Thursday, February 27, 2014

the black hole of need

When I was a senior in high school, I was sitting in physics class one day when a girl I didn't really know started to cry. She was sitting a couple of seats back and a couple of rows over from me, and although she was probably making at least some effort to be quiet, it was soon apparent to everyone in the class that she was upset.

So. This was physics class. The male-female ratio was at least 4:1, maybe higher. I was, for better or worse, the female sitting closest to the front of the class, and the teacher--one of my all-time favorites-- looked at me with pleading in his eyes. Please, do something. Don't make me deal with a hysterical female. I dutifully got up, went back to her desk, and led her to the girl's restroom.

Where she proceeded to continue to fall apart, more loudly and with more abandon. She had only moved to town a few months ago, she had no friends, she had been thinking about suicide. I was raised to be helpful, and my religious beliefs told me that I should help those in need, and I sincerely did want to help. So I took her (we'll call her Lydia) under my wing. I introduced her to my friends, we talked on the phone, I tried to get her involved in activities, I told her about our church (because at that time in my life, I believed church/faith/Christianity was/were the answer to everything) and prayed for her.

I had seen my parents take on various troubled people in similar circumstances, and after a few months, the person would heal from whatever trauma they were dealing with and they would get better. They would move on, grateful to my parents for helping them out. But Lydia wasn't like that. She was probably mentally ill, although we certainly didn't talk about those things back then, let alone deal with them. She didn't get better.

She continued to be difficult and needy and prone to drama. None of my friends really cared for her, but I didn't know how to back off. She seemed to me to be a black hole of need--no matter how much I poured into her, she needed more. I ended up spending a major portion of my senior year of high school hanging out with someone I didn't really like and didn't really know what to do with, because I felt like I should. I should love her, I should help her. I only escaped because the next fall I went off to college, while she stayed home and went to the junior college.

In hindsight, I probably did every single thing wrong that you could do in that situation. I had no boundaries, with Lydia or anyone else, no way to slow down her long, draining assault on my resources, and no way to get any perspective on a different way of doing things. I ended up feeling resentful and burned out. Honestly, I'm not sure I'd do much better now. After Lydia and several other similar experiences over the years, now I solve the problem by just not getting personally involved with black-hole people. We donate money to various organizations in our town that deal with them. Is that enough?

I'm not sure. Probably not. But I've been thinking about this quite a bit recently. I've decided at the very least that it's OK to channel my desire to help into an avenue that suits my particular situation. That, actually, was part of my reasoning behind becoming a tax prep volunteer. It was something contained, structured, but with a definite tangible benefit, that I could do without getting sucked into a situation with infinite needs.

This originally had a different ending, but I decided to make that into its own post. To be continued.

1 comment:

  1. Of course I could shed Lydia like a second skin, but you can't do that if it's a family member, as some of you know. I know less about this topic and far less intimately than some of you.