I am no meteorologist, nor am I a magician, but I can still conjure up The Perfect Storm, right in the comfort of my own home, too! How do I do it, you ask? First, I take a strong storm front of high expectations and I allow it to get bigger. I work more than I know suits me and my personality and then I expect myself to be all things to anyone who seems to need me. After I have allowed the extra high expectations of myself to become a twisting mass of worry and frustration, I allow another front to come in from the north. This other front is called poor self-care. These two front meet at high altitudes and mingle and begin to feed off of each other until it all looks like something impossible to pinpoint, but potentially extremely destructive. Toss in a few unplanned events like very real Hurricane Sandy and let the fun begin! It is my own, perfect, personal, Frankenstorm, and I made it myself!
A few weeks ago, I started to work more, which is all good because more money never hurts. However, I was not being as careful as I generally am to limit how much, and when, and what I do. I was working on the weekends when I should have been enjoying some time alone and just plain doing nothing much. I am an INFJ–I am a true introvert and I need an inordinate amount of time alone or I wear out quickly. INFJ’s are puzzles wrapped in a riddle, wrapped in a blanket of mystery. As I told a friend last night, I am an odd combination of one tough cookie and a very delicate flower. It confuses the heck out of most people. Anyway, I was not getting enough solitude when I should have been getting a little extra. At the same time, there seemed to be people with pressing needs all around me and I was doing my best to keep up. While I was not aware of it at the time, everyone was getting what they needed, with the exception of me. I was getting worn out, but I am a trooper, so I kept plugging on although I did note that my usual perky mood was flagging a bit.
I was feeling just the tiniest bit crabby around the edges and people’s requests were beginning to irritate me a fair amount. Of course, I was too much of a chicken to say to these various people, “I know that this means a lot to you right now, but I will get to it when I have time.” One night, this left me trying to counsel a young woman dealing with drug addiction while simultaneously trying to fill out an online form to become an Avon representative for my cousin. Do you see something wrong with this picture? Do you see priorities a little out of whack? I sure do…now! I imagine you are also getting the “trying to be everything to everyone” thing by now, too. Ah, but you do see the boundaries blurring?
It just kept on like that and the next thing you know, along came storm system number two, poor self-care. I usually love to cook and eat very well. I love my veggies, but now I was loving on sugar a lot, and while I made meals, not much was sounding good to me but cookies and chocolate. Everyone else had a clean house, but mine had not been really cleaned completely in two weeks. Simple things like washing my face before bed disappeared. All of the sudden, I really did not want to do a darned thing, but I kept on trucking because that is how I roll and while I rolled, more people needed things, and I became more tired, and more irritable, and suddenly I was like a Bounty paper towel—super absorbent, just like back in to bad, old, days, when I let everyone else and their needs take precedence over my own. Still, I had very limited awareness, of course, because once I get on a roll like this one I may as well be deaf, dumb, and blind.
When I said that I had become as absorbent as a Bounty Paper towel, what I mean is that I was, once again, taking on the emotions of all of the people around me. That is another thing about the INFJ personality. We are highly intuitive on a couple of different levels. We know things about people even before they know them. We feel it. We sense it. We do not even know how we do it, so do not bother asking. Also, even though this may seem like a really cool super power to have, it is a blessing and a curse depending on how you deal with it. I used to be like one giant sponge walking through life, absorbing all of the emotions of the people around me. I was very soggy most of the time and usually quite off balance. So, I gave that up for Lent one year recently, even though I am not Catholic.
What had really happened is that I had actually figured out where I ended and where other people began and then I stuck some boundaries in between me and everyone else. I thought I was fairly impenetrable now, but I was wrong. Old behavior, back sliding, call it what you will. To any counselor it would look like classic relapse symptoms, but drinking was, and is, a repulsive thought to me. Yet, one can relapse in other ways. If you are busy looking for my boundaries at this point in the story, they are a very thin, blurry line –and weakening by the minute. I tried to push the fragile, little line back into place. People kept pushing back and I let them.
Along comes Ms. Frankenstorm to make matters worse. I do not like wind storms. I live in a cottage surrounded by tall pines, and those babies snap at the slightest provocation. However, I am good at storm preparedness, so I went right out and bought water, and non-perishable food items, and flashlights, and candles, and I began sawing up trees that were already down. At first, it looked like we might get a direct hit from Hurricane Sandy, but then it shifted. We will still get a good storm, but now that darned thing is heading straight for four of my adult children. I began sending out mass emails to get assurance that they would prepare and I got a boatload of pithy, and truly hysterical responses, but I am a mom to the core. While I laughed at their wit and cleverness, I was crying inside and scared. Sigh.
Yesterday morning, I woke up and I felt awful. I hurt all over and I just wanted to cry and yet I could not think of one thing going badly in my life that would provoke such intense feelings. I worried that I was getting depressed. I wondered if I might suddenly have become gluten intolerant. One of my elderly friends told me it was probably “The change.” Well, I finished changing two years ago without one mood swing. Menopause was the easiest thing I have ever done in my life, so I could not figure out why mood disturbances would start now.
I tried my “Move a muscle, change a thought” trick. I cleaned out my fridge and took my trash to the dump. I cut up another tree, which usually invigorates me. I felt worse. I felt like throwing up. I felt like I was wrapped in a thick fog of stupidity. So, I went to bed and I prayed and I slept soundly for almost three hours. When I woke up, I felt great! I said to myself, “You were just tired. Whew.” Did I just relax for the rest of the day? Heck, no! I felt terrific, so I cleaned my entire little house, sawed up another tree or two, and took a shower. I hate a dirty house during a power outage. By the time my son left with his Dad last evening whatever happy high I had gotten from my nap had vanished. I started reading more about Hurricane Sandy and felt the need to leave teary messages on each child’s phone pleading with them to flee NOW. There was obscenity involved. There it was—Frankenstorm wrecking havoc far and wide. My own personal Perfect Storm.
As my adult children began to call me back and talk me down, I began to see the whole picture of what I had allowed to happen to me in the last couple of weeks. I had allowed myself to become completely and totally emotionally exhausted. They laughed at me, in their usual, loving way. I laughed at myself. I felt better, but I also realized that those boundaries I though were now immovable are, under the right conditions, still a little weak. Today, I am sand bagging them with solitude and self-care. As my own mother used to say, very tongue in cheek, as she was a language arts snob, “Your mama didn’t raise no dummies.” Well, I didn’t raise no dummies, either. To say that my children are bright would be a gross understatement. They are brilliant, and they are in God’s hand. They will take fine care of themselves.
There lies the most crucial bit of awareness. It is not my job to take care of the whole world and everyone in it. I am not God. I spent a lifetime trying to save everyone from themselves and almost killed myself trying to do so. As another one of my elderly friends told me this morning, “Experience is a great teacher.” Yes, it is, indeed. Living through a whole lot of tough experiences has taught me all of my best lessons. I cannot go back. I cannot lose sight of myself in the hubbub of everyone else and their needs. I cannot save everyone from their misery, and why should I even want to do that?
Were it not for my own times of misery, I would not be where I am now, which is happy, healthy, and content– as long as I take good care of myself, and leave the rest to God. Why would I want to rob others of those hard, but valuable, experiences so they can grow and bloom on their own? Sometimes I behave as if I have all of the answers for everyone. The truth is that the only person that I have all of the answers for is me, but if I stop listening everyone in my sphere suffers in some way.
I am upright today, and peaceful, and even though I may go cut up a few more trees, this weekend is about rebuilding my own boundaries in the wake of my own personal Perfect Storm. This weekend is about shoring up my boundaries and resting, and taking good care of me. Yes, I am still a little scared of Frankenstorm, but I am prepared, and when all is said and done, God has got this one. He has had it all along. As long as I take care of myself, come what may, I will be fine. I will be praying that you are all safe and fine, too.