Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Protecting me or protecting them?

I'm wondering if it is just part of the human condition or if perhaps it is part of the Australian cultural identity or if maybe it is just me...

I just saw a facebook friend suggestion to connect with my first cousin once removed (my cousin's son) and it made me immediately think that I would really like to touch base with my cousin who I will call Sugar Plum (not because it describes her in any way but simply because it was part of a rhyme that my mother used to say in reference to her).  When I first came home to Australia she was one of the first people I wanted to connect with but then my Gay Brother told me she was going for a month long trip overseas so I let it go...  Now I know she would be back but for some reason I am hesitating to reach out to her.  She was one of my mother's "girls", one of a handful of people my mother loved above all others.

Sugar Plum is about 9 or 10 years older than me (she was the oldest surviving grandchild and I the youngest) so when we were kids, although our families spent quite a lot of time together, she and I were not really in the same generation and had only passing interactions.  I thought she was brilliant and glamourous and I think she thought I was hyper and annoying.  By the time I grew into adulthood she had a husband and three rambunctious boys and I was off trying new things and spreading my wings.

The 1990's saw a string of horrible losses in her family.  First her younger brother died of cancer and then her father, my beloved uncle (after whom I named The Boy) died and then her mother, my irrepressible aunt, died as much of a broken heart as of the colon cancer she had fought for so many years.  My mother was by then the closest thing to a parent she had and I was happy to share her.  Sugar Plum was the only person other than myself and my two brothers who we told when mum was dying in 2008.  She made the trek up the coast to see  mum one last time and on my way back to the US that trip, after mum died, I spent a night in her house and an evening laughing and crying together.  It might have been the first and only time we were alone as two adult women.

I love my cousin, there's no doubt of that, but I don't want to burden her with my problems.  I think it is human nature to want to solve the problems of others... As a side note I think that's why so many people are always making suggestions and recommendations to those of us who have chronic illnesses.  I am wondering if my reluctance to get in touch is about trying to protect her from wanting to help me or if it is about protecting myself in some way.  Time passes and it gets harder and harder to make that initial contact.

Back when I first got really sick with FMS, or whatever the hell they decide this condition is, I retreated.  At that time I was living in the US and the people I withdrew from were my friends.  I didn't want to talk about it, I didn't want to be a giant misery guts whining about how shitty I felt.  I felt, in many ways as I feel today; I feel like I have nothing positive to offer, nothing to bring to the table.  My health isn't my only problem at the moment (as if it wasn't enough), I'm really broke cause I can't work and I am living on a small government benefit.  I can't go on staying where I am staying for much longer, and though my wonderful friend with whom I am staying won't throw me to the wolves I know that I am overstaying my welcome and that stresses me out.  So back to the default setting I go - I retreat.

When I get really down and out, when reaching out to others would help, I do the opposite and pull away.  I'm really lucky that there are a few people who listen and understand and don't seem to consider me to be too much of a burden so I'm not in complete retreat.  I'm seeing The Best Friend several times a week and that's wonderful, and I had lunch yesterday with The Reader and that was great....  There are others who are there for me in wonderful ways, thank goodness.  But I am feeling very uncomfortable about calling my cousin, I don't know if I am up to starting from scratch to explain all this to someone else and yet she is my closest living female relative and I am hers.  We share a huge pool of people we have loved and lost and we are in many ways the only remnants of my mother's family.

So, should I call Sugar Plum?


  1. Should you call? I think so. But you think about what it would cost you? Very little really. My mother goes on and on about her non life threatening medical issues. We kids tune out. As long as your public persona is not all about your medical matters, I think people can deal with it and ask about how you are. You have to speak so the gravity is clear, but not go on and on about it.

  2. Hey Displaced, ah, this is a dilemma. I don't know how to advise you on this one so I'm afraid I am not much help. I would agree that if it doesn't cost you too much and you are strong enough to do it- give it a go.

    I also am a retreater- big time. Like a big, honking snail, as soon as stuff gets too much I pull in. Not sure if it's self preservation or just a go-to coping mechanism (probably both). It just is.

    That's where the Internet is great- people like us can retreat while still letting it out and connecting with others who understand a bit what this FM mess is like.

    What you have to offer will always be the power of who you are, and how you treat others. No matter if you are working/not, what your hobbies, if you have a gazillion friends or not- you are you, and that is what you bring to the table with other people. Caring, considerate, thoughtful, and kind goes a long way, and should not be underestimated.

    You will always have something to offer other people. The real question may be: do you have the strength, patience, and ability to open yourself up at that time? If not, that's OK too. You will know when you are ready...

  3. One word: Yes.

    I think you should reach out to her. From there you can make the decision about how much you want to reveal and how close you want to get.

    I don't know if you will find it useful, but there's an author I like named Toni Bernhard who writes about her experience with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in the context of Buddhism. I've found her thoughts on self-compassion really helpful: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/turning-straw-gold/201107/how-not-treat-yourself-when-chronic-illness-strikes

  4. I have trouble with retreating too, from time to time...but, in the spirit of giving other people a chance, I try to let them make the decision about whether my "stuff" is too much for them to handle. Of course, this requires an assumption that peoples' boundaries are healthy enough that they can say "No" if something about what I'm going through is too much for them to handle...sometimes that's not the case...but I think you're savvy enough that you'd pick up vibes from your cousin fairly early on, if this was the case.

    Say hello to her and see how it goes. We can all use more friends, right?

  5. I say yes - call her. The best that can happen outweighs the worst that can happen.