I have a relative who fell during the ice storm in Alabama. She was in the hospital, then a rehabilitation center. She’s now home but confined to bed and has to have people with her all the time.
This would be a stressful situation under any circumstances, but my poor relative is so engrossed in her own suffering that she is unintentionally chasing off all those who want to help her. If you wash her dishes, she’ll send you to the grocery store. If you bring her groceries, she’ll demand that you take out her garbage. Nothing is ever good enough. And the emphasis in any discussion must be about her condition.
Coincidentally, a friend of mine just had major surgery, which has also put her out of commission. When I visited her, she told me the story of her surgery, but then she wanted to know about me. The next time I went to see her, she remembered the gift I had brought her and told me how much she’d enjoyed it.
Now I sympathize with my relative. She is in pain, she’s bored, and she’s scared. That’s enough to make any of us selfish and more than a little whiny. And I can be selfish and whiny with much less provocation. But there are a couple of ways to deal when our self-absorption threatens to isolate us.
One is to simply express gratitude. Once when I had a stomach virus, a colleague brought me chicken soup, sherbet, and ice cream (for when I was better). Although I could not yet eat any of that food, I was so grateful that I instantly felt not only emotionally but physically better.
The second way is to think of others. By ignoring your pain for just long enough to care about someone else’s well-being, you can often lift your own spirits.
It’s hard when we feel the world pressing down on us. But one sure way to feel better is to get outside yourself, even if just for a few seconds.