By Stacie Prada
In true keeping with not quickly remembering the lessons I’ve already learned, it took me a few months of building frustration before seeing a situation I’m experiencing as something I could approach differently.
I volunteer for our local self-help group, and increasing work and personal health demands are making it harder for me to continue doing everything I’ve done for the past six years. I’d asked for volunteers to help. Some stepped forward and I appreciated their help, but still I felt responsible for more than I can continue.
I was getting frustrated, and resentment was building. I was getting grumpy and feeling like the others in the group were expecting too much of me. I was stuck in a mindset believing the only options were for others to do what needs to be done or for me to leave the group entirely.
I told close friends about my frustration. I detailed how I know what I do is appreciated, but I also feel people are putting these responsibilities on me because I look fine and am in better health than they are. Often, I’ve had people ask me what my association is with multiple sclerosis. I tell them that I have MS and I’m a member of the group. More than once, they’ve forgotten and asked me again a few months later. My takeaway from the conversations was that they don’t see me as a peer, they see me as providing charity.
It was on the short drive from work to our monthly meeting where I realized I don’t need to solve the entire problem. I only need to identify what I’m willing to do and let everyone know. The rest I can let go without guilt. If someone wants more, I’m not required to provide it.
I get a lot out of the group. I’m able to ask specific questions about their experiences and how they’ve handled issues I’m facing or anticipate for my future. Participating in the group is worth it to me, and it’s worth my time. I can continue meeting coordination, the monthly letter, periodic leader training sessions and phone calls with new members, because I’m able to do them on my timeline – at night, on a weekend or when I have the energy. Attending meetings is getting tougher due to work conflicts, and organizing speakers and special events is just too much. Feeling like I’m failing the group causes me stress.
I wanted someone to be a co-leader. I realized on the drive that I hadn’t been specific about what I needed, and I wasn’t differentiating between what I am willing to do, what I won’t do anymore, and what will not be done if no one else wants to take it on. A need for a group cannot be a demand of me specifically.
When I was 17 and my family was in a car accident, it created a belief in me that everyone else was allowed to fall apart and I wasn’t. While most of my family was more injured than I was and needed more care, I stepped up to take care of things. I watched adults who I thought would come to my aid break down and leave me to do things that had to be done. I resented and envied them. What would it feel like to not worry about everyone else and only take care of my needs?
I resented feeling like I wasn’t allowed to fall apart. I’d been labeled as strong, and I took it to heart. I thought because I was able to put other people’s needs before mine that I was required to do so.
It’s been only in the last few years that I realized that I have a choice and I’ve always had a choice. I am not required to be strong, I’m choosing to be strong. I’m not required to take care of everything that needs to be done. I can choose what I’ll do and let certain things falter. Whether I knew it or not, I was choosing to be strong because I wasn’t okay with what I thought the consequences would be.
During that drive to the meeting, I remembered this lesson. I considered that it could apply to this problem I faced, and I immediately knew it was right. I needed to focus on what is in my best interest to continue and let the rest go. It’s a big shift in my perspective to remember that I don’t need to carry burdens alone.
I’m working on stepping back once in a while to assess stressful issues more analytically.
- What is making it hard for me?
- What do I no longer feel is in my best interest to continue?
- What makes me feel resentful?
- Why do I think it needs to be done?
- What are my resources?
- How can I best take care of my needs?
- How can I best invite help but not demand it?
- Who else might care about it, and how might they be able to help?
- Am I willing to accept help if it is done differently than I did it?
- Am I willing to live with the consequences if it doesn’t get done?
The difference between feeling forced to do things and choosing to do them is huge for me. As my health changes, I may be able to do more or less than I’ve done before. If I need to change what people expect from me, I can let them know, give options and let it go. If someone is angry or disappointed, I can let them be. If I weigh the options and decide to do something, it’s liberating to know for certain that I chose it.
*Stacie Prada was diagnosed with RRMS in 2008 at the age of 38. Her blog, “Keep Doing What You’re Doing” is a compilation of inspiration, exploration, and practical tips for living with Multiple Sclerosis while living a full, productive, and healthy life with a positive perspective. It includes musings on things that help her adapt, cope and rejoice in this adventure on earth. Please visit her at http://stacieprada.blogspot.com/