to you is a big deal to me and I just do not have the mental or physical or emotional energy to do this one more thing, to give this one more time.

So next time you ask someone to give something they just can't - even if it's something you didn't think would be a point of contention, that would cause them any difficulty - ask why. Then listen. Carefully. Without judgement and without trying to get your point across.  Then try to understand. Try really hard. Just like we do every time we push ourselves past what is healthy for us because of something that's important for you. But maybe giving this one last bit will dry them out. Maybe they can do it technically, but it requires them to pull from their few remaining stores, again, and give them to you.  And is that really worth it to you? Maybe. Only you can make that decision. Just try not to do it in a vacuum.

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