I was born under the star sign Aquarius. The Water Carrier. And it turned out to be the story of my life.
My dad died when I was not even a teenager. One of my mom’s friends made the mistake of telling me, an only child, “You will have to look after your mother from now on.”
I took her seriously. Very seriously. My childhood died that day. From then on, I looked out for my mom. I helped her understand a world that was sometimes too difficult and cruel for her to comprehend – until she died at the age of 84.
In my relationships with women, this pattern continued. I was the giver, the carer, the bearer, pouring myself emotionally into the relationship. The first time I was left drained and deserted. Literally deserted, as she walked out on me.
When I met B, I knew she had been emotionally deprived in childhood, abandoned to state care along with her siblings by a substance-dependent mother and an emotionally weak father. The carer in me took over again. I supported her through two suicide attempts, the suicide of a brother, the demands of two fetal alcohol syndrome siblings, a number of meltdowns, hospitalizations and deep depression. I lived through every moment of her breakdown at work and being declared unfit to ever work again, wiping away her tears while shedding my own later in solitude. When she later developed physical problems, including sometimes being unable to walk, I became a literal water carrier. And I do it with dedication and love, as is my nature.
My trait to care spills over to other relationships – with family, friends and colleagues. I will worry about those I care about, even if they are blissfully unaware of my concerns. I keep people encased in down in my heart, even if they are not in my life any more. But investing in others emotionally has to draw interest, and often I find myself empty-handed and bankrupt when considering my return on these investments.
It leaves me somewhat bitter, even although I know that most people are self-centered and self-serving and that I should not set any standards for emotional attachments. After all, my mother was the ultimate example of the doctrine, turn the other cheek. It is just sometimes when I stop to reflect, like now, that I feel the void of giving without receiving in turn.
“If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’”
~Rudyard Kipling, If
As all who are taking care of physically ill people can testify, along with those who are mental pillars of support for those with emotional needs, caregiver burnout is very real. Even if the needy is someone you love dearly.
It is at times when my heart and nerve and sinew tell me that the water urn is empty, that I wonder, “Who cares for the carers?” Is it just “pie in the sky when you die?”