Love and Duty: When They Intertwine and When One Shadows the Other

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A lot of my love comes from this sense of duty I have towards my people. It’s a very traditional and practical mode that I’ve both realized and come to terms with about myself. But then there’s the romantic in me that questions, “Do I love this person or do I feel obligated towards them?”

I didn’t realize this was a struggle of mine until fairly recently. How it makes sense the way I’ve been throughout my life. How dedicated and loyal I can be to people who I later understood were not good for me. And then as I became more and more self-aware, I learned how to create boundaries because as much as I felt this obligation towards them, I didn’t know if I loved them. And if I did, I didn’t know if they really loved me back.

It’s strange that I often find myself confusing both of these things, mostly because growing up, they came hand in hand for me. If I loved someone, I would care for them, I would sit into the night with their head on my shoulder and let them cry. I would wake up in dire hours of the night if they called to rant to me. I would bring medicine and soup if they were ill. I would support them through everything and give them all the love I had to offer. I pretty much tried to be everyone’s Lorelai Gilmore.

Here’s the problem with that: First, being that person for all of my friends and family is a big stretch of myself. Being young, I didn’t have much of an identity at that point. I never thought to look inside. And being a woman (because let’s be real, us women do this ALL the time), my identity then became a list of all the people I loved, and therefore, had an obligation towards. There was no self to uncover. I didn’t have time for that. I had duties to fulfill, people to heal.

You might guess why some of these relationships I had went south, really quickly. Well here’s the thing, when you do this for others, when you stretch your time for them and you do these small detailed things that often go unnoticed, the problem becomes that these gestures then become expected from you. When you are this person, you are then expected to always be this person and always make time to be this person for each and every person in your life. Sounds a tad exhausting, right? Especially because this is pre-self/spiritual discovery and taking out any toxic people from my life.

And another fun fact about me: I don’t like being told what to do. This part of me diluted a bit after my teenage years, but there still remains a part of me that rebels. I like doing these things for my people and though it was frustrating that over time, they became more and more unnoticed, I still felt this notion of duty that kept me going. It was the only when the expectations became more pronounced that led to this visceral reaction of mine.

What I didn’t like was when arguments were formed because I got busier with work or university. “Why aren’t you there for me anymore?” texts, followed by 10+ missed calls. It was getting ridiculous. But whose fault was this really? I mean, did I plant this on myself? Did giving all my time away to take care of everyone make them lose control when I wasn’t available as much as before? Or was I missing something about them that I was only perpetuating by babying them?

All these texts and calls from people who kept wanting things from me, but not one that ever really asked if I was doing okay. If I liked this new town I was living in. If I was enjoying university or what clubs I joined.

I don’t think these people are to blame. I mean, it’s always 50/50. In my past relationships, I avoided all talk about myself. I didn’t think I was interesting enough and then later, I was too much of a mess that I didn’t want to understand it. I didn’t even want to look at myself in the mirror.

But what happened when I became less available was that it gave me time to do just that, to look closely at myself. To realize that I was so broken and under a deep state of depression. That I was constantly anxious. That I was hurting everyone around me. That there was no way for me to be of help to others if I was so damaged myself.

And to those people in my life who needed me to give them more time, more love, more affection, more of myself, I hadn’t been helping them at all. I was merely a band-aid fix. I was helping them distract themselves from the root of the problem. I was trying to take everyone’s pain for myself so that I could deal with it and so that they didn’t have to. But by doing that, I was taking away what would indefinitely make them stronger and I was hiding from my own pain at the same time.

I don’t think my sense of duty is a bad thing. Actually, acts of service is just my love language. But for so long I had it all mixed up. I didn’t choose friends the right way. I felt obligated to everyone in my life even if they were toxic for me. I was hiding from my own pain and covering it up with everyone else’s. It was my own self-destruction as well as their’s. For a person who loves to problem solve and resolve things, it’s frustrating to know that I was just going in circles for so long.

As much as I want to be the superhero in everyone else’s lives, I understand now that I have to be the superhero of my own first. Everything you flourish into the world starts from within and I guess it took me a long time to learn that I can’t help anyone without helping myself. I can only love anyone as much as I love myself. And I can only heal others as much as I have healed me.

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losing wisdom, losing years and getting older

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I don’t know where to begin other than by saying things were going well, too well in fact, until everything fell apart completely. That’s how these things usually go, right? That’s at least what I assume, and so when they were going well, I was walking on eggshells. I was waiting for the madness that follows. But little did I know that it wasn’t necessarily life that was creating this destruction, it was my own footsteps. The ones that treaded so carefully that they never really accepted what was being given to them. They didn’t dare skip, flutter, or prance around, afraid that they’d trip and fall if they got too comfortable with joy.

I was falling for someone again, someone who triggered an old self of mine that I thought I had left behind. But then I began to wonder, are all of our past selves still buried deep inside somewhere, waiting for the right moment to show themselves? I’ve refrained from love for a long time now and I’ve gotten pretty good at it. I took that time for myself. To become who I am now. To learn who exactly I am. What exactly it is that I want from this lifetime. Who I want by my side. How to heal. How to accept love from family, friends, strangers.

So much work, so much progress, so much healing, and then it all fell away in a few weeks where suddenly I felt I was back at square one. Like I woke up one day and forgot who I was again. I keep beating myself up over it, wanting to fall back into old habits. I broke it off with the guy I was falling for. I started questioning whether I was even a writer because I hadn’t written in a month. He was starting to consume my thoughts, my heart, my time, and I didn’t want that. I missed my solitude. I missed my sanity.

I began living in a whirlpool of emotions. Every day was a rollercoaster ride. I was 17 again. Then I was 16. Then 15. Time was warped and everything was backwards. It was like I was losing years instead of getting older. I realized pretty quickly that any romantic partner I would have, no matter how kind and lovely they are, is going to trigger me. I wished so badly that I was back in the seat across from my counselor, but instead, I’m across the country from her. I feel like someone erased me and I’m angry for not catching them in the act. Seeking familiarity in unknown territory is not the easiest thing.

I’m 22 today and I feel lost, but not the same kind of lost I felt at 17, because this person that I am now has resources that the old me didn’t. I have tools. That wisdom I’ve gained over the years, all that self-work, all that progress isn’t gone. It just has to be reworked once I figure out who exactly I am again. I’m not sure how to go about relationships, mostly because that’s the only area of my life I haven’t really worked on. They say that when it’s right, things are different. But what if things are right and you become different? And not the good kind.

I don’t believe people when they say they care about me and I think that’s the root of it all. That maybe I can work on this with friendships before moving back into the love realm again. A lot of the times, I find that I break my own heart because I’m afraid someone else will break it if I don’t beat them to it. These footsteps that tread so carefully do so for a reason, but that reason doesn’t exist in every situation. It’s hard to remember that sometimes.

It’s been a wild life so far in Vancouver, but I feel ready to start writing here again. To start sharing all these experiences with you guys. Because none of us are alone in the way that we are or feel. And this journey of mine that I thought I’d be doing alone doesn’t feel so lonely anymore. I made friends pretty easily, I’m doing well at work, I’m finding my feet. I’m not so sure how to go about love yet, but who does at this age? I don’t think I’m ready, and maybe it took breaking my own heart to remind myself of that, but I will be someday.

Progress doesn’t evaporate, it just evolves and takes different forms to adapt as you continue to become. And I’ll leave off with something I remind myself every night.

The sun will rise and we will try again.

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stagnant peace: the fear of comfort

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The state I’m in is no longer one of anxiety, but more so just complete and utter exhaustion. Maybe it’s because I woke up at 2:00 am and couldn’t go back to bed. Maybe it’s because I then had to leave for work at 5:45 am. Or maybe it’s because I’m tired of my hope and the effort I make in having a positive outlook.

The problem with me is finding peace in the present moment. I feel this completion with my job and I’ve felt it for quite some time. It’s not just that it isn’t satisfying, it’s more that it has become draining for me because I feel the ending before it has arrived. There isn’t anything wrong with it. The people are so kind and loving. I’m good at what I do. It’s a healthy environment. But I just have this aching feeling that makes me want to do something more – something that adds value to my life and others’. I just haven’t been able to find any other work in the meanwhile – or let me correct myself, I haven’t heard back from any other place I’ve applied to.

I’m used to a lot of rejection, especially from the job market. The way my life typically works is that I’ll keep getting no’s from everywhere, but when I finally get a ‘yes’ back, it’ll be life changing. So I don’t necessarily feel the need to make decisions because mostly I’m led where I need to go and I do the work in-between to help myself get there. I know that what comes back to me is what is meant for me (as long as it feels right, too, of course). But I always get these feelings of completion or of new beginnings early, and then I become anxious in anticipation for what is to come – even though I know it is coming later.

Lately, it’s been a lot of me sending out resumes to everything that makes my heart race. Anything that I am curious of and want to learn. It’s a lot of not hearing back and when I do, it’s a kind “no”. And then it’s a lot of beating myself up over it.

What I want so badly is to be able to find peace in this moment I’m in, in the job I’m in, and trust that when the right thing comes – as it always does – it will make space for me, and me alone. But what my mind struggles to understand is how to find peace and comfort without feeling stuck where you are. I’m terrified that as soon as I get that peace, I’ll get too comfortable and I’ll become stagnant (even though that’s almost never the case with anyone). But nevertheless, it remains a very prominent fear of mine. This fear that peace will mean no further movement or growth.

So, I wonder, how do I learn to find peace in something temporary when I don’t know when it’ll come to an end?

You see, there’s this lack of preparation I feel in regards to the sort of peace I want to attain. I like doing things in advance. I like mental preparation as much as I like physical prep work. I like knowing so I can be ready. And the peace I am seeking doesn’t work like that. It just needs trust, and that’s something I hate saying that I struggle with. It feels like such an old part of me. It feels so common.

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