To Care or Not to Care

Sometimes I fantasize about not caring. As someone who cares probably just a little too much, the thought of scaling down my number of concerns seems liberating.  To clarify, I don’t mean not feeling because I actually think not feeling feels awful.  For the purposes of this conversation, not caring and not feeling are two different things.  Sure, you could argue that feelings are the basis of caring and thus in order to not care you have to not feel (which I’ve already established feels lousy), but I don’t like this circuitous logic because it kills my daydream.

Also, this post is not about giving up on life; rather it’s about wishing that life was served to us in more manageable doses.  The subtext of this conversation is that oftentimes people care a lot, even when they are at their limit, which is what sometimes makes life feel so difficult and defeating. If you are someone who feels as though you no longer care about life or living, then please call 911 or the suicide hotline at 1 (800) 273-8255.  Although we hope you feel less alone here on our site, realistically this is just a collection of articles and cannot take the place of a doctor, therapist, or other mental health professional during times of crisis.

Now that I’ve explained what this post is not about, I will tell you what it is about – this bubble.

my bubbleIn this bubble are the few things I truly want to care about when life gets hard:

  1. The emotional and physical wellbeing of my family (in which I’ll include myself, my family, my good friends, and my dog, Pepper)
  2. Survival

When turmoil threatens these few things, it feels like a huge nuisance to have to care about other less important concerns like laundry, school lunches, work, bills, other people’s opinions, my own reputation, etc.  It might sound like I have a bad attitude, but in truth things like stress and depression can drain us of the energy and attention we need to focus on multiple demands.

Ideally, one could put a pause on external stressors and focus only on the immediate problems at hand, but life just doesn’t work this way. When you get thrown into the deep end, what bubbles up to the surface is a mix of your current problems along with typical every day cares and concerns.

First come the basic needs, logistics, and upkeep.

layer 1

 

Then there are concerns about other people’s feelings, opinions, expectations and judgments.

Layer 2

 

Finally there are thoughts and feelings about yourself.

 

layer 3

Arg! Too many bubbles sucking up all the oxygen!  Seriously, am I the only one who’s ever wished they could ignore some of these things?  I mean, at least for a little while.  Think about it, you could make selfish decisions, phone it in at work, blow off your social obligations, abandon roles that no longer seem to fit, and stay in bed until noon.

Those of you who’ve experienced illness, death, or other hardship probably know what I mean. In times of high stress, it feels like you should be able to limit your scope of caring to the absolute essentials. Mercifully, you are often granted a grace period when a hardship occurs, but this period is way (way way) too short.

Although certain normalities and routines can provide welcome distraction in stressful times, others feel unworthy of your attention when your heart and mind exist someplace else. Saying, “I don’t care, I can only worry about what’s in my bubble,”  would be so tempting if it weren’t for the inevitability of ensuing wreckage.  You see, unless you’ve truly decided not to care about something, you know you’re eventually going to have to pick it back up where you left off and possibly pay the price for letting it slide.

Here’s an example; sometimes I’m a bad parent and I take my kids out of school for family trips.  In this moment, I’ve decided to care more about quality family fun than about the kids missing school work. It’s all well and good until the first day back to school when my third grader comes home with a backpack that feels like it’s filled with free weights.  Hours worth of make-up work later and we’re all tearing our hair out; we are paying the price for temporarily deciding not to care.

Grief changes your priorities, so there are cares you might truly be ready to let go of and that’s okay.  On the other hand, there are some things you will always care about and so then questions become…

How long can you allocate your caring elsewhere before this aspect of your life becomes lost, unsalvageable, or way off track?

How important are these things and how much of your time, energy, heart, and soul should you give to them?  

If you’re struggling to balance demands, here’s an exercise for you.  It can’t hurt to try.

  1. Get out a piece of paper and draw your bubbles.
  2. What are the concerns that you really wish you could prioritize? Put those in the bubble with you.
  3. Beyond that, for each demand, stressor, and expectation you experience, draw and new bubble and label it.
  4. Choose a light colored pencil or crayon.
  5. Some bubbles like bills, parenting, and showing up to work are very important  These bubbles must be prioritized, they can’t be popped or put off.  Color these important bubbles with your pencil or crayon.
  6. For the rest of your bubbles, ask yourself the following questions.

What would happen if you put off worrying about this for a little while?

Can someone else help you with this?  

Will caring about this issue actually have an impact on the outcome?

Is this a reasonable expectation?

Could you forgive yourself if you let this slide?

Realistically, how likely is it that you worst fear will happen?

Is this demand in line with your values, desires, and goals?

Are you doing this out of guilt?

Would it help to communicate with someone about this matter?

You may find that some of your bubbles can be popped because you don’t need to care about what’s inside of them; cross these bubbles off your list.  For the rest, hopefully you will find you can prioritize them after immediate concerns, that you don’t have to expend quite so much energy worrying about them, or that they can be dealt with in manageable ways.

That’s all I really have to say about that.  Subscribe if you want to, I don’t really care.

March 28, 2017

8 responses on "To Care or Not to Care"

  1. I absolutely adore this, I am thinking of printing it and putting it on my wall. Mentally and emotionally exhausted, yet trying to get through yet another unimportant workday when I would rather be focusing on what really matters to me in my bubble. But you are right, at some point I need to keep some of the lesser ones afloat, even if I am slightly ignoring them for now.

  2. Yes!! I love this illustration. I am almost five years past my son’s death. The fall is the time that he waa ao sick, so for the last four years I sink into this “not caring” mode as the memories are more powerful, the ache becomes stronger, and the grief overwhelms. Last year was awful as i neglected so many areas of life and truly felt like i was in a fog from aug (his bday) until Dec (his homegoing day). I feel this self induced pressure to “focus and not be so sad and apathetic. ” Caring can be ao exhausting. Getting up, caring for my living children, keeping my marriage a priority, and working is about all i can manage most days during this season.

  3. Sandra,

    I agree with you. My grief for the loss of my mother soon to be six months ago will only allow me right now to take it one day at a time and try not to let my family get to me because they are coping with the loss better than I am and they do not seem to understand where I am at with my grief right now and how I am dealing with everything. I am at the point where I try to not get angry at them because in my heart I know they are worried about me, they only want what is best for me and do not want me to suffer ànymore but they are doing this in an ignorant, in compassionate an not understanding way, which gets me angry at them and hurting from their lack of open mindedness, compassion, empathy, sympathy and understanding. Now I am coping by isolating myself from them and ignoring their calls, which does not help the situation out I and makes things worse. Right now I am feeling alone without my mother here and I cannot help but feel the ways I am feeling. I feel it is out of my control right now and hopefully with time my higher power will help by healing my heart, deal with everything else in my life and be able to move on with my life without my grief affecting everything and everyone in my life as it is doing right now.

  4. Four months into this…losing my wife of 34 years, after 8 years of her being homebound and the last year working from home to be here with her, I’ve found my big bubble of “I only can care about…her right now”; burst and I’m fighting the vacuum that’s left in my life. Now with 4 months past, the rawest of grief over her loss is easing (it will always be there) but I’m also now realizing how much time there actually is in a day. And yes, I’m clearly picking bubbles now to burst which I didn’t see before and no longer amuse me (i.e., games played at work, petty people, etc.). I’m also OK now trying to figure out which bubbles I want to care about and am OK being much more selective (selfish if you will) right now. I will grieve her in my heart, but am trying to separate that from “losing the next 10 years with her”. The next 10 years would have been more hell for her and she was ready (she told me so), so I need to keep all that in perspective and maybe find what I’ve been missing for a long time now and allow me some control over my bubbles for a change.

    • sorry for you loss mike. i personally dont think about the future, cause im a young widow, so i dont want to think about the next 50 years being without my henry. so i take it day by day, thats the only way i cope. here for you if you need to talk.

  5. ” subscribe if you want to i dont really care “, brilliant. i care about my family, and my kids. but i have started caring less since my fiance died last year ( suddenly and unexpectedly) about other peoples drama and bs. and im WAY less tolerant of people. is that a bad thing ? sometimes because i may erase someone from my life before they get a chance to make it to a “circle”. but im less tolerant of people who play games and hurt me, which is a good thing. respect earns respect and if they dont treat me good, like henry did, they are gone.

  6. This is brilliant! I feel better knowing that it isn’t just me who has these feelings and the things that were once important to me now don’t matter because my loss has changed me and I don’t need to feel ashamed of that, or feel like I’ve let anyone down anymore. Thank you for this amazing, and very honest blog.

  7. Thank you-a huge big giant bubble Thank You! I appreciate your candid and heartfelt blog-it is the first that I read. And I keep and share them. Thank you.

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