One of the things about going into a sustained crisis mode is you become exceedingly selfless and selfish at the same time. A hard deadline on time with someone pushes you to give everything you can, and many things you can’t. The price is you take a scalpel to the rest of your life. My house hasn’t been truly clean in months. There are any number of friends I see about a quarter as often as I used to. There are an even larger number of plans for life that are on hold.
So you drop commitments. At first, people understand. But your struggles aren’t theirs. Others’ fuses are inevitably shorter than your own. To you, the troubles are a reality you live with every day. Others forget, or come to think of it as “that stuff that happened months ago.” They adjust back to their normal reality quickly, and forget to account for yours still being unresolved.
Soon enough, emails or phone calls start to demand to know where you’ve been, or why you haven’t replied lately, or followed up on some months-old promise. That gives you a devil’s choice: you can either go through the motions and fulfill whatever duty others are flinging at you, or you can once again play the Dying Family card, and be the one who causes guilt and stress in return. It forces you to wear yourself out, or be extremely one-dimensional. Soon, people stop asking you how things are going; and you appreciate that they do: running through the litany again doesn’t make you feel any better either. Soon enough, others stop pitching in to help quite so automatically when you falter. And you can’t blame them, because the bad times aren’t theirs, so they reserve less to pay the price of it.
I’ve always had a strong sense of loyalty and duty, to family and to others in general. However, I’ve learned over the last year that that sense of duty can cause others to take my presence and my generosity for granted, and come to treat it as a right, not a gift.
The challenge gets worse still when you divide yourself between multiple troubles. There aren’t any right choices. An hour spent visiting my uncles and their families wasn’t spent with Dad; an hour with Dad is an hour taken from my grandmother. I didn’t spend a lot of those hours with my grandfather before he died last summer. That opportunity is lost for good. So I’m determined to do the right thing now. But there is no right thing. And you need to spend some of those hours on yourself, or else the other hours will be no good. You have to be there, but you have to be strong. The perfect balance is a myth.
Humanity isn’t meant to contemplate time as infinite; infinity hurts us to think about, and the mind runs away from it and retreats into our finite world. But the hints of death inevitably bring infinity to the forefront. You start wondering what matters, if anything can matter up against the long forever. And if nothing does matter, then what’s the point of being strong? Today these people are alive; in some near future many won’t be; but tomorrow I could be hit by the proverbial bus myself. Everything seems short-term, immediate, and taxing.
Before you call the suicide hot line on me, be aware that this happens in bad moments and terrible times, not constantly. For the most part, the human mind is good at defending itself from these thoughts. But they’re there all the same. We were better at life when it was unchanging and circular, and we didn’t have to confront the possibility of the infinite. Our science has harmed us by breaking the circle of time and replacing it with progress, which is linear. So that’s esoteric. But it makes sense in my head.
So what do I do about it?