Jason Howell
Jason Howell asked Jenny Allen:

People talk about "Aha!" moments. What about "I've stopped caring!" moments? Can you recall a particular instance, in writing or in life, where stopping caring was the cure? Where *letting go* jettisoned you forward, helped you get unstuck? If so, can you describe?

Jenny Allen This is such an excellent question and it's a topic most people shy away from. Saying you don't care sounds completely selfish, but sometimes we need to be a little selfish in order to keep ourselves sane. It has been a hard but crucial lesson in my life.

When I was fifteen, my best friend, Brian, asked me to the Homecoming Dance. I said no. We were best friends and like most fifteen year olds at that time, I was waiting for Prince Charming. While I was at the dance, I heard the popular girls gossiping and giggling about Brian, saying someone found him hanging from a tree. I immediately thought it was just their cruel brand of bullying. Brian and I were not part of the cool table, far from it. When weren't invisible, we were targets for rocks, pens, mud, whatever was handy.

The next day, my whole world changed. It was true. Brian's brother and sister had found him hanging from a tree. I was absolutely crushed with guilt. It was all my fault. I'd turned him down like everyone else. At his funeral I felt like a villain, just waiting for someone to stand up and scream at me.

Two weeks later, Brian's mother found his diary and brought it to me to read. I quickly realized that I didn't know my best friend at all. He was obsessed with an older girl at school, his home was a war zone of abuse at the hands of his father, and he'd actually attempted suicide several times, some of which were before I'd even met him.

Some of the guilt slid away, but I still carried a lot on my shoulders. I should have known these things about my friend. I should have called him more. I should have done something, anything. For the next fifteen years, I took on all my friend's problems. I did anything and everything I could to help everyone I met. Basically, I became a doormat that was petrified of letting someone else down at just the wrong moment.

I also suffered from night terrors on a regular basis. Extremely vivid and violent with a common theme. In every one of them I was trying to save a group of people and every time I would fail and we would all die, including myself. My subconscious brain was screaming for my attention, trying to teach me the lesson I refused to learn.

Sometimes, you have to stop caring. You have to know when to walk away. When to leave the guilt and responsibility on the shoulders of the person that made their own decision. It took fifteen years, but I finally realized that Brian made his choice and it was no one else's responsibility to shoulder the guilt. When I finally let it all go, the night terrors stopped. My writing suddenly reached a whole new level because I wasn't constantly obsessing over what other people would think. I just wrote, pouring every raw piece of myself into it.

I'm still a caring person and I still help people when I can, but I make sure to take care of myself and my son first. I know my limits and I know when to say "No". We only get one life and we can't spend it living for other people at the cost of ourselves. This may be a longer answer than you were looking for, but I told myself when I enabled questions that I would be completely honest with each one and not just give a polite, socially acceptable answer.

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