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A Meaningful Life
Q&A for Teens

A Meaningful Life

Balancing taking care of ourselves with taking care of others.

by

Dear Lauren,

I'm tired
Tired of being me
Tired of the constant struggle
Tired of the battle
I'm just so tired
Of waking up in the morning
Of going to sleep at night
Of living in this world
Just to be here
Living
What's the point?
I'm just tired
Tired of everything
Tired of just trying to be
I committed to myself
To giving life a go
So, I'm tired
And I guess I've no other option
Than to be tired.

Dear Lauren,

How do I balance when to extend myself and help others versus when not to?

Lauren Roth

Lauren Roth's Answer

Interestingly, I received both your questions via email on the same day. I think they’re both the same question which deserve the same answer.

True, poem-writer, your question is much more concerning. Being tired of living and tired of life is a serious issue, and my very first and most important recommendation to you is to get yourself a good, consistent therapist. You should talk to someone once a week, create a relationship with him or her, and have them help you through your wanting to give up on living. They might prescribe anti-depressant medications, in addition to the talk therapy you’ll engage in with them.

And my answer to the second question will help you, too.

The balance between doing what you love and what makes you feel really alive and excited, and then using that nurtured self to give to others is the central mission of a human being. When we hit that sweet spot of balancing taking care of ourselves and then using that nurtured self to take care of others, that’s when we feel most fulfilled and happiest. If we tilt the balance too much one way or the other, if we take care of ourselves but don’t give to others, or if we give to others but neglect self-care, that’s when we start to feel icky in lots of bad ways.

Poem-writer, the therapist that you choose will probably help you figure out what is blocking you from either self-care, giving to others, or both, or maybe will help you navigate a better balance between the two.

Question-writer #2, let me tell you a story.

I actually travelled to Denver, Colorado and to Columbus, Ohio to address just that question with two different audiences of women. And the funny thing is, I wasn’t sure if I were balancing self-care with giving to others properly, just by the mere fact of my going!

I was called from Denver by Esti, “Hi, Lauren! Can you please come speak at our women’s conference this year? You’ve said no for so many years…maybe this year you’ll come?”

I thought about it, realized my situation really did allow for me to travel to Colorado, and I agreed. “Send me the info via email, ok?” I requested.

Half an hour later, I got another phone call, “Hi, Lauren! I just spoke to Esti and I wanted to know if you’d speak at our women’s conference this year?”

I said, “Yes, yes, I just spoke to Esti. I told her I’ll come! Just send me the info via email.”

So…I was off to Denver! I figured it would be restorative and refreshing to go away for two days. It wouldn’t be too overwhelming to leave my scheduled events (work, family, etc.) behind for two days—I’d be giving to others, and nourishing myself, as well. Two days of just sitting on planes, and some speaking thrown in. A nice, balanced life.

Well! Two weeks later, I received two emails—from two different communities – one in Denver and one in Columbus! I had assumed the two women were calling from the same conference, but they weren’t!

Then the question became: do I cancel on the second community to keep my life more balanced, or do I just go, even though I committed by mistake?

I’m sure you’re committed to many things, some of which you don’t enjoy, and some of which you do.

I know when I help with certain organizations, I feel so enlivened after I’ve given my time. And I know when I help with certain groups, I just feel drained afterwards.

Living a healthy and meaningful life means always weighing those options, trying to figure out: will this take care of me, or will this count as giving to others? I know I need a balance of both. Where am I on the scale right now? Am I too self-involved? Then I’d better give more. Am I giving a lot and not taking care of myself enough? Then I’d better say no so I can stay balanced and healthy.

I ended up going to Columbus, and even though travelling twice in two weeks was physically exhausting and a little taxing on my family, I felt the giving was the right thing to do. I felt I had chosen correctly.

That’s not to say I always feel I choose properly. Once, someone asked me to have six girls sleep over for Shabbos and the weekend. I didn’t feel I had the physical or mental energy, nor the time, to say yes because I had so many other things I had agreed to do. But I said yes because I thought it was the right thing to do. The girls needed a good place to go. In retrospect, I think I should have asked them to find another place for them, but obviously, they were meant to have been under my care, even though I think, in retrospect, I should have said no.

What’s my point? I hope you always, constantly ask yourself the question you asked me. “What’s the proper balance between self-care and caring for others?” I think you have to weigh those two options in your mind at every turn, assessing and reassessing so that you don’t fall into the trap of selfishness on the one hand, or overwhelming yourself on the other, both of which make you a wrung-out, unhappy, unfulfilled person.

Sometimes I choose correctly and sometimes I don’t, but I always try my hardest to ask myself the question before I act.

I have another interesting example. Someone I know asked, “Can five of us come and stay with you from Monday through Thursday, and two more of us come Wednesday and Thursday?” For some people, their guest areas are set up not in their living spaces, and having seven people stay over won’t interfere with their family life. Other people might feel that having seven people stay over would enhance their family’s experiences. Other people just, plainly and simply, think it’s kindness say yes, and would want to do that kindness.

I felt that having all those people in my family’s space for almost a week wouldn’t be good for my being able to calmly take care of my family, and wouldn’t enhance my family’s experience. So I called a few friends who have guest spaces in areas separate from their family’s area. None of those places were available, so I thought of a solution which would make everyone happy. I have a very good friend who is divorced. She has only one young child living at home with her in a very large house. I suggested that the seven people rent her house for the few days, give my friend some much appreciated cash, and I invited my friend and her child to come stay with us for that time!

My family will really be enhanced by having that friend with us, my friend will be enhanced by the extra money, and the people who need a place will have the space they need. Sometimes, you can do kindness for others while also practicing self-care—and that definitely keeps the balance intact.

For your most fulfilled, meaningful life, ask yourself your question at every turn. “Am I taking care of myself enough? Am I taking care of others enough? How’s my balance between self-care and using that cared-for self to give to others?”

And if you need a therapist to help you calibrate that balance, by all means, seek one out.

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The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 2

(2) Mark, February 16, 2017 4:25 PM

Much appreciated

As a psychiatrist in Los Angeles, I appreciated your nuanced discussion of handling stress and depression with medication and / or therapy. Words and empathy are the scalpel of the skilled therapist, and restore health; although unlike surgery, therapy can take a bit longer for the desired effects, so patience is required.

Depression is a medical condition, and words used correctly can heal, in the same way that words use incorrectly or maliciously can cut deeply and injure. Like some other medical conditions, sometimes medications are required because other treatments are not sufficient. Changing diet and exercise may treat some people's hypertension or high cholesterol but may not be enough to treat someone else's, and they will require medication to prevent being harmed by these medical conditions. Likewise, some people have severe enough depression, that they may require medications temporarily until the right words and remedies are found, or they may need medications permanently because no other remedies can be found.

(1) Nancy, February 15, 2017 7:18 PM

Q&A for teens of ALL ages! :-)

Dear Lauren Roth,
I certainly wish you had been around when I was an adolescent. However, I am grateful to be reading your column right now. My teen years are in the rear view mirror, but your advice is timeless.

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