Living in Two Worlds

2015 December 8

Loneliness has become a hot topic recently with research studies highlighting its biological dangers.  Too often, unfortunately, loneliness is only talked about as if it is an individual phenomenon apart from social roles.  If you are caring for someone, you may be more prone to loneliness because you simultaneously live in two contradictory worlds, making the experience of connecting with others all the more challenging.  Here are just a few of the ways in which your multiple roles may complicate connection with others:

  • The rhythm of our two worlds is never in sync. Outsiders describe their world as hectic—driving to and from one event to another, endless work obligations, running errands, getting food on the table, child care responsibilities, vacations, hobbies and on and on. Outsiders are always on the go. Hectic, no doubt. But the pace of the outside world is the same—always fast. Slowing down is considered a weakness. Caregivers, on the other hand, must not only operate in an outside world defined by speed and movement, but we must also adjust to the nuanced pace of care. When caring for someone we love, fast is out of tune. Care requires calmness, softness, lowered voices, stillness, and intimate spaces. Our pace isn’t defined by how fast we can get something done, but by a need to slow the world down. To remember a smile on our loved one’s face. To appreciate the rhythm of a loved one’s breathing pattern. To hold tight and freeze frame a moment of shared laughter that we know is fleeting. In a world beyond where people constantly move by each other, not toward one another, is it any surprise that we may feel others are moving too fast to slow down enough to notice and allow us into their lives?
  • Vulnerability and invincibility do not mix well. In our world of caregiving, emotion is sacred, not profane. Tears and silence cannot lie. We are near our loved ones out of love, not because of requirement. In the outside world, performing interest is required because of our roles. Expressions indicating that we are doing anything other than “fine” and “doing well” may be greeted with fear, uncertainty, and accusations of unprofessionalism. In this world, leadership means being invincible and consistent, disallowing anything other than certainty. In the world of care, leadership means being authentic enough to be vulnerable and full of doubt, and reaching out to others to share challenges. Revealing, not hiding, our innermost thoughts and feelings is necessary to our caregiving role. It’s not a surprise then that many of us find ourselves incapable of connecting with those who don’t allow struggle to be an important part of relationships. When others don’t allow the challenges of life to be a source of commonality, it’s harder to find motivation to develop closeness.
  • Strategy and authenticity rarely meet. Strategic planning, efficiency, and division of labor do not make sense in our caregiver world. Caregivers don’t have the choice of being specialists and dividing labor according to expertise. We must always be generalists. Generalists navigate the unpredictability of each moment at home, and then later at work, we must be able to talk in the language of the future, abstract numbers, and deadlines. At home, our attention cannot be divided. We don’t have the luxury of multitasking and strategically planning years into the future. Our planning is strategic about one thing and one thing only: how to get ourselves and our loved into the next hour, not the next decade. In our caregiving world, relationships matter for relationship sake, not because being near someone might advance our career or enhance our reputation. Is it any surprise that connection may become more complicated when we can’t help but look at people for who they are before us, not for how they will help us accomplish our goals?

Ask anyone who speaks two languages and they will tell you that they experience life differently. Caregivers too, must speak multiple languages, but like anyone learning a new language, words don’t come when you want. Phrases and experiences do not often translate.  There is nothing wrong with us.  Living in two worlds often makes it challenging to feel totally at home in any one world. Loneliness is not a sign of disgrace but proof of our willingness to navigate multiple worlds.  Whereas others define themselves in one world only—we are different because we’re willing to risk participating in oftentimes contradictory worlds, even when we know there’s always something lost and gained in translation.


5 Responses leave one →
  1. December 10, 2015

    This is beautiful and completely true. Thank you for this gem of a post.

  2. Marie Heinz permalink
    December 25, 2015

    It’s exactly what I’m experiencing but I haven’t been able to find a way to process and express these feelings. This is beautifully written and makes me feel less alone. thank you

  3. December 26, 2015

    Marie, So glad our words have helped you feel less alone. Thank you for participating in the Unprepared Caregiver Community. You are not alone here.

  4. Suzy Drummond permalink
    February 3, 2016

    This was so comforting and empowering. I have been caregiving my mom in a fractured family. It has been ruthless and trying to keep the focus on what brings joy to mom and to me has been a challenge. I am currently not with her but I don’t think that makes any of this easier.

  5. February 5, 2016

    Thanks, Suzy. You’re so right, care becomes ever more complicated because it is played out in the midst of unfolding life–fractured families, guilt, fear, loss . . .

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