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Hax: Woman who feels overwhelmed wonders where she took a wrong turn

| Thursday, April 16, 2015, 8:55 p.m.

Adapted from a recent online discussion:

Dear Carolyn:

How do I stop feeling so ... small? I feel like I'm failing some “grown-up” test, overwhelmed with the children, aging parents, sick husband, workplace stress (I think I work with a bully), too little money, too many wants, and just fatigue.

Did our parents feel like this, and I just didn't get the memo that adulthood is thishard? Am I solely responsible for making my life different? Where do I start that?

I have this thought that I am supposed to stop bailing water long enough to find the leak, but I fear I might take the ship down if I slow down enough for that. And then I talk to other moms, wives and friends, and they have time to do things like watch TV, which sounds really blissful right now.

Well, I guess I found the time to get here, so life isn't that draconian. But I'm finding it hard to move right now.

— Feeling Small and Trapped

Caregiving on three different fronts while also holding down a job is legitimately exhausting and scary.

Relief is out there: If your husband has a serious or chronic illness, then chances are there's a support group and possibly respite care. There are also services available on the “aging parents” front, via eldercare.gov . If your kids are still young enough to need constant supervision, a mother's helper in the form of a teenage neighbor who comes over an evening or two a week, for not much money, can be worth every scarce penny.

I know you're looking for bigger answers here, and I have some: We're all small, in the scheme of things. And: Yes, our parents felt like this sometimes, though what overwhelmed them and how they sought relief were probably different.

History and the present never want for examples of hardship — and joy, pushing up through the cracks.

Sometimes, all any of us can do is keep taking small steps to get us through whatever storm has parked itself over our heads, and accept relief where we can find it. We do get through, though; nothing you describe is permanent.

Next, some readerly moral support:

Small? You are a freaking warrior. You are caring for children and aging parents? And an ailing husband? I had the first two — and still do — but the kid is in school now and the parents are in a retirement community and, praise the saints, life is better.

They call us the sandwich generation, but it's more like being on the rack, pulled in opposite directions. You are not small, no matter how you feel. You are a hero.

— Anonymous

Try to remember that you take care of others best when you take care of yourself first, and carve out a little time to work on what you need. And, know you're not alone. A lot of us feel trapped and alone in these cells of responsibility, when we're really just part of the honeycomb, and if we can poke our heads up out of our cells once in a while, we'll find neighbors to commiserate with and lean on.

— Anonymous 2

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, and follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/carolyn.hax.

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