Buried un­der the weight of care­giv­ing.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Opinion -

I HAVE been car­ing for my sick mother for 12 years now. She is not bedrid­den but she suf­fers from some sort of chronic pain.

I have sac­ri­ficed so much for the fam­ily and I feel like I am the main vic­tim in this un­for­tu­nate state of af­fairs. Al­though my mum cooks for the fam­ily, I have to han­dle the rest of the house­hold chores. I take care of the gro­cery shop­ping too.

And be­cause I have to take care of my mum, I couldn’t leave home for bet­ter prospects in the big city. So here I am, work­ing part-time in a small com­pany. My job is bor­ing. I have no so­cial life. I feel so cut off from so­ci­ety.

I have al­ways dreamed of work­ing abroad but now at the age of 37, I have noth­ing to show. I do not own a house or even a car. I do not even have a full-time job.

I hope to meet some­one spe­cial al­though some­times I feel it is too late in life and I’ve missed my chance for love.

I have a job in­ter­view com­ing up. I am rid­dled with guilt. If I leave home to work in the city, I feel my mum will be crushed al­though she tells me she wants me to go seek my for­tune else­where.

I can­not think clearly any­more. This may be my last chance for a bet­ter life. If I miss this op­por­tu­nity, I may re­gret it for the rest of my life. I am also over­whelmed by feel­ings of guilt at the thought of leav­ing my mother.

Last chance

You are look­ing af­ter your mum, do­ing the housework ev­ery day, and tak­ing care of the fam­ily. But why are you do­ing this alone? Why aren’t the other fam­ily mem­bers do­ing their share? I don’t see why the en­tire burden should fall on you.

As for your needs, you say you want sev­eral things: a so­cial life, per­haps a hus­band and a fam­ily of your own, an op­por­tu­nity for more ex­cit­ing work, and some fi­nan­cial se­cu­rity.

You state th­ese wishes as if you’re the most self­ish beast in na­ture but they are such nat­u­ral as­pi­ra­tions. Re­ally, you are dream­ing of a very nor­mal life. So please, don’t feel guilty.

You have a job in­ter­view com­ing up which you think will of­fer an op­por­tu­nity that you crave. This seems like a great prospect which of­fers pos­i­tive change and the cir­cum­stances will help mo­ti­vate you.

Now let’s get down to the nuts and bolts: how should you go about it? As you have been in this dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion for 12 years, it is go­ing to take some ef­fort to change. Peo­ple aren’t quick to re­lieve oth­ers of the burden of housework. Af­ter all, it’s bor­ing and it’s so much eas­ier if some­one else does it.

Also, there is a big ob­sta­cle to over­come, which is your own feel­ings of guilt.

You should lis­ten to your mum: she has al­ready told you to take this chance. I sus­pect you are not tak­ing her ad­vice be­cause you have some­how de­cided that look­ing af­ter ev­ery­one is your job. It is not.

In a fam­ily, ev­ery­one has their share of re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. You say your mum suf­fers from chronic pain, yet she cooks. This is an ex­cel­lent ex­am­ple of how ev­ery­one should con­trib­ute.

I sug­gest you call a fam­ily meet­ing and dis­cuss how you are go­ing to make changes. You have two ba­sic op­tions: ei­ther the housework is di­vided among the fam­ily or you pay some­one to do the work. You might also com­bine the two.

For ex­am­ple, you might agree ev­ery­one does their own laun­dry, that you all take turns to shop for gro­ceries, but that you hire a weekly cleaner to do the floors.

What­ever ar­range­ments you make, you have to be very clear about one thing: th­ese changes start im­me­di­ately and they are per­ma­nent. They don’t rely on whether you get the dream job or not. You are not the fam­ily maid. You’ve done more than your fair share for 12 years; enough is enough.

Hope­fully, your fam­ily will jump on this and make the changes sim­ple. How­ever, peo­ple tend to be very re­sis­tant to change, es­pe­cially if it means they have to clean floors and do the laun­dry. You may face sulk­ing and com­plaints which might fuel your feel­ings of guilt.

Your mum is your best ally in this. She has al­ready said you need to pur­sue your per­sonal needs. A quiet chat with her about pre­sent­ing a united front be­fore the fam­ily con­fer­ence might be sen­si­ble.

Now, about the job, the so­cial life and the per­sonal fi­nances. You need an ac­tion plan that helps you pur­sue your goals in a sen­si­ble, or­gan­ised way.

First, you can take ad­van­tage of all the free ed­u­ca­tion that is around. You did not say what you do, but there are lots of free talks of­fered by schools and busi­nesses. Th­ese are listed in The Star, so keep an eye open.

There are also free col­lege cour­ses on­line from all over the world, in­clud­ing the Univer­sity of Ox­ford and Har­vard Univer­sity.

The two eas­i­est ways to get started is ei­ther to visit www.open­cul­ture.com/freeon­linecourses or if you have an Ap­ple phone, down­load the iTunesU app. For a huge list, Google MOOC (mas­sive open on­line course) or visit www.mooc-list.com.

Start lis­ten­ing to the lec­tures to­day and know that you are im­prov­ing your skills and knowl­edge.

Next, talk to your HR man­ager or find a ca­reer ad­vi­sor. Find out what you need to do to im­prove your em­ploy­a­bil­ity. Make a one, five- and 10-year plan. As you im­prove your ca­reer, you will im­prove your fi­nances. So this is a two-for-one step.

Fi­nally, your so­cial and love life. Ba­si­cally, you need to widen your so­cial cir­cle. We are so­cial an­i­mals, so hav­ing friends will help you be hap­pier. Hav­ing lots of friends also means you have a bet­ter chance of meet­ing some­one who in­ter­ests you ro­man­ti­cally.

You say you feel it may be too late for love. Be­lieve me, it’s ab­so­lutely not! There are many peo­ple who marry young, find that they don’t suit, and then di­vorce. At 37, you will have plenty of op­por­tu­nity to meet sin­gle and newly sin­gle peo­ple.

As soon as you’ve fin­ished read­ing this, call an old friend from school, and go and have cof­fee. Then when you go to work, pick some­one you’d like to know bet­ter, and sug­gest go­ing to the cof­fee shop for lunch. You’re feel­ing iso­lated, so th­ese are easy ways to get into the habit of so­cial­is­ing again.

As soon as your fi­nances per­mit, join a club or take a class. Pick some­thing you like to do, in or­der to meet new peo­ple who share your likes. For ex­am­ple, you can join a bird-watch­ing club, take a cooking class, learn to ar­range flow­ers – they are all fun things to do. The changes you make will help you feel hap­pier very soon.

One caveat: please do not vol­un­teer for char­ity. I know this sounds strange but the rea­son I say this is be­cause you tell me you’re feel­ing list­less, guilty and tired. Th­ese are all signs of de­pres­sion.

I think you are prob­a­bly not in a fit state to start get­ting into sit­u­a­tions where you have to deal with or­phans, abused an­i­mals and other sad cases. So please, fo­cus on happy ac­tiv­i­ties. You’ve done the 12 years; you de­serve per­sonal time.

About the symp­toms of de­pres­sion I see in your let­ter. Hope­fully they will all clear as you make changes to your life. How­ever, if you find your­self de­pressed for more than two weeks, please get as­sessed. And if you ever have the slight­est thought of hurt­ing your­self, then get help im­me­di­ately. Go to the near­est public hos­pi­tal for sess­ment and ask to speak to a men­tal health fes­sional.

The changes you’ll make will help you be

hap­pier very soon.

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