When my memory becomes overloaded, it kicks out the newest items first. The older memories, especially those with the greatest emotional impact, are embedded and available for retrieval from the memory bank. One sentence, smell, or observation can open the door to the past for a review of the good, the bad and the ugly.
No matter how often I criticize myself for not being there for friends and family when they are ill, I freeze up, I become immobile. A few relationships have ended when I was not there to help someone who was ill. No one ever admitted the truth to me, they just ended the friendship.
Recently I recognized the reality of the cause of those friends going away. Writing helped me to get to the core of the emotional detachment.
I don’t appreciate withdrawing and neither do the people who need help. Recent visits to my memory bank have enabled me to discover the catalyst for this unacceptable behavior. The foundation was starting to be built during my pre-teen years when Mom had several illnesses which required me to take care of her needs and wants.
After I graduated from college, she had a kidney removed due to cancer. I had a one hour time frame for lunch during my first year as a teacher. Rushing home to provide a lunch and rushing back to school caused a lot of stress in my life. We had a strong loving mother/daughter relationship where we were always ready to help each other. Our sisterly feelings led to sharing secrets and clothing. We discussed daily events and created plans for the future. Dad was off busy working. He knew I would take care of Mom.
The fear of the unknown kept feeding my panic. If Mom died during the five year wait and see period of her cancer removal, I would not know how to live on my own without Mom. I’d be stuck in a town with an aging population and an aging Dad. Typically, children are educated, then they set into motion their hopes and promises for more opportunities and a more fulfilling life. They move to what was perceived as greener lands.
Today, when I visit my memory bank to look at my life during those times, I can’t believe how all the planning came forward in sync, to give me the confidence to move across the country. Moving was meant to be.
Now let’s get back to the story of why people who are ill scare me. I remember the Sunday afternoon, in my apartment in So. California, when Mom and Dad called to tell me Mom had cancer of the lung. Five and a half years passed since the kidney was removed, allowing us to breathe with a false sense of relief. The doctor estimated she had about six months to live. During the one week spring break I flew across country to visit with Mom and Dad, right in the middle of the estimated six month prognosis. The so called vacation lasted for two and a half months, until after Mom died. I arranged for a leave of absence from teaching to take care of her until the end.
All of these details and more led me to recognize how I, the responsible only child, was the nurse for Mom through all of her illnesses. By analyzing and relating current events from all those years in the past, it became clear that they cause me to run away from medical situations when anyone tells me they are sick. These revelations do not make my withdrawal acceptable or tolerable. They do give me an understanding of why I do not want to re-live those heavy duty feelings again.
So far, I’ve disappointed people who needed help and expected me to be there for them out of love and caring. And I understand why they rejected me for withdrawing from their situation, when they needed me. I feel embarrassed and disappointed in myself.
I do have a better understanding of my motives which came from events in the distant past. They took hold and molded my life for decades. What I don’t understand is why I haven’t found a path to stop this behavior even with counseling sessions devoted to this predicament. On a day to day basis, I’m there to listen, console, offer advice, and show love for others. That is as long as an illness is not attached to the relationship which requires my being a medical helper. Then anxiety overwhelms me and I run away.
The memory bank freely accepts my deposits and temporary withdrawals of memories, which must be returned to the vault. It is a storage facility of all that was, not of what will be.