My life has always been surrounded by last. And by that I mean, I have always seemed to be last in things. The last to know secrets (probably because I suck at keeping them), the last to try something new, the last to understand myself, the last kid picked in gym class ( even the very large non athletic kid was called by name, before me...I wasn't even looked at in the choosing, the last person that had to pick me because I was the only one left, would just roll their eyes and flail their arm in my general direction and grunt incoherently at me), the last to know better, oh, and yes I always put myself last before everyone else as well....It's been a running theme with me.
I am a nurturer. I nurture. It's my thing. I like to make others feel welcome. I like to make others happy. I like to be liked. I like to help others. It isn't a bad thing, to nurture but it can be harmful if and when I forget that I also need to take care of myself. And I do forget, often.
I have always been this way. I put other's feelings before mine. I give so many parts of myself that forget which ones went where. I overextend my capabilities. I run around like a chicken with it's head cut off trying to accomplish everything at the same time and end up getting absolutely nothing done. I am the mother figure, the sister figure, the friend figure, and the amature therapist figure. I am the person to call to when sad, the person to go to when someone scratches their knee, the person to eat a tub of Ben and Jerry's and watch sappy movies with when your heart gets broken. The first one to offer condolences and understanding and support. I want to heal the world and spread positivity around like the common cold. Only with less snot and usage of tissues. I just want to help....and that can be a problem.
Sometimes, my wanting to help gets in the way of things I need to do for myself. I tend to think ,incorrectly, that my issues can be dealt with later and if I were a completely healthy individual, that might be true. Except I am not and a lot of times I forget that. I forget that I have mental illness and things go great, when they are going great except when they don't and then I am in trouble.
Even as a child, I felt the need to please my parents more than myself. I would go out of my way to be nice to others. I would lay down my self esteem to make others feel less bad about themselves. I would try my darndest to be what everyone expected of me even when I knew what they expected of me was impossible. I tried, I really did. I even tried to wear the "right" clothes to fit in, but it was all to no avail. They looked weird on me and they itched. I just wanted so desperately be anything but picked last.
But the truth was far more obvious to everyone but myself. I was/am too clumsy to excel at sports (ahem...gym class). I was too slow to run. Too blind to throw anything remotely round in the air and be expected to catch it. I was too weak to wrestle or lift things. I was a complete failure at anything related to anything physical...I still am.
I was awkward within my own skin. Not because I was awkward per sey, but because I was always trying to be someone I wasn't. Trying to fit in. Trying my hardest not to be picked last for one more stupid thing. I grew up hating being last and yet I was fundamentally unable to achieve any other position. I never received Valentines or Sweetest Day gifts even though, I so wished I would get one of those stupid candy grams like all of the other girls in class, so I wouldn't be last at that as well. And of course, they never let me forget it. Couldn't I just fit in enough to get one ridiculous lollipop with a dumb heart shaped note attached to it?....I never got one...I hate candy grams....and Sweetest Day.
And since I sucked at sports, and at being lucky enough to get Valentines from pimple faced teenagers, or at wearing the proper clothing that was demanded I torture myself with, I turned to something I excelled at. Being nice. Well, in truth I was always too nice and that is probably why a lot of people made fun of me or took advantage of my niceness. I offered them friendship. I was patient and kind and non judgy. I listened and agreed bobbing my head up and down until I looked like some silly bobble head doll stuck to the dash of an eighties station wagon....I did what the teachers asked me to. I did what my parents said. I was a good girl. My siblings detested it and called me the "Goody Two Shoes" of the family. Even today my brother insists I am the "Golden Child". He doesn't say it in passing. He says it with a snicker and a tad hint of judgment. And so it went, the names such as brown noser, Goody Goody, suck up...ect.
The truth is, none of the people that called me these things knew me very well or at least they didn't understand me. What looks like just nurturing and passive niceness isn't just really that. It is a sign of great pain. Pain and anguish of someone who was an outcast, an oddity, and a weirdo. Pain of someone who secretly thought she was broken and damaged and unlikable. Pain of someone with zero self esteem and the mental scars to prove it. A sign of pain that I was this way because I know what it is like to always be picked last and I didn't want anyone else to feel the way I felt. I know how painful it is to be judged harshly and found lacking in all departments. Especially, when it was myself doing the harshest of judgments. Growing up with a mental illness altered my compassion to the point that I have way to much of it. A negative word spoken in passing to me was a crisis. I just wanted to be liked and accepted and it cut so deeply when I wasn't. It still does. I had become a people pleaser to off set the guilt of my OCD and it's horrid symptoms that made me "odd" and "weird". I became a people pleaser to hide the shame that I couldn't be the things others thought I should be. I became like that because I am opposed to anyone feeling like the girl in gym class no one wants on their team and no one even knows her name or cares enough to actually say it. I became like that because being ignored and ridiculed and laughed at hurts and it shouldn't happen. I became like that because I want everyone to feel understood and liked because many times I felt neither of those things. I became like that because even though, I sat at the lunch table all by myself for two whole years because no one wanted to sit near me, I am a good person. A nice person. A very compassionate person. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. There is nothing wrong with wanting other people to feel accepted and welcomed and understood. There is nothing wrong with being nice.
But then it changed into a more defined level. It seemed being nice wasn't enough anymore. Now I had to start putting others before me as well. If someone needed something from me, I would carve out all of my time and energy to give it to them. I would bend over backwards to be helpful. And it made me feel good. It made me feel like I was worth something. It made me feel like I was finally good enough, because when someone needed help, I wasn't picked last. I finally felt like a good person because others finally treated me like I was a good person. And I thought that being a good person, a nice person, a nurturer meant that I had to give my all to help them with their issues and just ignore all of the problems I was going through. Until everything around me crashed because I was unable to juggle everyone else's issues and all of mine at the same time.
Then it hit me. Even though all of those years I hated being last, maybe I thought deep down that is where I belonged. That I didn't deserve first billing or to be focused on. Maybe, I secretly felt last was all I could be. In the back of the line. Last to be picked. Last to be liked. Last to be accepted. After all, I had been putting myself there all along. Behind everyone else's problems. Behind everyone else's enjoyment. I had been using their problems as a mask to hide my own. Because it was easier and safer to try and fix their issues and pretend mine didn't exist. Mine weren't as grievous and detrimental if I refused to look at them because I was conviently "too busy" to do so. It never occurred to me that my problems could be just as important as everyone else's.
There are no rules in being a nurturer. There is nothing that says I have to bleed myself dry to help others. In fact, if I constantly give my all, then I can't help anyone, now can I? I can help others and put some problems before my own but sometimes I have to actually put myself first and that is an okay thing to do. In fact, it is the healthy thing to do, and I need to be healthy to be helpful.
I was writing a comment to a friend on her blog about a similar issue when this saying popped into my mind.
Nurturers are rarely the first in line to get the largest bowl of soup. They always think someone else may need it more, even when their stomach is growling the loudest.
And it's true. We often think of others before ourselves even when everything going on with us is falling down around our heads. We can't just keep running on empty helping everyone else all of the time, we have to be cognizant of what is going on with ourselves as well. We can't just nurture everyone around us, we have to remember to nurture ourselves too.
I have come to realize that my idea on what being a nurturer is was flawed. I had forgotten that the most important thing a nice person should remember is that we have to be nice to ourselves too. That in order to help others we have to remember to help ourselves, even when it seems inconvenient or obtruse. Even when we are less comfortable looking at our own problems and would rather concentrate on other people's problems. We have to be kind and good to ourselves and fix our own problems too.
Nurturers are the oak trees of the forest. Strong and comforting. Providing support to all of the other trees around us and if we don't take care of the termite problem in our own trunks and only focus on the termites of others, we lose the ability to support not only all of the other trees around us, but ourselves as well. We will simply, collapse under our own weight...
Being a nurturer doesn't mean giving all of yourself all of the time. It means giving bits of yourself to those who need it when you are able to. It means being there for someone but also being yourself with that someone and sometimes it means saving the bits of yourself back for you and not putting yourself last.