The Complication of Relationships
People who you love tend to cause more pain than people who don’t. Sometimes it’s because we are more comfortable with those we love and we show each other our angry, spiteful sides. Other times, it is the love itself that is painful. Being disappointed by a parent, a close friend, or anyone who holds your trust, holds a greater weight and understandably. While a relationship where someone who is purposefully and consistently bringing you down warrants a re-evaluation, so do relationships where the lines are less clear-cut.
In my case, this relationship was with an immediate family member, who for the sake of privacy I will refer to as Jack. I knew he loved me, but Jack had shortcomings, which for a large part of my life caused disappointment, resentment, and self-esteem issues. I love my family very much, but I had a lot of misplaced feelings. I struggled with boundaries both interpersonally and within myself. Jack struggled with manic-bipolar disorder which contributed to his absence during large parts of my life. His mania and depressive episodes were something I quickly took on as my responsibility. Long before I reached adulthood, I tried to make sure Jack remained medicated, in treatment, working, and just overall healthy. When Jack would struggle, he’d shut me out. I remember joking that as all my friends were upset about being left on “read” over text by their crushes, I was too busy being left on “read” by my family. Although I coped through humor, being ignored by someone this fundamental to my life devastated me. When I began driving, I would regularly check Jack’s workplace to make sure he was making it to his job. To this day, he is unaware I did this.
When Jack would struggle, he caved within himself. He wouldn’t go to work, wouldn’t try to see me, and would ignore my desperate attempts to contact him. For a large part of my life, I let it ruin me. Why was I not good enough for my family? Why wasn’t I enough for him to want to help himself? Shouldn’t I make you want to get out of bed? I correlated his struggle with my worth and set myself up to face devastation every time he was unable to overcome his struggles.
I went away to college after high school, four hours away from home and from Jack. Being his caretaker could not reasonably be my role anymore. Jack’s sister made increased efforts to be there for him, and I still make sure to call him weekly. However, I had to surrender my daily workplace check-ins. There were also just fewer events for him to cancel on. Less times for me to be disappointed. But what else changed? I learned to separate him from me. His struggles are his struggles. When he can see me, I welcome it with open arms. But when he can’t or won’t, I work with my family and his treatment team to make sure he’s okay and then, I let go. His inability to see me doesn’t mean he wouldn’t if he could. It doesn’t mean I failed as his family or am unworthy of his love. I’ve lowered my expectations, which I know sounds cold or disconnected. In reality though, it is the best thing for this relationship. I still want the best for him and try to support him, but realizing his limitations has allowed for growth between us and for myself. I am able to let go of the resentment and self-loathing I felt when he would struggle. As his family, it of course still hurts to know he is having a hard time, but it’s different. Now that I do not try to be his caretaker, and do not let his struggles define my worth, I am able to empathize with him and support him better.
Some relationships are toxic, pure and simple. But others are very complex. Jack is a good person, whose struggles with Bipolar disorder have led him to cause pain in my life. By acknowledging his story as a separate entity from myself, and allowing more distance in our relationship, we are able to evade the toxicity we used to have.
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