There are some memes that appear on my Facebook timeline now and then that I really hate because although they can seem true, and may be somewhat true in some circumstances, I think they are mostly just blarney, especially if you think about them for a minute. Here are a couple such memes that I dislike as well as my reasons for disliking them:
Seriously? Everything? So the abused child chose to suffer the damage of abuse? The cancer patient and his family chose to get cancer and the affect it has on them? The Christians being persecuted in other parts of the world are choosing it? I don’t think so.
Right. So if a person gets a life-threatening disease, is abused, raped, murdered…it’s because “Life is an Echo,” what he gave he gets, so he deserved it. If life is always an echo, then Jesus must have done something really bad to have crucifixtion “echoed” back. While there is a reaping and sowing concept described in the Bible, 2 Tim 3:12 also says: “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” In other words life isn’t always an echo. Sometimes the wicked attack the innocent. Sometimes people give love and goodness and suffer for it.
I do think that our attitude and thoughts are important when it comes to handling the difficulties of life. However, such a meme is too simplistic, acting as if all we have to do is have “positive thinking.” There are actually studies that show that positive thinking can sometimes be dangerous if it causes a person to deny or not prepare for reality. Most importantly, such advice ignores the courageous struggles of millions of people who battle to overcome anxiety, depression, and PTSD due to trauma that they didn’t choose and didn’t deserve. They might appear “negative” but they are in reality warriors fighting terrible battles.
An estimated 40 million American adults live with anxiety disorders, which includes Post-Tramatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression. Anxiety, PTSD, and depression can be caused by military service, abuse, life-threatening illness, being a caretaker of those who are ill, and so forth.
Between us, EJ, JJ, and I have suffered abuse, chronic pain, chronic illness, as well as other things. What affects one of us affects us all so we all have gone through a lot as a family. JJ told me last week that when he “dumped everything out” to his new counselor, the counselor said, “Wow, you really should write a book about your life. Your life sounds like the movie, Shawshank Redemption.” (EJ says that Shawshank Redemption is a very difficult movie to watch, and I’m not old enough to watch it. LOL.) It’s difficult to describe our experiences because people tend to disbelief the abuse, assume we are merely being negative or unforgiving, or invalidate our experiences in some other way.
All those experiences were difficult and damaging–and then JJ was diagnosed with cancer. Cancer is a traumatic event and can cause patients and their caregivers to develop PTSD. Our nephew, who is an ex-soldier suffering from PTSD, described it as “a normal response to an abnormal experience.” As I wrote in my post Aftermath, cancer has had a deep effect on us, similar to the destructive aftermath of a tornado. We had not yet recovered from the trauma of cancer when we decided we absolutely had to move to get a fresh start in a beautiful place. While the move has been very, very good for us and we are happier than we’ve ever been before, moving and settling into a new place is stressful, which has added to our exhaustion.
The other day a FB friend who is going through a lot of difficulties told me that her doctor had given her information about “Caregiver Burnout.” WebMD says that “Caregiver burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that can occur when caregivers don’t get the help they need, or if they try to do more than they are able — either physically or financially.” In other words, they stay too strong for too long. “Caregivers who are “burned out” may experience fatigue, stress, anxiety, and depression. When you’re burned out, it’s tough to do anything, let alone look after someone else. That’s why making time to rest, relax, and recharge isn’t a luxury.”
After I read this, I told EJ, “I think we are experiencing Caregiver Burnout. But there seems to be such a similarity between the symptoms of Burnout and PTSD that I wonder what the difference between the two are and which we have?” He said, “I think we are suffering from both.”
I guess in many ways this post is an attempt to educate the family and friends of those who have experienced traumatic events in their lives and who are suffering from PTSD, Anxiety, and/or Caregiver Burnout.
When JJ was little, I was diagnosed with chronic sinus infections, two bouts of Mono, and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome–all at the same time. (I tell you, our lives have been crazy.) Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (with the other complications) was very difficult because a normal person can exert himself and recover after rest. With CFS, I was always very fatigued, and if I tried to exert myself I just depleted my strength further. Rest didn’t restore me. I often felt as if my life vitality was like a piece of elastic with no elasticity in it–all limp and no stretchiness or bounce. In many ways, I feel as if EJ, JJ, and I are suffering from burnout so severe that it’s sort of like an emotional Chronic Fatigue. We are easily exhausted, easily overwhelmed, we have anxiety attacks, insomnia, and other symptoms.
It used to be that when something “extra” was required, we could find the energy to do it, knowing that we could rest afterwards. These days we feel as if there is nothing in reserve to get us through stuff that normally would just be annoyances or inconveniences. It takes a lot of energy to care for each other, to finish settling in to our new home, into new jobs, to find new stores, and new doctors. It’s financially, physically, and emotionally draining to have to keep making the long trip to the old house to move another load of possessions. (We are tired and depressed for days afterwards.) Any extra demands or expectations–even good ones–can exhaust and overwhelm us and trigger an anxiety attack.
We moved North so we could refresh and renew our spirits, diminish our chronic stress, recover from trauma, rest, and learn to enjoy life again. However, it will take time and effort for us to recover. Among other things, resting as much as possible, enjoying the quietness and beauty around us, going for drives, disconnecting from anxiety by focusing on the moment, doing fun things as a family, watching Netflix, and even coloring are all ways that we are battling the anxiety. Taking photographs and videos, writing in this blog, and studying Hebrew with my friend fills me with delight and laughter. These activities are not luxuries, they are necessities.
We also are learning to say “No.” I told EJ that I am learning to set boundaries out of desperation–because I feel like I won’t survive if I don’t. He agrees. We can’t endure much more trauma so we are very careful who we allow into our lives. We won’t allow any more abusive or toxic people into our lives who suck the energy and joy from us. We can’t.
If you are in our lives, it’s because we really want you to be. If we accept an invitation, it’s because we really want to see you. However, even people we love can deplete our limited energy, so we have to be careful about overdoing. Little expectations, requests, and demands are not little to us. It’s all we can do to care for the routine demands of our day. It’s tough to do anything, let alone look after someone else. So please accept the boundaries we set. If we say we can’t handle something, we really can’t handle it. If we shorten a visit, it’s because a long one is too overwhelming.
It’s not about you. Right now, it’s about us.