Visiting my family gets me down
Every time I see them I’m depressed for a week
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First, thank you for being persistent with your crazy wisdom, and for not giving up. I enjoy your column.
I need a new way to think about this situation, and I’m hoping you can help. Here is a bit of background, in case it helps.
I live in a separate state from my family, and visit about five or six times per year. My relationship with my parents was dicey for a long time, but it is now more even, as I started simultaneously sticking up for myself more, and caring about their approval less. I’m in my mid-30s now. After a wandering employment history (two different careers), I am now underemployed in some ways, but happy to have a job, and try to be useful. Married, have some pets that I adore. I have a history of depression but am managing for the most part. No children because I spent a long time not feeling good, and now that I feel more OK, I don’t want to ruin it (not that I dislike children, I just want some internal peace and am too old to have a bit of peace and then have children).
My problem is that every time I visit my family, I feel like shit for three to four days afterward. I don’t feel bad while I’m there (anymore). In fact, things are better than they’ve ever been. But this shitty feeling, it is on the inside, and it takes me days to shake it off, even when I try to talk myself into a better place. I try to get at exactly what this feeling is about, and the most I can tell is that I feel like a loser when I’m there. It’s kind of an extension of the more pervasive feeling I have that I somehow just don’t fit in, that there is something slightly “off” about me.
The strange thing is, my parents aren’t all that successful or well adjusted. If anything, I’m slightly more adjusted than they are, unless I just have no objectivity and am fooling myself. My sister and her husband are more successful in that they both have careers and a more standard life, by American standards. When I ask myself if I’m jealous, I am not so much envious of their standard lives as I am of their seeming feeling of “fitting in.” In other words, I don’t necessarily want what they have (my parents and my sibling), but I want to feel like they feel. This is true not only of my family, but of society in general—I don’t really admire the lifestyle I’m told I should want, but I want the part of the dream that has me feeling good about myself. It’s just, for some reason, that this part that I lack is more pronounced when I’m with my family.
Anyway, I do not want to stop seeing my family. They’re basically good people. But this does affect my willingness to visit for extended periods, since it is really inconvenient to feel shitty for a week afterward. I’m embarrassed that I still feel this way well into my 30s. Is there anything I can do about this, or is this just how it is?
Your family is never going to be the family you wish you had and they are never going to give you the feeling you wish they would give you and you are never going to fit in the way you wish you fit in and the sooner you realize this and get angry about it and shout it out and bang your fists on the floor and scream at the gods about it and grieve it and fully accept it and let it go the sooner you can be at peace with yourself and your gifts and the way you are loved now.
The way you are now is the way you are loved. Those who love you do not love this other person you wish you were. They do not even know who that person is. The way you are now is the way you are loved.
You think there is some other person you might be if you were only different but even if she showed up on your doorstep you wouldn’t know who she is because she would be lacking the full code of you. There is only one person who has the full code of you. There is only one person who can be loved as you and it is your job to keep being that person.
Why are you sad after being with your family? Because you start pretending to be somebody else because you think somebody else deserves their love. And then you lose your bearings. It takes days to put yourself back together. So remember:
It is you whom the people who love you love. They don’t need you to pretend. When you pretend they just wait for you to come back.
(Here is one reason I am a writer and not a therapist: If I were a therapist I would start making stuff up just to have something new to say. So I will not say for the umpteenth time to read Feeling Good by Dr. David Burns even though you probably should read it anyway because it seems to help with things like this.)
To sense that your family does not really love or approve of you hurts but it doesn’t mean you’re supposed to be somebody else. It means you’re supposed to bear that sadness with dignity; it means you’re supposed to bear that loss as a wise person would, knowing it’s just the tension between your capacity for dreaming and your capacity for acceptance.
Some people are fine because they don’t think about the infinite possibilities but some of us do think about the infinite possibilities which would be fine if that were all we did but then we also think about how much it sucks that these infinite possibilities do not all come to fruition although if you think about it there must be a natural cap on the number of infinite possibilities that are brought into being just as there must be a finite number of partners at Goldman Sachs.
You are here to do the one job no one else can do and that job is to fulfill the destiny written on your skin in a place you cannot read without turning inside out. Take several deep breaths. Stop what you are doing.
What is the source of your sadness?
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