It’s ALL About Everyone Else

I grew up as many Irish children do. I never worried about being grounded or punishments. (Okay, many Irish kids did get punished, but not my point here).

No. What I got was the “Irish guilt” – the constant feeling of how I was disappointing my parents, not doing what was expected of me and/or a whole assortment of ways in which Irish parents make you feel like you’ve committed felony murder. Many times when I hadn’t actually done anything wrong, mind you.

They say there’s a stereotypical “Jewish mother”. Well, Irish mothers are that times 10! Yes, an Irish mother will love her children with every ounce of her being. Yet, don’t ever cross her, or do anything that she would interpret as crossing her. She will guilt you until you bleed – even if you’re sick.

Funny Because It’s True!

Given recent circumstances that arose within my family, I was compelled to write this post.

While this issue has come up countless times, this particular situation truly hurt my heart because as the perceived “sick” person – it’s not about me. It never is. It’s ALL about EVERYONE ELSE!

This unfortunate truth relates to family, friends, work, and on and on. However, this particular post is focused on my relationship with my immediate family.

I cannot begin to count how many times my mother has said, “I’m just worried sick over you” or “I can’t sleep I’m so beside myself over you”. Not once is it ever about how I’m feeling. It is ALWAYS about her. As for my father, he will not visit me in the hospital – absolutely refuses. Apparently, “he can’t handle” seeing me in the hospital. He does not call. He occasionally sends a text of a photo of our dog, which my parents take care of when I’m hospitalized. I may get an email or two, if I’m lucky.

Yet, because he is a doctor he constantly has an opinion on the course of action my doctors take, and it’s usually something I do not agree with.

Just one instance that exemplifies this perfectly is when I consulted with a particular neurosurgeon at the hospital where my prior surgeon had retired. He was the Chief of Neurosurgery and a man I loved and respected. We had a fantastic relationship, so trusting my brain to anyone else was terrifying. While this consult was with someone who trained under my former surgeon, to say he paled in comparison is a huge understatement.

This man really only spoke to my husband and father, while he either ignored both my mother and I, or scoffed at our questions. He proposed an extremely invasive procedure. Admittedly, I ultimately did have the procedure but only after a much less invasive procedure failed to remedy the problem, and I had it performed at another hospital. Anyway, I asked very direct, difficult questions that this surgeon did not want to answer. Yet, when my father asked the same questions, he indeed answered them. He constantly diminished my concerns – the number one concern being that he proposed inserting a shunt into my brain that would drain fluid into my abdomen. Yet, when I questioned him on the fact that we were uncertain if there were cancerous cells in my brain and he was now proposing to drain this brain fluid into my abdomen, I was told, “You don’t need to be concerned with that. It’s unlikely”.

Well, sorry but “unlikely” is not good enough! What if there was cancer in my brain? What then? Oops, we made a mistake! Nope. Just. Nope. Not. Good. Enough.

I say all this to say that my father lit into ME after the consult stating “how obnoxious” I was to the doctor – as if I was to blame for his arrogance, male-chauvinist attitude and total ineptitude! I may not have gone to medical school, but I did earn a law degree, passed 2 bar exams and knew I was asking the proper questions for my own protection. I’m no idiot, especially when it comes to my health. Yet, my father chose to try and make me feel guilty, for some unknown reason, despite how openly disrespected I was by a stranger. He chose to berate me about pushing a doctor on serious issues related to MY health!

My father and this surgeon totally played into one another’s “God complex”. That ish does NOT fly with me though. Especially the male dominant BS. Not to mention, this man had us wait over 3 hours to even get back into the exam room and literally ran out the door with not even so much as a goodbye! The four of us just stood around looking at one another, asking “Is he coming back?” The answer was, No, he did not come back. About 5 minutes later his awful nurse entered the exam room as if nothing had happened. Needless to say, I found another surgeon who is so kind, gracious and much more competent.

Side Note: I did file a complaint with the patient advocate over this doctor’s behavior. He called and apologized, but clearly he did not even recognize how poorly I was treated. How could I trust my brain with someone so unprofessional and unaware of his behavior?

Moving on…

Now my mother has her own unique brand of guilting me because of my sickness. I am reminded pretty much daily that I’ve been sick. The constant barrage of questions: “How are you feeling today?” “Did you have a seizure?” “How is your hand?” “Are you walking okay?” “Any falls?” After 6 straight years of this, it’s gotten pretty old. Despite telling her that I don’t need to be reminded of my condition constantly, all I get in response is, “Well I’m just so concerned about you.” While that may be true, I’m 40 years old, not 4 years old. Also, Irish people LOVE misery. Walk into a local pub back there and there’s 3 topics. The first: Who died. Second: Who is sick, what do they have and a list of 10 other people who had it or have it. Finally: The weather. Always the bloody weather. It’s either “freezin” “roasting” or “lashing rain”. There may be some gossip about this one or that one, but guaranteed it always comes back to those 3 topics. It’s like misery is in our DNA or something.

Not only does my mother’s guilt involve feigning concern but also claiming she’d do anything to help. However, if I actually asked for help, I’d get 300 excuses why she “just couldn’t”. And every 300 of those excuses would ultimately circle back to one thing – work.

What it all boils down to is simple: my entire life, all my parents did was work. I often wondered why they even had a child because in their list of priorities it would be: 1.) Work; 2.) Each other; and, 3.) Me.

Do my parents love me? 100%. Have I ever wanted for anything material? Never. Did they do the best they could? Yes, but the caveat was always and forever will be, as long as it doesn’t conflict with work or requiring that they leave the 2-mile radius of their clinic/home. Yes indeed, their practice is in the home I spent the better half of my childhood in.

My parents are the epitome of the immigrant mentality that “America is the land of opportunity”. Yet, in order to build a successful practice, they’ve worked their fingers to the bone and still have not retired despite being in their 70’s. They do not believe in vacation or days off. And sick days? Forget it. So in a nutshell, this was the environment I was raised in.

Of course, when I was diagnosed with brain cancer over 6 years ago their work did not slow down. In fact, I was guilted into the notion that now, they’d have to work even harder to supposedly support me. I have a husband with a job. I don’t live beyond my means. I get disability. Has their financial support helped? Definitely, but as I mentioned, it comes at the price of constantly feeling guilty that because I got sick, they still have to work.

On top of all this, add my husband’s Irish family and you’d swear I only got sick to spite all of them! It drives his sisters insane that he loves me so much. One is in the midst of a divorce and the other… I could write a book on the dysfunction of that marriage! While my husband will always be a Mommy’s boy, I know deep down they all blame me for being sick and not giving him a child because well, that’s all women are supposed to do. Forget a career or anything except push out some kids. Since I was diagnosed just a year and a half into our marriage, I am once again the guilty party for failing at my “womanly duties.” It’s safe to say his sisters and I equally despise one another, but then again – my sickness is ALL about everyone else, right?

At this point, I’m done with managing everyone else’s emotions, feelings, etc. about MY health! I am no longer going to speak to anyone who I do not trust with my emotions. I will remain silent because as the quote below states: I am tired of fighting. So very, very tired.

Relationships, “It’s Complicated”

Relationships, “It’s Complicated”

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I could write for days on this topic… but, for now just a brief post.

When you’re the sick one, so often YOU have to “manage” all the feelings, emotions, mental state of family, friends, significant others, etc.  Yes, they love you.  Yes, they’re concerned about you.  Yes, they worry about you.  Yes, they mean well.

Yet, unless you’ve been there, it seems like so many of our loved ones don’t understand that while we’re going through physical, mental and emotional hell all of THEIR concerns and worries also get projected onto us.

If I had just a nickel for the amount of times I’ve had to reassure, or at least tell those around me, “Don’t worry.  I’ll be okay.”  Well, I’d have a lot more money in the bank!

It breaks my heart when I hear people, who have battled this disease and come through it, talk about all the people who walked out of their lives when they got sick.  The healthy ones who “couldn’t handle” it!

Closing in on six years in this “Big C Club”, I’m only now beginning to understand why that happens.  Ultimately, most people act weak until they have to face something tragic, go through something that challenges them to their core, or somehow become aware/enlightened of their own inner-strength through mindfulness or meditation practices.  We all have this strength.  Yet, so few people are aware of their inner-power, i.e., the power of our true spirit/soul/nature/whatever term you choose.

Honestly, before I got sick, I absolutely loved the holidays.  They’re a time we should be happy, joyous, surrounded by those we love and who love us.  I could never stand the people who complained about how “stressful” they were – it’s the exact opposite of what the holidays were meant to be!  I relished in trying to find that perfect gift for everyone.  I would sit there with such anticipation, so beyond excited to see the reaction on loved-ones’ faces when they’d open their gifts.  Decorating my Christmas tree every year with either “Elf” or “Christmas Vacation” on the TV has been my own little tradition since I got my 1st apartment.  I loved having my “girls’ holiday dinners” with my close friends.

Yet, these past few years I’ve dreaded the holidays.  Besides the fact that some medical catastrophe always seems to creep up around November/December, or around Easter especially.  Well now on top of all that, there always seems to be some kind of family-related “drama” – and if it’s one thing in my life I do NOT want, it’s drama.  It all circles back to the sad reality that when you’re sick:

  • Some people will inevitably turn their back on you because “they can’t handle it”
  • You, despite being sick, have to inevitably “manage” other people’s emotions and feelings
  • You will be a “topic of conversation”, like it or not
  • How many times will I have to answer, “How are you feeling?” though truthfully no one really wants the hard-nosed truth.  Imagine sitting around the table, while that delicious turkey is being carved and answer, “Well, I feel like absolute s##t almost everyday.  I struggle to just walk to the bathroom.  I sleep until noon because my body is so treacherously fatigued that if I wakeup any earlier, I may fall.  I can’t go outside because the cold air seeps itself down to my bones and my entire left side becomes completely rigid.  I have headaches almost everyday that debilitate me.  And, I’m one of the lucky ones!  Someone I knew just died of cancer.  But how are you?”  Yep, your family will really want to dig into those mashed potatoes and gravy after that…

So, yeah, as if cancer doesn’t suck enough, it makes relationships pretty “complicated” to put it lightly.