By Anita Saesing
With Thanksgiving around the corner, I’ve been taking some time to reflect. Although, I feel grateful for my life and the experiences I’ve had in my 26 years, I carry sadness with me—particularly in the bags under my eyes. I’ve been having trouble sleeping, because my thoughts are constantly running wild in my mind. I can’t stop thinking about how so many people are going through this holiday season without something or someone. I can hear the heaviness in the phone calls; I can see people struggling via messaging; I can feel the anxiety and confusion in their one-word responses. I know they want to say more, but they can’t seem to form the words. This pandemic has ripped apart our lives.
Recently, I've been reallocating my time and efforts in order to help others. For certain people that could mean I message them every other day with a funny meme or inspirational quote. For others, I schedule phone calls throughout the week for them to vent about their lives—first-time parent duties, jobs they can’t quit because the job market is so volatile, or fears about the derailment of their future plans. Then there are some people that simply want me to just be present. I sit on the phone in my own home while my loved one is in his or her home, and we simultaneously watch a movie. Sometimes, we make little remarks or laugh, but most times, we just sit there together.
Empathizing with my friends and family while being bombarded with the current events of the world is exhausting. I feel guilty admitting how tiring it is to support them and find time to sort out my own life and understand the world around me.
I'm grappling with accepting that sometimes, my loved ones can only "take" now. I was taught as a child that relationships are give and take, but I didn't spend my childhood in a global pandemic. I feel like all the rules of "that's how it has always been done" can be thrown out the window. As I grow older, I don't think relationships are strictly 50/50. Personally, I feel like sometimes they can be 75/25 or 40/60, or whatever fraction someone chooses, because I feel like humans should be able to lean into their relationships and depend on their loved ones to help. I don’t want my relationships to feel transactional, where each person keeps a mental scoreboard of his or her exchanges.
But how much is too much in regards to allocating my time and energy on someone or something? An excess can be detrimental to my mental (and physical) health. There’s information about serving sizes and recipes with exact measurements, but there's not a one-size-fits-all for self-preservation and self-care. Also, I am consumed with guilt when I can’t help someone. That dreadful feeling actually begins before I even form the words of rejecting my loved one’s request. I’ll obsess over what to say and how to say it.
So, I’ve been reading articles about empaths, people who can experience what others are feeling even though they aren’t personally involved in a specific situation. Being able to empathize and feel with such intensity can be draining, so I’ve been utilizing some of the empathetic tips in my own life in order to save my sanity. For instance, I have to remind myself that it’s okay to take care of myself first. An important analogy of prioritizing oneself is on an airplane falling from the sky. Passengers are encouraged to put on their own oxygen masks before helping others.
That’s what I’ve been trying to do lately—breathe life back into me and recharge myself. One form of self-care for me is to change my surroundings periodically. I do this by driving around with Christmas music blaring on the radio. Another form is that during part of the day, I turn on the Do Not Disturb feature on my iPhone. It allows me to focus on my own tasks without interruptions. One other form of self-care is I set a Daily Reminder to alert me when I spend too much time on Instagram.
A self-preservation recommendation I try to follow is to set boundaries with loved ones. I’ve been using phrases like “I don’t have the mental headspace right now” or “On a scale of 1-10, how dire is the situation? Can I call you back in an hour or so?” In the beginning, some of my friends were hurt, but I explained that they shouldn’t take it personally. It has more to do with me and my state of mind and less to do with them and our relationship.
Although, 2020 has been filled with devastation, depression, anxiety and loneliness, it has also been filled with laughter, love, opportunity and growth. Despite the occasional heartaches (and headaches), I am honored to be in my loved ones’ lives. I just have to remember that it’s okay to prioritize myself first sometimes.
Anita Saesing has always been nomadic. She was born in California, but spent her teenage years in Maryland and Pennsylvania. Before she graduated from high school, an elderly couple from her previous apartment complex invited her to live with them in Arizona. Four days after her high school graduation, she packed her bags and joined them on their cross-country road trip. She spent her college years working at various places including a childcare center and hospital HR office. She was the first in her family to graduate debt-free from college. Anita graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Business Management from Grand Canyon University. One day, she desires to live in Italy and “do as the Romans do.”