This post was written for 1,000 voices for compassion. Though I had another post written I realized this belonged in this series. It’s on learning to put myself first which might sound like the least compassionate thing to do but I needed to learn the difference between doing because I believe it the right thing to do and truly want to make a corner of the world a better place; and doing because I have the inner resources to help both me and others. Me——that neglected person who was always wailing about “not being worthy;” “not deserving all that I had.”
Compassion begins at home. With me. It took me too many years to realize this. Self—compassion was the most difficult thing for me to learn. It took moving to a place I knew two summer residents to do it in. It wasn’t easy to learn and I wasn’t aware that this was a big part of my journey.
Most of my life I thought my purpose on earth was doing for others. If I put myself second life would be great. If I gave of myself karma would give back.
I still believe in doing for others and in karma. But I know I can’t expect external rewards. And more than that I know I wanted people to like me, and that was my way of ensuring likeability.
In each life we must do something drastic to feel alive, I think.
I did something out of character. I moved. The move was expected. Buying a house just a month after selling my Upper West Side coop was so out of character it frightened even me.
I wasn’t thinking of meeting people then. I had always (except for the horrible Junior High years which I take full responsibility for) made friends quickly. That came easier than eating a Black & White cookie downed with a vanilla egg cream for me.
North Myrtle Beach (NMB), South Carolina is beautiful. Very beautiful except for the road leading into town, Route 17, and that has its own charm if you like beach stores, many beach stores, tobacco shops, firearms stores, and many restaurants–more of them good than you would deem to believe.
I walked for at least three hours a day. Soon I was intimately acquainted with most of NMB. A house behind my friends townhouse was for sale. I had never ever thought of buying a house before. That house would have been perfect.
But I wasn’t going to buy until I sold my apartment. I didn’t know if I wanted to live in NMB. I’m a liberal New York Jew; most of the residents are conservative Southern Christians.
I had always assumed I would end up in Miami where I had friends and family. As my family has been there since the 1940’s they know a lot of people. It was the obvious and best choice.
But the housing market was imploding in 2008 and the recession was beginning. The foreclosure rate in Miami was incredible. Everybody said that meant great opportunities and they were probably right but I didn’t want to hitch my future to a condo building that might go bust.
And I was weary. Lord, so bone tired weary. My brain was hurting from thinking. All my life I had over thought everything. And I had just found out about nonverbal learning disorder (NLD.) I was trying to learn all about it.
Compassion——something the people who did the research on NLD seemed to lack. They said adults with NLD who hadn’t been treated lacked insight, were depressed and suicidal. They said a lot more horrible things about NLD in general.
I couldn’t find help. I had always thought of myself as a fraud. A girl who did well because I was pretty and had a good personality or likability quotient.
I wasn’t a girl anymore; gained a remarkable amount of weight despite walking so much and eating little; and was no longer sure I had a good personality or any likability quotient.
Compassion——I had it in spades for others; but for me? I was in my 50’s, healthy and thought my life was over. I was looking for one person, one doctor to help me. Ha!
I went back to the doctor who first suspected I had learning disabilities when I was 37 and asked why he never told me it was NLD. “Labels aren’t important.” I was angry. He had never been a person to fall into cliches and now….
I wrote to my old therapist begging for help. She never wrote back.
Now I see a bazillion paths I could have taken but then I was so busy being convinced my life was over, nobody would ever want to know me, and I should take to my bed I froze and didn’t think clearly.
There was a house I passed almost daily. Something about it called to me but it was too pricey despite it being an old house with no particular charm.
Long story short: I bought the house and renovated it until I couldn’t anymore.
In the depths of the recession help was plentiful and materials cheaper than normal. (The house after I had the outside painted turquoise.)
I was in love with the second floor deck. I could be a good recluse there. The front yard is very different now.
The backyard before I painted. I decked it and did the garden——compassion.
There’s an entire side yard I can’t do justice to.
I quickly learned I wasn’t content in a self——contained paradise. I so need people. New York might have been over stimulating but I was only lonely when I wanted to be.
I didn’t know that when I bought this house I would begin to truly learn compassion.
Compassion does begin at home. The home that resides in
your my brain.
I learned to be gentle to myself. To still the self-critical thoughts that raced through my head. I had been practicing cognitive therapy on myself for years but this was something more. Something almost mystical.
My writing took a back seat to the renovation and then NLD. I tried helping people. Me, a licensed social worker knew that you first had to help yourself and then you could only help people to the extent that they wanted to be helped whether they consciously knew it or not.
I hadn’t planned on becoming immersed in the world of NLD. It was one of my many interests. Made more important because I didn’t learn about it until I was 56.
I hadn’t planned on becoming immersed in NLD Facebook groups. The founder of the largest group asked me to moderate it. Big big big mistake.
It was in the early days of Facebook and people——usually men——would be so nasty that many women left. I tried to be nice but it took me a long time to learn how to truly convey emotion and authority on the Internet. Often I came off as the bitch from hell.
People would generally start fighting just as I was preparing to go outside and take a walk. I didn’t have enough self compassion to just walk away. I felt like a prison guard.
Meanwhile I made one set of friends. Wal Mart clothes with diamond jewelry. They lived in the country club developments and let you know it at every turn. I lived just off Fifth Avenue and on Riverside Drive. I come from the Gold Coast of Long Island and had never known people to act so rich and spoiled. Even when they were living off credit. Especially then.
The second set of friends I made were liberal like me. But I was too learn that joint beliefs don’t make great friendships. And never ever refer to my house often as “your little house.” Little house, little mind I came to realize she meant. Maybe I was acting like a typical NLD’er——impulsive, lacking critical thinking depth and more but I doubt it. I never should have told them about it.
NLD became my identity when it was one little thing about me.
Then I went to a lunch and everything changed. I met people, most of whom I don’t share political beliefs with nor religion but very much share values. And the core values are:
DOING GOOD FOR OTHERS
And none of these things can be done without loving yourself first. As you can’t save another person in an airplane without putting on your oxygen mask first you must love yourself.
For the first time in my life I feel truly settled.
I am home.