I don't usually think of myself as the sort of person who puts other people's needs in front of my own. The problem with that, however, is that on occasion, I have been known to do so. Since I don't think of myself as this sort of person, it can take me a really long time to figure out that I can periodically and in certain situations do that to my own detriment.
This summer, thus far, has been all about me taking care of me in terms of where I'm investing my emotional and intellectual energy. This is important, because 1) I need to get myself back in a happy place after all of the upheaval of the past academic year, and 2) I need to realize that my happiness isn't something that should be an afterthought. I'm sure this sounds selfish. I don't mean for it to sound selfish. It's not like I don't care about other people - my friends, my family. I do. But there's caring and then there's caring. And I can't be my last priority and then expect that I'll be higher on other people's lists.
One thing that I think has been helping me to become centered in this way has been working on scholarly stuff. The job may be just a job (and I do think that it is) but scholarship is part of my identity. When I'm not thinking in that particular way, I think I lose myself a little bit. So as much as I've been struggling through this article I'm working on, it is making me feel like I'm getting back in touch with who I am in important ways. It's nice to have that kind of focus; it's nice to feel like I'm working toward something concrete. And, while I love teaching and I'm passionate about teaching, I never feel this kind of focus in relation to it. Maybe because it's too interactive? Too immediate? (Which of course are the reasons that I love teaching.) I'm not sure.
But one result of all of this is that I've pulled back lately from taking care of other people, or, probably I should admit, a particular person. It became clear to me a few months back that my desire to take care of this person, which came from a real and genuine emotional place - or, let's just call a spade a spade, love - was ultimately not good for me. Now, I didn't shut this person out entirely, and I really do wish it would be possible to maintain a friendship with this person. But apparently the pulling back that I've done for my own good has caused this person pain. While I feel badly about the result, I can't find it in myself to revise my approach. I can't find it in myself to be "nice" or to go back to the way things were, or to forget what I've figured out about this relationship. I can't find it in myself to care about myself less. And, since I'm laying it all out on the table, I also can't find it in myself to feel guilt over how things are going.
I worry, though, that this means I'm a hard person. I worry that this means that I'm not an open and loving person. I don't believe that these things are true, but they nevertheless cross my mind.
The thing is, it's not easy to set new boundaries. It's not easy to protect oneself from past mistakes. It's not easy to refuse a person for whom you really do care a great deal, especially when you know that your refusal hurts that person. But I can't in good conscience do anything else. I have to take care of myself right now. I know this. The other person doesn't seem to get that. The other person seems only to see his own position, his own problems, his own predicament. And I think this person kind of hates me for pulling back. I think this person sees this as me not giving a shit about him.
I've tried to explain myself to him, but I think that may be doing more harm than good. I think that I may be cruel to him, when I think that what I'm being is honest. I know that historically I've had a hard time realizing when what I think of as honesty is really cruelty.
This is what happens when I realize that it's time for me to take care of me, maybe. Maybe I become cruel.
In spite of all of that, though, I feel very centered right now, and even happy. Maybe not ecstatically happy, but basically, happy. My life is what I want for it to be right now, if I'm honest with myself about how I'm really feeling. I'd rather be taking care of myself than waiting for somebody else to do it when that person just isn't going to do it. And it's difficult for me to beat myself up for that (although I've given it the good college try in this post), just because somebody spewed some passive-aggressive bullshit at me via email. What I feel more than anything, about the passive-aggressive bullshit, is anger. Anger at myself for responding to it, even if I did protect myself in my response, and anger that this person doesn't seem to see why things are as they are, that this person is projecting onto what I do/say/write things that I don't mean. Clearly, I give a shit. But, no, I won't hurt myself in order for somebody else to feel better. I feel like the distinction here is a pretty easy one to get.
And so, I return to the article. It's going along well, I think. I think I've finally figured out the structure of the thing, and what I actually mean to say. And as silly as this article is, I suspect it will be more widely read than most of what I've written to this point - it might even be a thing that non-academic family and friends could plow their way through and be interested in - and that is satisfying. And I suppose I'll run the dishwasher, and have a glass of wine. Because at the end of the day, I'm in a good place. And I'm not going to let the haters get in the way of that.
4 years ago