Unconditional Love

It vacillated between heavy rain and a dreary drizzle yesterday, so we weren’t able to do most of the yard work on our goal list. However, more meaningful than that was that we spent time together and had a lovely visit from my dad. He came for a couple hours in the morning and just sat and chatted with us. We caught up because we haven’t seen him since Christmastime. He still works full-time and has been in the process of both a long-distance partial personal move (to a secondary property) and a major business move, relocating the health center he directs to an entirely new building. Thus, the summation of factors from his busy schedule and my relative inability to travel to see him and poor health has made it a near moonshot to get our schedules to overlap with a workable time for in-person socializing. However, I made this conjecture in ignorance, which has resulted in a self-sabotaging error: My dad doesn’t care if I’m not feeling well. That verbiage makes it sound like he doesn’t show empathy, compassion, or sympathy if I’m very sick or in terrible pain, but this is not the meaning I intend by “(he) doesn’t care.” Instead, I mean that my dad holds no high expectations of the preference to engage in vigorous activities together (hikes or long walks, for example), nor does he need me to act enthusiastic and animated during a sit-down discussion. I learned yesterday that he just wants to spend time with me; therefore, if I’m sick on the couch, or holding my stomach in agony, he can still come visit and keep me company. He even went as far to say that he can come and just read on his iPad, simply affording my comfort and pain-relief with his distracting presence, smiles my way, and hugs.

I carry so much self-inflicted anxiety about these imagined expectations that I need to “impress” my parents or put on some sort if I’m-fine-and-will-be-an-animated-social-host front when I see them. Despite the fact that they’ve reassured me a couple times that they know I deal with severe chronic illness so it’s totally fine in their eyes if I’m barely hanging on when they come see me, I haven’t bought into it before or believed it. My dad is like me in many ways and that means he’s sometimes just up for a really short get-together anyway. Therefore, between his “come as you are”, no expectation of me “entertaining” him allowance and the reality that a visit isn’t epic anyway, I can start to correct my incorrect mindset that I have to be feeling well to see him. Of course, this is contingent on him coming to see me rather than me needing to withstand the stress and physical jarring of traveling, but it opens up far more opportunities to spend time together. Essentially, most times he’d offer to stop over at my house, I could take advantage of that opportunity and see him. If I’m feeling well, all the better; we can take a nice walk or have a more lively, engaging conversation where I’m more comfortable and able to actively participate and shower him with obvious displays of love and excitement over his visit. On the other hand, when I’m in physical pain or sick, he can still come and merely sit with me on the couch and do most of the talking or comforting while I rest and soak it in, or just hang out in the same shared space doing his own this independently.

There will still be some times, I’m sure, that I’m genuinely too sick or feel too crappy to make a visit appealing, but I think these situations will be the rarer exceptions rather than the norm that they’ve been up to this point. As it has been, at least in the past few years, any time I am hurting or battling illness symptoms, I invariably decline a visit because I usually find social interactions (even with family) to be exhausting and require abundant energy to don an animated “hostess’ cap” even when I feel well, so when I’m as acutely sick or hurt as I am in a flare-up or injury, it’s so insurmountable daunting and unappealing to consider even the briefest of visits. I just want to be left alone to rest and cannot fathom feigning enthusiasm and feeling “okay” in those situations. Adding to this this fact that social interactions are so depleting to me and thus unworkable when I’m really sick (which is, unfortunately, far too often) was my own derived misunderstanding that my parents need or expect me to be healthy, vibrant, and demonstratively emotive when we spend time together.

I can only guess that I developed this assumption from my innate personality perfectionist trait. It is true that my parents had very high expectations of me when I was young, and I always felt it to be my duty to impress them, both to fulfill what I understood to be their expectations and to optimize my chances of them loving me (my kid brain thought I’d be more lovable or deserving of their love and attention if I was impressive or “successful” (and I think maybe my adult brain has held into this idea)). However, now that I’m an adult in my own right, my parents just want me to be happy and feel good. I’m not sure whether this represents a change on their end (relaxing the expectations) or growth in understanding on mine (learning that they love me no matter what I do or don’t accomplish or how I “perform”). Either way, the result is that I can start removing this self-imposed or imagined pressure to be a champion at everything and be doing “great” all the time.

I’m close enough with my parents that I’m relatively transparent about most things, by which I mean I usually share relatively honestly about how badly I’m feeling physically. I do still sugarcoat how poorly I’m doing psychologically if it’s really horrendous (and sometimes equally extend this minimization of symptoms of physical sickness. However, by and large, they are privy to the issues I’m facing both on the chronic and levels. Accordingly, it shouldn’t be a surprise to them, or “disappointment”, if we get together and they see that yes, I’m indeed seriously struggling. Moreover, I think I need to learn that although they may feel badly for me when this is the case, they won’t be “disappointed” in me, see me as a failure, or love me any less. Although intellectually I can see that these three fears are crazy, they are truly my long-held (though flawed) beliefs. As such, I think it will take a while to unlearn and then relearn that my parents just want me to be okay and they love me no matter what. I guess that’s why I continually assert that I’m a work in progress.

I’m really glad that my dad cane for some much-needed catch-up time. He’s in the process of eventually moving quite far from here. Although we only live about thirty minutes apart right now, we rarely see one another, which I’ve owned to be largely my fault. While I’m thrilled for him that he’s found a location and home to retire to, I don’t want him to go. I found myself really, really sad to the point of tears and sleepless nights when I realized how much I’ll miss him if he’s even further away. That realization caused me to wake up and take advantage of the gift of his company while he’s relatively close by. I feel like such a dummy loser for rarely seeing him. It’s amazing how pacifying and restorative it felt to just have him come sit on the couch with me a few hours yesterday and comfort me when I felt sick and swap stories and ideas about our recent lives. I felt a little better physically afterwards and I don’t think it was just from a suddenly magically healing two hours on the couch. Instead, I think the improvements in my mood and the love I received helped slightly lessen my physical pain in a sort of reverse cycle I usually fight against (where physical pain puts me in a bad mood). Family time made me feel a little less sick because I was a whole lot happier.


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