“I Don’t Care!”

I’ve found myself uttering these words, usually in anger, a lot more often than I would like in recent days.

I live with a neurological condition called Cerebral Palsy. One ‘interesting’ quirk of how CP affects me, I have found, is that when under very high stress (especially among friends), my ability to handle complex, detailed information or high emotion decreases severely. Someone will offer something, and “I don’t care!” comes out of my mouth.

Usually, if my interlocutor has the patience to stick with me in that moment, it turns out I mean something like, “I feel overwhelmed,” or “I don’t understand how that’s relevant,” or even, “That’s not my responsibility; why are you telling me this?” (Of course, it’s sometimes possible that I’m just being an asshole, but I don’t usually intend it that way.)

But what the other person hears, of course, is exactly what my words denote: in that moment, I don’t care about (usually the appropriate gender pronoun is:) his words, thoughts, emotions. I might not even care about him as a person, and it can cut pretty deep.

***
Yesterday, there was a situation where “I don’t care!” happened. Fortunately, my friend stuck through it with me. I found out that he feels overwhelmingly discouraged about the state of his life in many areas, and that, though perhaps it might be true that some of the things he mentioned were not my responsibility, the conversation wasn’t really about placing blame, but (at least the way I heard him) allowing him to vent profound frustration and grief.

At one point, he made a comment that woke me up a little bit: “I feel like I’m so far behind.” After empathizing (and even sympathizing, because I’ve said exactly the same thing for some of the same reasons!), I heard myself telling him about the FlyLady, an internet cleaning guru who says something like: “You’re not behind; you’re starting again.”

As I sit here writing this, it’s hitting me that the same sentiment applies to my struggle with “I don’t care!” I often feel like I am “behind” in learning about how to live well as an adult with a neurological disability–so many of my friends seem so far ahead, and it seems so easy for them! But “I am not behind; I am beginning again.”

It strikes me also that FlyLady is talking about forgiveness of self without using that phrase. If I am “behind,” I have all this baggage collecting while I try to learn new skills. (The baggage, for me, usually includes a massive serving of fear–yummy!) But if it’s really true that I can begin again, and that somehow that new beginning will be transformative (because God is the one guiding the process), I don’t have to worry so much that “I don’t care” will be an impossible problem to solve or that any character flaws I have (there are lots, are you kidding?!) will never change.

Dear Lord,
Clear permanent and flexible space for something new:
Teach me to say what I mean and mean what I say;
especially, out of a heart full of your goodness, love, and joy,
“I care.”
Amen.

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