Got a note from a woman who is having difficulty getting to work.
Seems that her POS mother has addictions and mental health issues — and she suffers from physical health issues related to addictions and mental health issues. It’s a vicious cycle. My reader hauls her mom all over town to make appointments. Then her mom and sisters call late at night and want to talk.
They don’t have jobs. They have the luxury of staying up late and commiserating about their pathetic lives. My poor reader is so exhausted from helping her family that she can’t get up in the morning and get herself to work.
That’s a problem.
“My family needs me,” she told me. “There is nobody else.”
Sounds like there is nobody else who is relatively stable and earns a decent income, either. What would happen if my reader lost her job?
“I’d be devastated,” she said. “What rights do I have under FMLA?”
Okay, well, the easy discussion is to talk about FMLA. The harder discussion is to tell my reader to get up and go to work in the morning and stop talking to me about government-mandated solutions to solve a care-giving problem. There are greater forces at play.
[This is exactly why I am a failed HR chick.]
I want to tell her — bucket your life into repeatable processes. Call mom at a certain time, take her to her appointments on specific days, help out with other issues at designated hours, turn off your phone at a certain time, and get yourself to bed. Rinse. Repeat.
I tried to go down that path. I heard, “It just doesn’t work that way, Laurie. They are unpredictable people.”
Believe me, I know. And I know the world is not black and white. Family loyalties are important. The heart breaks when we see people suffer.
But as much as we feel obligated to try and help other people, our family members are obligated to try to be the best versions of themselves, too. Addiction and mental illness do not remove those obligations.
And it’s important to know that we cannot fix serious problems like the ones mentioned above. We don’t have those skills. And god knows that we can’t fix anything if we lose our jobs.
It’s no fun to live life in a very black/white way. Boundaries are tough and constricting. I would say, though, that life is tough and constricting — punctuated by moments of joy that make it all worth doing. Then we die. While we are alive, we have obligations to make life a little easier for those around us.
Some believe that addiction and mental illness make people forget that they have obligations. In my experience, I would argue that people who are addicts are often pervasive narcissists. They forget how to try. And you do yourself — and humanity — no good if you sabotage your own life to accomodate someone who forgets how to try.
What can you do? Be kind, be patient and be a loving human being. Know your limits or try to get some help learning about your limits.
Try to help but focus those energies in a positive way. Millions of us have unhealthy and unhappy family members who would suck the life force from our bodies if we allowed it to happen. It’s not about saying no. It’s about trying to find a solution that creates a containment field around the sickness and dysfunction.
And try to get to work.