The musings and rants of Julie Marie Miller, Special Needs Specialist, Parenting Expert & Mental Health Caregiver
  • Julie Marie Miller

Narcissism or Empathy?

Am I making you uncomfortable? Good.

The support and love is enormous. The true outreach of support and help our family has received fills me with gratitude and reassurance that everything's gonna be okay (even when it isn't). The latest issue being a rare side effect and severe reaction to medication trial. More calls to triage, more prescriptions, more new side effects.

But that's not the point of my writing today. Today I want to make you uncomfortable.

I miss having a second licensed driver in my home.

I miss drinking alcohol.

I miss my softball team (even if I was just starting to know them).

I miss the freedom of being able to run errands with more than an hour window of opportunity.

I miss sleep.

I miss my peace of mind.

These points I make because they're literally all about me; narcissism.

I've also been the recipient of many a message that wreaked of narcissism:

"My heart hurts so much. I should be there for you."

"I have so much pain about what she's going through."

"I'm overwhelmed by sadness about her."

"My life isn't supposed to be like this..."

These are examples of narcissism: an overwhelming, unbearable emotion you're experiencing. I'm sorry and thanks for adding to the burdens because now I gotta caretake your emotions, too.

My experience of sacrifice (narcissism) that comes with CHOOSING to be a caregiver. Acknowledging it is a choice actually had to take place and this is the exercise I used:

If I were a drunk... and then proceeded to list all the things in my life that would be different as I removed items from my responsibilities pile, you know, because I'd be drunk. The shift in my thinking was profound. I was no longer a victim of circumstance. I choose this: so is that empathy or narcissism?

Let me share an example of a shitty day that has subsequently become a family mantra:

“just give her the fucking socks”

Earlier this year, she was having a bad morning that turned into a manic day (her good days have historically been my most difficult) and I have my second profound shift: ACCEPT THE ENTIRETY OF HER ILLNESS. Even the manic episodes. Embrace and accept and empathize, yep, EMPATHIZE with her "good days," too. Because being the "cause" of a depressive episode is the worst; I put that in quotes because I can rationally and intellectually acknowledge I am not the "cause" of her emotional dysregulation or her mental illness, but oh man, can I sure can be a trigger for it. Trust me this sucks. There are many occasion I wish I could rewind the clock five minutes - just five fucking minutes - and take back what I/he/they said to trigger the latest suicidal thoughts. But this particular one, I caused by crying in front of her and saying "I'm so confused! I don't understand!!!" We both went to our respective corners of our overcrowded apartment and spent the remainder of the day crying. I apologized to her for being confused and that my confusion [about her illness] was not her fault nor her responsibility (empathy). Her boyfriend has his own series of stories of wanting a time machine invention. (I hope he chooses to blog some day...)

Fear is lack of information. Time is an increment of space you haven't experienced yet.

^^ not my quote and I don't know who I'm quoting here. (sorry, bro) Fear creates narcissistic thoughts. Fear prompts triggers. Triggers flood your brain with flight, fight, freeze hormones. Unacknowledged fears turn you into an asshole. Fear can kiss my ass.

Then one magical Sunday morning not too long after the "just give her the fucking socks" mantra came to be known, I heard on my favorite radio show (aka, my church) as instructions to one of the callers (whose caregiving responsibility dwarfed mine):

"Bring sunshine to her, not the burden.

"You are her only constant. Revive your strength to be the strength for two. God uses these things to strengthen one another. God believed you could handle this burden. You are the lifeline to outside for your daughter. If you're not living, you can't bring that to her. You are the conduit to life for her. Pray for peace and strength so she can recognize it.

"Love her regardless."

Thank you, @JesusShow, who also said, "Suicide is just a way to spread the pain," on the same day of the same damn show. Thank you, Universe. My daughter is in so much pain at times that it's unbearable to the point of wanting it gone. Wanting to be gone, wanting it to end. A very permanent end to suffering - hand over the burden of that pain to others.

Suicide. The ultimate narcissistic act.

Did that sting a little? It should. No one would choose this. This is not "narcissism" it's narcissistic. Everyone in my unscientific, uneducated opinion is "acutely mentally ill" if they choose to kill themselves (often along with other people in nightclubs, high school campuses... etc.)

The reason I was prompted to write today is the many kind offers, messages and texts I've gotten, trying to help me be her sunshine and I felt inclined to share how much I appreciate these offers of ...

"let's grab a drink..."

"breakfast date..."

"tickets to a concert..."

"need to vent. I'm here..."

"call me about what's going on.."

"I'll come sit with her."

"...come for a (long distance) visit, mini-vacay and we'll bring her with us."

...and the like. Many invitations of relief and empathetic offers for which I am sincerely grateful. I do appreciate the sentiments and value the efforts, which prompts me to explain the following:

  • I can't drink right now - I never know when I am going to need to drive her to the E.R. which is one hour, ten minutes from my home (review my blog to see why not just any ER will do)

  • She is under 24/7 supervision by no less than one sober person with a driver's license. I heard her tell her mental health care provider(s), "I can't be alone for more than two hours. Anything from not being able to find my laptop charger to not having mayonnaise in the house can set me off." (This is true. My daughter is painfully self-aware.)

  • I spend upwards of 5-hours in the car each day driving her brother to his private school (for kiddos with severe learning and developmental disabilities) - in the mornings I just pray she sleeps past 8:30. When I'm not, she calls to check when I'll be home. She is often afraid to be alone. I start negotiating the afternoon drive about noon, often convincing her to leave the house when she "just can't." Afternoon pick-ups are the hardest and the longest.

  • She is on a medication trial - going on her fifth drug, actually - and psychiatric drugs have side effects; one of the leading ones is "suicidal ideation" (isn't that what we're treating her for...? Another blog, Julie, another blog.) The prompt for her most recent hospitalization was the realization that one person, who might need to pee for a moment, might walk back in the room on her holding a sharp object aimed at her chest. So, yeah, ratio of 2-to-1 is ideal right now.

  • Offers to adult-babysit are an awesome idea. For me. The episodes are a shameful, embarrassing experience for her. (Shame will be discussed in another blog.) She wouldn't have anyone but her safe people around her during med trials.

  • Time alone and sleep are my most valuable asset. I wish not to offend; I cannot rehash my day's events more than twice. Talking on the phone is my worst nightmare...

Text me nonsensical memes or cat videos. Send me the latest article on holistic health or brain science research. Drop off a ridiculously sweet coffee and a hug, but don't stay. Drive my laundry to the fluff and fold. These are real gifts to me that have really happened - you know who y'all are - and thank you from the bottom of my soul. If you know anyone who is the caregiver of someone affected by Mental Illness, this list also applies to them.

I want to share one little, side story about the most empathetic, non-narcissistic person I know. My youngest son. On the third (or fourth, I can't recall now) day of my daughter's psychiatric hold in an emergency room I had to have my son take an Uber from his school to the hospital where I was awaiting my daughter's boyfriend to relieve the bedside duties of sitting. K and I exchanged report, much like nurses do, going over the day's events thus far, reassuring each other for the hundredth time that we "promise to text if anything happens," and I left the ER with my teenage son. Both of us exhausted - me from being awake all night from sobbing 20-years' worth of tears - and him, probably from overhearing my 2 am phone call in an attempt to resolve my own mental health breakdown and the loud sobbing that came from the depths of my soul. Who am I kidding? Probably all of downtown Fallbrook heard my pain that night in response to my daughter's "I'm scared, momma," parting words. (oh boy. fresh tears.) Anyway, we get in the car to go have the first dinner of the week together before dark and, as he always does, connects his Bluetooth and hits play on his playlist. First song on his roster and we're both singing along with the passion of Freddie himself as L hits pause and says flatly, "this is probably the most inappropriate song choice right now possible."

We both laughed until we cried. He always checks on me. He always knows what to do and what to say. Levity. He has the natural instinct, gift really, for levity. God bless the soul of a sibling of someone struggling through a mental illness.

Bottom line -

Empathy = You, you, you.
Narcissism = Me, me, me.
Balance = You and I

Today's "sacrifice" - blue hair.

Because my love-language is "acts of service" and we all speak through our own love languages. Now I have a nice list of my friends' needs when their life meets with a crisis. *wink*

I have a few requests for topics on my blog and, I promise, I will get to them:

  1. Binder how-tos

  2. DIY for SPED

  3. Descriptions of acronyms

And I'm working on a project I'm very anxious to announce - The Dignity Bag project.Please subscribe to this blog for up-to-date info.

I do have a closed group on Facebook specific to Special Education Parenting - request to join here.

Still looking for Directors and Board Members for the non-profit that has officially been registered with the state of California as "Hold My Beer Foundation." Open to constructive criticism on the very templatey website, - if interested, comment here or visit the website or email me at

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