I Was Born to be Florence Nightingale

Gayla grade KKindergarten Class Photo – I am 2nd from right – front row

Three years ago, and two years into my fourth marriage (I’ll explain all that later), I decided to seek the help of a trained therapist. Seasonal depression was setting in and I was seeing old patterns begin to develop. I was determined I was going to fix was broken, before it broke. In hindsight, it would have been better to seek therapy before I got married, but that is why hindsight is always 20/20, right?

Most of my life, I felt as though I were an asshole-magnet. It was as if I wore a target on my forehead that only assholes, preying on nurturing individuals could see – and if there was an asshole within a 20-mile radius, he was going to end up on my doorstep, with a snare that would capture my heart, even when my mind would scream “NO!”

The assholes I would attract weren’t your standard, run-of-the-mill assholes. They were narcissistic assholes who would say and do the right things to get me, then they would launch their strategic plan to suck the life and passion from the deepest parts of my soul. By the time I would come to my senses and realize I was no longer ME, it was too late. I was in, I was married and I was being held captive in a dysfunctional relationship that would have taken top prize, if such a prize existed. Yes, I managed to score three of them before I sought help to fix the part of me that seemed to attract soul-eating individuals so easily.

Fortunately, I happened to be an easy case and therapy uncovered the problem in a handful of sessions. I can’t believe I actually had to pay someone to point out the obvious – but I did; it worked; it was worth it.

You see, I was born to be a modern day Florence Nightingale. The need to care for and fix people was engrained in my personality from the moment I was born into a family where my older sibling was very ill with a rare kidney disease.

At the time my mother discovered she was expecting me, the doctors advised her against having any more children for fear they too may carry the same disease. Low and behold, the doctors were a little too late, and I was on my way.

My earliest memories, around the age of three, were that of my brother Tony having severe nosebleeds that were related to his illness. I remember our family making trips to hospitals to undergo many tests, including substantial blood work. I was a feisty tot that needed four nurses, a doctor and my parents to hold me down to get those tubes of blood. I remember screaming at the top of my lungs for them to get their dirty hands off me. I remember the cold, stainless-steal utensils, the sterile rooms, the cold floors, and the smell of band aids and iodine. To this day, the smell of band aids stirs a bit of anxiety I know is related to the day of testing at the Cleveland Clinic.

If the needles and blood weren’t enough trauma for a tot, we were then rewarded with chewing gum. Not just any chewing gum, but flavorless chewing gum that we had to chew and spit into a glass tube. I still don’t know what that test was all about, but I do remember how horrible that gum was. Oh, the thoughts that went through my three-year-old mind! It was not fun!

The next visit to a hospital I remember was to Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis. At the time, no one was permitted to visit patient rooms unless they were over a certain age. I was left to be entertained by pretty nurses, wearing crisp white dresses and very cool white hats. The nurses took me to a playroom that had more toys than I had ever seen in one place. The nurse that stayed with me was so pretty and nice. I gobbled up the attention she gave me like a starved teenage boy going after a Thanksgiving turkey.

In that moment, my toddler mind established the belief that the Children’s Hospital was a giant playroom, with really cool toys and lots of attention for a pleasant, pretty lady in a nurse’s uniform.

In the years that followed, I knew if my brother got sick, he would be whisked away to a really cool playroom while I would be left behind, to stay with my grandparents, or one of my aunts. My purpose in life became that of caretaker for my brother. In my mind, if I took care of my brother; did things for him to keep him from getting sick, he wouldn’t get to go back to that playroom, and I would not be left behind to watch Gunsmoke, Lawrence Welk and Hee-Haw with my grandpa.

The need to care for, and fix people became a large part of who I was, who I am and who I would always be, at least well into my forties.

Naturally, I don’t blame my parents for these personal “flaws.” I know my parents did the best they could with the horrible situation they were in. And, as a parent, I realize it even more. As an adult, I realize how fortunate I was to have grandparents and relatives who would step in to care for me when my brother was hospitalized, but to a three-year-old child, the scenario was something completely different. The experiences would pave the way for a lifelong belief that I was never quite good enough at caring for or fixing people. And we all know, when you do something and it’s not good enough, you try harder, and give more, until it’s perfect.

See the pattern?

Are you a fixer? A caretaker? Do people easily take advantage of you? Do you know why?

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NaNonFiWriMo – The Write Nonfiction in November (WNFIN) Challenge, also known as National Nonfiction Writing Month (NaNonFiWriMo), where I have accepted the challenge to start and complete a work of nonfiction in 30 days. Read my other NaNonFiWriMo posts here

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