You gave me life but it belongs to me now
April 26, 2011 10:25 PM   Subscribe

How do I stop feeling responsible to my family for keeping myself safe and guitly for taking risks?

I'm terrified of dying, not because of dying itself but because of how guitly I would feel for the affect it would have on my family, especially my mother. Ever since her you get brother died when I was 5, she has been overprotective of my brother and I. I grew up constantly anxious of how close to death myself or others might be. I'm now i'n my late 20s and still avoid physically risky activities because I would feel horrible to leave my mother unable to cope. I want to live my life though! How do I deal with this? Should I talk to her about it? We are very close. Last night I had a vision of myself lying in a pool of my own blood and the scariest part of it was looking at my mum's face knowing I was leaving her. I haven't been able to relax since. I want her permission, or my permission, to do what I want with the life she gave me and not feel like I'm responsible for guarding her from my death. Help?
posted by Chrysalis to Human Relations (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
It shouldn't be "but it belongs to me now," but "and it belongs to" you now. Your life is your own, no matter it's provenance. You need no excuses to claim it for yourself.
posted by emhutchinson at 10:35 PM on April 26, 2011

Response by poster: I should add that after her brother died, she was a mess - she decided she could no longer drive, that her memory didn't work, that she couldn't socialize etc. It's taken her 20 years to start functioning again. When we we kids she was convinced that something terrible could happen to us every time we left the house. Everything was too dangerous. I am by nature very adventurous and the guilt is tearing me up.
posted by Chrysalis at 10:36 PM on April 26, 2011

What kind of risks are you talking about? Its not strange or unusual to want to avoid situations that put your life at risk or to be concerned about how your untimely death would affect your loved ones.
posted by missmagenta at 10:42 PM on April 26, 2011

I think your Mom needs help, and it doesn't sound like you've had a good example of mature adulthood in your life, so maybe you too. I think this is why a lot of people go skydiving, for what it's worth...exposure therapy.

Think of yourself: you don't want to be a basket case when serious but inevitable life changes occur, because they will. Your Mom won't be around forever. You'll probably be happier in the long run if you work this stuff out before these things happen. Late 20s is fine to be morbid and emo, but too young to be thinking about physical, actual, regular-people death.
posted by rhizome at 10:58 PM on April 26, 2011

You've been living 20+ years with the "guilt" that you will die someday. You will actually die someday, and it doesn't necessarily have to do with "physically risky activities."

Your mother acts the way she does because she gets emotional benefit from it. My guess is: she gets continuous attention on how she's feeling; acknowledgement of her child dying and not needing to move on, even after 20 years (basically, she can play the "poor me" card); and, in general, has excused herself from having to consider anyone else. Like her children.

Don't get sucked into this. I'll go out on a limb here and assume that your problem isn't that you want to climb Everest or K2 and need to break it to your mother; your problem is that you want to live your life without a continuous cloying presence making you feel guilty about living your normal life without first thinking about her. Overprotective = selfish. (I have much experience in this; feel free to memail me.)
posted by sfkiddo at 10:58 PM on April 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You could die of an aneurysm reading this comment. Blood vessel in your brain goes *POP* out of nowhere, done.

Maybe you get run over by a truck saving a toddler who wandered into the street. Maybe a drunk sucker punches you, you fall and crack your skull and die.

Maybe you die in the arms of your beloved, both of you in your sleep at 97, after one last fuck.

But William Shatner would tell you Live life like you're gonna die. Because you're gonna die. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you're gonna die.

If your uncle's death hadn't been such an emotional blow to her, your mom would want you to go out and live your life and fail at things and get bashed up and fucked over and see wondrous shit and make out with that monstrous hottie from Belgium you met at the party and develop those creases and scars and character traits that make life interesting.

You sitting around, doing nothing terribly adventurous, waiting around until you do finally die, hoping that keeping your head low will stave off the inevitable as long as possible, is not what she'd want for you if she could see past her trauma.

And Heaven forefend she live a couple more decades before she dies ahead of you. Because then you will resent her memory and look back at everything you didn't do and blame her.

Go find a (reasonable) cliff to jump off, shout "I LOVE YOU MOM!" & start running. The details will come rushing up at you as you flap your arms madly.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 11:01 PM on April 26, 2011 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Unless you die, you cannot help but live. Wear your seatbelt and drive! You owe your family a life well-lived. Enjoy yourself and make good choices. Even if all your family fear your death, you must live while you are here. Live well while you are young. Death is always as close as the next breath. Live well while you age. You cannot control their fear of your death, but your death will still occur. Your mum will heartbroken when you die if you die before she does of course; life is sometimes cruel. Put on a helmet and join the fray. Your life is about you.
posted by bebrave! at 11:03 PM on April 26, 2011

Seconding that you really have to provide more information what what risks you're considering, because if you just tell us you're worried how your death will affect your very close mother, well...frankly I'd pat you on the back and tell you you're a wonderfully considerate son.

Are we talking like, I don't want to enlist during a shooting war? or like, I have a panic attack at the thought of crossing the street?
posted by d. z. wang at 11:13 PM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'd hazard a guess that most people's mothers are scared of losing them. Same goes for their sons, brothers, sisters, etc. It's part of life and love. Get on with it.
posted by Diag at 11:20 PM on April 26, 2011

Best answer: The problem really is that it's down to your mother if she does not seek help with her debilitating grief. Nothing you can do about it.

And yes, she'd probably be a mess if anything happened to you, too. And so she should, all parents who care about their children would.

But as adult it would be down to her to seek help and get to a point where she can live again. And as adult it is down to you to go and live your life to the full - give yourself permission to do so.
posted by koahiatamadl at 11:27 PM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Clarification - I'm talking about everyday stuff like surfing, horseriding, skiing, whatever... She has never asked me not to do these things but I get anxious knowing that she likely wouldn't cope if something went wrong
posted by Chrysalis at 3:09 AM on April 27, 2011

ChrysalisPoster: Clarification - I'm talking about everyday stuff like surfing, horseriding, skiing, whatever...

You are misdirecting your anxiety. If reading the statistics will make you feel better, read them. Presumably you live somewhere, walk places, take car trips. You are more likely to die in a house fire than on horse back, and in a car accident than in a skiing accident.

My mother's best friend married a guy who loved motorcycles. They rode all the time, everywhere. She stepped off a curb and was literally killed by a bus. Her other best fiend had a low level flu, and in a freak accident of nature, dropped dead from complications four hours after seeing her doctor. My grandfather died of a heart attack on a treadmill during a stress test.

You cannot protect yourself from the things you encounter living even an ordinary life. The point is that you actually do not expose yourself to statistically more risk living an extraordinary one.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:17 AM on April 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

The question is, do you enjoy protecting your mom from the hypothetical harm you statistically unlikely absence would cause more than you enjoy doing those somewhat risky activities?
posted by telstar at 5:33 AM on April 27, 2011

Nthing that your mom is, perhaps subconsciously, playing games that she doesn't have a right to play. It's your life. I can understand not doing things like riding motorcycles if you have children depending on you, but not swimming because you might drown or hit your head - that's life in bubble wrap, and it will make everyone involved crazy.

Also, it may sound weird or callous, but while no parent wants to lose a child, ever, there is a difference between losing one at a very young age vs. losing an adult child. If you're in your 20s or 30s and lose a toddler, there is very little life experience about losing ANYONE close to you, generally, and there is usually a sense of guilt associated with it - you can beat yourself up about not watching them closely enough, or not noticing symptoms, etc. Losing an adult child when you're in your 40s, 50s, or on up - obviously it's still very difficult, but there is usually more perspective about it.
posted by randomkeystrike at 5:47 AM on April 27, 2011

I sort of feel this also (and frankly, expect the people I care about to feel it, too), though not in the same unhealthy way you seem to. At least I don't think my way is unhealthy.

So my way of thinking about isn't that I have a responsibility not to ride horses or ski, or be in cars. Instead, I think I have a responsibility to to do these somewhat dangerous things with all reasonable precaution and responsibility. Sure, I can ride horses, but it would be irresponsible of me to ride a horse that was not manageable and relatively tame since I'm not much of a horsewoman. Of course I go in cars, but I owe it to my family to wear a seatbelt, even in cabs, even in the backseat, even just in the parking lot. I owe it to my family to follow-up on health issues I've had and to get the appropriate regular healthcare and tests. After all, who would spend night and day taking care of me if I got sick?

Where I tend to fail at this is with eating -- I do think I owe it to the people who care about me to keep healthy, but right now I am eating pancakes and sausage. You can't do everything.

A couple of years ago, ON MY MOM"S BIRTHDAY, I did a stupid thing that could easily have resulted in my drowning in the ocean. And yeah, as I'm sitting in the boat that rescued me and then the police car that took me home, I'm thinking of what a terrible thing I almost did to my mom. But the solution here in my mind is not "So I must not go snorkeling anymore. Ever, ever, ever." but "How stupid of me to not have had a buddy. II should have taken OFF my goggles when I came up to really see where I was. I should have surfaced more often." All safety precautions I knew about and didn't do. Those were the irresponsible things that I should rightly feel guilty about IMO, not the snorkeling in the first place.

Anyway, if you can shift your thinking from things you have a responsibility to do, to having a responsibility to do things safely, I think it's a small shift that can make a big difference.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 5:52 AM on April 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

>>Clarification - I'm talking about everyday stuff like surfing, horseriding, skiing, whatever... She has never asked me not to do these things but I get anxious knowing that she likely wouldn't cope if something went wrong

I think your approach is wrong here. Of course a child's death is brutal for a mother. But why are you worrying about dying from hopping on a horse or a pair of skis? That's just extremely unlikely to happen.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:56 AM on April 27, 2011

I am terrified of my children dying. Absolutely terrified. They, however, do not know that. They bound into the ocean, fearless, while I silently pray to Poseidon to leave them alone and not let them get sucked into a rip tide. They ride roller coasters while I sit at the entrance to the ride, waiting (I get severe vertigo so I can't ride with them) and hoping that they won't fall off the ride and die. They ride their bikes as fast as they can down the hill, they ride horses (and even jump with them, god help me!), they careen and career through life and I put a huge smile on my face and say, "That was AWESOME!" because I want them to live.

Of course your mother has fears. She just didn't keep them to herself like she should have. Go live your life. Ride horses and surf. If it makes you feel better, don't tell her what you're doing until you're safe at home. Don't be reckless (wear your seatbelt, for heaven's sake, and don't drive drunk, etc.) but please, just live your life. Your mother's mental health is not your responsibility.
posted by cooker girl at 10:00 AM on April 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

I'm gonna latch onto this quote, "She has never asked me not to do these things but I get anxious knowing that she likely wouldn't cope if something went wrong..."

I think there is some individual work you need to do for yourself with a therapist.

How much of this is being projected from you and your fears? A good therapist will help you find out.
posted by calgirl at 8:36 PM on April 27, 2011

To frame it a different way way: being adventurous == being active. Generally speaking, being active is good for one's health and longevity, which is the ultimate goal here.
posted by oceano at 8:36 PM on April 27, 2011

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