They’d walk by, leisurely pushing baby strollers enjoying the late summer nights. Some would run by. Neighbors would walk within sight, entering and exiting my view only long enough to get their mail. Some would furiously drive out of their driveway in reverse, late for something with someone, somewhere.
I couldn’t believe no one ever noticed me. I was looking at them through the bedroom window where my mother’s rented hospital bed had been placed. They didn’t notice me. Day after day, hour after hour, though the window next to Mom’s bed, I stared. They didn’t look back. None of them. I stared and stared and stared and yet, I was invisible.
I wanted someone to notice me. I wanted to scream through the bedroom window, “Hey, you! Yes, you! Do you know what’s happening in here! Do you know? Do you care?” But that scene never played out. And I never yelled out. And people never looked in. They had lives to live. Places to go. Calories to burn. Mail to get. Leisure to enjoy. Lunches to make. Errands to run. Appointments to make. As a caregiver, I didn’t.
As caregivers, we look at the world from the inside out. Most people, they see the world from the outside in.
I watched others. They lived their lives.
I overheard their conversations. They talked of upcoming holidays and family reunions.
They exercised. I sat without anywhere to go.
They had to get somewhere on time. I had too much time with my thoughts.
For caregivers, our inside-out view of the world can make us feel invisible, alone, isolated, and yes, like outsiders living in a world of insiders. So what you ask? Feeling invisible to the rest of the world has real consequences. Here are just a few:
1. The longer we are alone with our thoughts, the more distorted our thoughts become. The more I watched others live their lives, the more I wondered if the people I watched were purposefully avoiding me. I really did convince myself that the people on our street, our neighbors, and even passerbys, purposively didn’t want to look through the window to notice me, my dying mother, and my father.
Left to my own thoughts, watching others from the inside out, I had convinced myself that they didn’t notice us because they must have not liked us. And then I convinced myself that they were avoiding us. And then I convinced myself that that they didn’t care. Eventually, I became more and more convinced that since the outside world stopped caring about me, I should stop caring about them.
2. The more removed from others we feel, the more reasons we find to stay away from others. This doesn’t make sense, right? You would think I would have wanted social companionship so I could turn my staring into conversing. But that’s not what happens. The more we feel separated from others, the more reasons we find not to get out of the house and spend time with others. When friends called, I’d tell them I didn’t feel like going out or it wasn’t a good day. They wouldn’t understand my situation, I had convinced myself. I was different. They had places to go and people to see and errands to run and appointments to make. I no longer did. What would I say to them? What would we have in common? The more time I spent in silence watching others, the more I convinced myself I shouldn’t spend time with others.
3. The more removed you feel from others, the more strange it feels to be in the company of others. When I did leave my inside view to venture into the world to run errands or get food for the family, I convinced myself others knew I was different.
When trying to order a sandwich, I stuttered. The words wouldn’t come out smoothly. When trying to come up with small talk to talk with the cashier, I didn’t know what to say. And I didn’t want to talk about the weather. I didn’t want to fake it anymore. I didn’t have the energy to act interested in the latest television show or the latest news story. I was convinced others knew that I was an outsider. Everything and everyone seemed to move so fast. I felt like I was moving in slow motion, awkwardly off a beat from others’ rhythms. So I kept my head down and became more purposeful in my errands, trying to avoid conversations and small talk with others. I had to get home, I convinced myself, where I was wanted. Where I was needed. Where I was an insider.
As caregivers, we don’t see the world the way others do. We see the world inside out and so it’s no surprise we feel alone and apart from others. But, we must attempt to keep our social stamina, even when we don’t feel like it. Especially when we don’t feel like it, being with others can help keep us from distorting our own thoughts in the privacy of our own mind.
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