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Waste-Not Wednesday: Personal Energy

Okay, this isn't my typical environmental tip for helping out the planet.  Instead, it's a reminder to myself not to expend energy on people who don't want/need my help.

I met and befriended an elderly man, R, who comes to the spaghetti dinner I help with each Monday.  He's in his late seventies and lives alone in the house he shared with his parents until they died.  R is a hoarder and won't let me into his house.  Over the past couple years I've arranged for plumbers to go to his house to make repairs and they were so upset about his living conditions they called me back and begged me to call social services.  I didn't because I knew any intervention would send R into a panic.  He'd rather live the way he is than have anyone interfere with his independence.  I've tried hard to respect his decisions.

I last saw R a month ago when he came to the dinner and told me about his health problems.  R is frighteningly thin and in very poor health but refuses my offers to take him to the doctor.  He refused again that night, and I had to respect his decision.  Over the next several weeks, I called his home but never got an answer.  Since R doesn't spend much time at home (it makes him anxious so he takes the bus downtown and doesn't return until the night), I convinced myself he wasn't home when I called and that nothing was wrong.

This morning the director of the spaghetti dinner let me know other people were starting to worry about R, too, and that maybe we should drive over there since he hadn't shown up on Monday.  I said I'd take care of it.  I called R's house about ten times throughout the morning but he never answered.  

I told myself I should drive over there but I couldn't bear to discover my worst fear.

Instead, I called the police.  Ten minutes later the officer called me back to tell me R was in his house, angry about the police being there, and would I please come down.

I drove to R's house where R berated me, over and over, for calling the police.  Over and over I explained my worry, the worry of other volunteers, and apologized for frightening him. 

Still, R thought it was necessary to start in on me one more time.  This time I cut him short.  I said, "I told you I was worried, I told you I was sorry, and I told you it wouldn't happen again."  I also said I hoped he felt better, and then got in my car and drove away.

We all make choices. I've made mine and R has made his, and now that he's been crystal clear about my role in his choices, I know what I'll choose in the future. 

I'm smart enough to know that choice won't be any easier, though.

                                

Comments

( 30 comments — Leave a comment )
jennifer_d_g
Mar. 5th, 2008 06:02 pm (UTC)
I don't think you had a choice about what you needed to do, Tracy. I'm not sure what your worst fear was, but I can imagine. If your worst fear came to fruition - seeing or experiencing something horrific - it would affect you the rest of your life.

It makes sense that your worries about R would prompt you to call the police instead of going there yourself. I'm just sorry for you that you were put in such a position.
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jbknowles
Mar. 5th, 2008 06:50 pm (UTC)
HUGS!!! What a difficult situation.
tracyworld
Mar. 5th, 2008 07:18 pm (UTC)
Thank you, Jo. It truly is difficult but R gave me a little more guidance on how to proceed in the future so I'll let him go his way since that's all he has left at this point.
robinellen
Mar. 5th, 2008 07:10 pm (UTC)
Wow, that's a toughie! It's very hard when someone clearly needs help but also clearly doesn't want it. :(

But I think you did the right thing, and even though R doesn't appreciate it, I do! You're a good person, and I'm proud to call you my friend!
tracyworld
Mar. 5th, 2008 07:20 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Robin. I know I did the right thing today and I also learned a valuable lesson about how to proceed from this point forward. He doesn't want any interference and I'm not going to provide any beyond what he asks for.
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artistq
Mar. 5th, 2008 07:12 pm (UTC)
So sorry. Of course it made perfect sense that all of you were worried.
And since R couldn't say it, I will say it for him, "thank you Tracy".
tracyworld
Mar. 5th, 2008 07:22 pm (UTC)
You're so right that R couldn't thank me himself; he's all wrapped up in fear and anger, and sometimes I lose sight of that. I appreciate your kind words and support, Laura.
marybethkelsey
Mar. 5th, 2008 07:33 pm (UTC)
I think you did the absolute right thing, and I so admire how you look out for him. It sounds to me as though this gentleman may have a mental illness, or perhaps the early signs of dementia.
tracyworld
Mar. 6th, 2008 01:36 pm (UTC)
You're right about the mental illness. Some of the stuff he said to me yesterday told me he was suspicious of my motives and was filtering everything through his paranoia and negativity. And because of those traits, he's completely isolated which, of course, makes it all worse.

Thanks for validating my efforts, MaryBeth.
lorrainemt
Mar. 5th, 2008 10:31 pm (UTC)
Tracy, you have a big heart. And I hope you didn't take his anger personally. It does sound like he has some sort of illness, dementia maybe?
Also, I truly believe that compassion is never wasted. Every time we reach out to help someone, we are acting from a place where there really are no boundaries. Your kindness touches everyone, Tracy.

tracyworld
Mar. 6th, 2008 01:41 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much, Lorraine. I try hard not to take it personally but sometimes (like yesterday), I feel overwhelmed. And I absolutely agree with you that reaching out to help others is how we cross boundaries and render them nonexistent. I want to continue doing that but in a way that's all right for everyone concerned. (Could it be one of my BIG lessons?!) :)
ext_38421
Mar. 5th, 2008 10:49 pm (UTC)
I do feel bad for R, like others have pointed out, he undoubtedly has some mental health issues. I also feel bad for you having to go through this worry and then anger from him. I'm glad you shared this experience with us and I feel like I learned something from it but at the same time, like you said, it probably won't make those types of choices any easier in the future.

You did everything you could've and should've. Everything else was up to him.
tracyworld
Mar. 6th, 2008 01:45 pm (UTC)
"Everything else was up to him."

Exactly.

I don't regret what I did because it came from a good place, and I don't regret his anger because it helped define my future actions. These interactions with R over the years have been a good "lesson" for Zebu and Wildebeest because they see how all that anger and negativity can shape a life into something so devoid of joy. I don't think I've ever known anyone so miserable, and it's frightening to see it up close.
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tracyworld
Mar. 6th, 2008 01:46 pm (UTC)
Takes one to know one, Lizzy.

Thank you very much.
pixiechick_sw
Mar. 6th, 2008 12:50 am (UTC)
Oh, I'm sorry! I probably would have done the same things you did. I'm sorry it turned out that way. :(
tracyworld
Mar. 6th, 2008 01:47 pm (UTC)
I'm sorry, too. But also glad because it helped clarified my role in R's life. Thank you for standing with me on this one, Sarah.
de_scribes
Mar. 6th, 2008 01:30 am (UTC)
I think you did the right thing and I'd have done it too. I'm sorry you got the reaction you did, especially since you were just trying to help. You are like an angel for him. I admire you.
tracyworld
Mar. 6th, 2008 01:49 pm (UTC)
R's reaction wasn't a surprise. I knew his feelings about outside intervention but I wasn't willing to put myself in that position.

As for being an angel, I think I'm just another human being trying to make a tiny bit of difference. And that's something you know all about, De.
lizjonesbooks
Mar. 6th, 2008 02:44 pm (UTC)
Ohhh Tracy. Good for you. I'm glad he's safe-- we have a similar situation here, and I know how hard that is. (((hugs)))
tracyworld
Mar. 6th, 2008 05:15 pm (UTC)
So how do you handle your situation? Is it a balancing act or have you reached some sort of understanding about how far you can go to help?

(Thanks for the hugs and I'm sending some your way, too).
seaheidi
Mar. 6th, 2008 02:56 pm (UTC)
what a great subject for this post--i admire you trying to help this man, but some people are so set in their ways and it sounds like he's suffering from mental problems (hoarding, anxiety etc.) that is so nice of you to offer support and kindness, but smart of you not to let it affect your life too much.
tracyworld
Mar. 6th, 2008 05:16 pm (UTC)
I'm trying to get smarter about protecting myself in all this and I think I'm getting better at it. Until next time, that is. :)

Thanks for the support, Heidi.
happyingreen
Mar. 6th, 2008 03:38 pm (UTC)
I immediately thought of my mom when I read this post, almost to the point of crying as she rejected help but I was fastidious in getting her some. Now she's at the middle stage of Alzhiemer's. You are like this man's family. Now you know though which doors of the heart are open and which are closed. I feel sorry for him.
tracyworld
Mar. 6th, 2008 05:18 pm (UTC)
I'm so sorry about your mother's Alzheimer's, and sorry this post brought up painful memories. R doesn't have dementia but has serious emotional and mental issues. I hurt for him, too, and really wonder about the life he's led that brought him to this point.
( 30 comments — Leave a comment )

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a.k.a. Tracy Abell
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