I have long thought that there is (almost) no such thing as TMI between friends.
Since I consider my readers part of my extended circle of kindreds, I have some mildly graphic descriptions to share about my current condition to set the stage for what is to follow.
I am writing these words from the comfort of my flannel sheeted bed, garbed in fleece jammies, with a cup of peppermint tea by my side. It is mostly all I have been able to keep in and down in the past 48 hours.
On Thursday night, I had dinner with my son and his girlfriend. Dessert, which I generally don’t order at a restaurant, was a three-fork shared decadent delight of chocolate layered cheesecake. Since the owner treated us to it, and chocolate being my drug of choice, I was clearly helpless to resist. What conveniently slipped my mind, was that the last time I had indulged in that luscious gastronomic heaven, within short order, I found myself in gastro-intestinal hell.
Gripping pain that felt like I imagine a punch in the solar plexus would resemble and a stomach subterranean sonic rumbling and grumbling that sent me to the (blessedly, within a few steps from my bed) bathroom, followed. Lightheadedness and cold sweats roared through. This continued throughout the night and into the next day. Today, the cleanse continues.
What occurred to me while I’ve been experiencing what my mother used to call “the trots,” is that some people prefer to have others around to comfort and care for them when they are sick. I don’t, generally.
Perhaps it is a function of being on my own for so long, that there hasn’t been someone on a consistent basis to take care of me. “What would a partner have done for me in that case anyway?” I asked myself in mid moan and groan. I then recalled the times when I would provide nurturing and support for my husband who was ill for six years prior to succumbing to end stage liver disease.
I did it because he needed me to.
I did it because I could.
I did it because I wanted to.
I did it because it was the “in sickness and in health,” part of the marriage vows we had taken.
Please understand that I was not then, and am not now, anywhere near approaching sainthood. There were days when I felt like I was at my limit in terms of my ability to keep on keepin’ on with the needed routine. I would grump and grumble when the expectations seemed unreasonable to meet. I faced the dilemma that many family caregivers address—how much to do and how much to allow for autonomy so as not to disempower the person.
When he died, I transferred the intense caregiving urges to others at work as a therapist, as a mother to a then 11 year old son and to friends and my parents. It fed my need to give and it fueled my dysfunctional belief that I had to earn my keep in the lives of these people, in order to consider myself a “good person.”
Where did this originate?
As a child diagnosed with asthma shortly after my fourth birthday, I found myself frequently visiting our family doc’s office for allergy shots and checkups. Unpredictably, I had nighttime bouts of breathing difficulties that sent me to my parents’ room where my mother would escort me to their adjoining bathroom. She would turn on the shower and together, we would inhale the steam that wafted forth. Not quite as luxurious, but far more accessible than a sauna, for certain.
Although I felt loved, I also internalized the idea that I was somehow an inconvenience, at least and a burden, at most. My parents never acted as if that was the case and if I had ever asked, they would have adamantly denied it. They would have responded that it is what parents do. Not all parents, but I remain grateful that mine did.
The imbedded belief had me shying away from offers of help when I have been ill, unless I really needed it.
I’m not sure how to draw that line. Even after the heart attack last year, I was reluctant to seem helpless and vulnerable. How hypocritical am I? I am one of the first to raise my hand when assistance is requested, even offering before someone asks. I have joked that I am “prayer central,” so that if someone is in need, I offer those divinely interventive words.
I imagine that scene in the Jim Carrey movie, Bruce Almighty, where he has post-it notes all over the room with prayer petitions scrawled on them.
The insecurity it evokes goes deeper than I imagined, as I am typing these words. What if I ask and no one shows up?
There have been times in my life when I have only asked for what I thought someone would say yes to. I reasoned that it would be better to do it myself than to have my request denied. What also comes into play is the thought that I can only truly rely on myself. Other people have needs and agendas that may not mesh with mine or may supersede them.
In addition, I have learned that I have internal skills and resources that can get me through any situation; and have.
I lost a home to Hurricane Andrew, while living in Homestead, Florida, the same year my husband was diagnosed with Hepatitis C. I was widowed at 40, raised a son solo since age 11, worked several jobs to maintain our home and became an “adult orphan,” when both parents died—my dad in 2008 and my mom in 2010, followed by my own health crises in the past year or so—shingles, heart attack, kidney stones and adrenal fatigue.
Reluctantly, I had occasionally let other people cook for me, mow the lawn and shovel the snow. Fiercely independent, like the little kid who when asked if she wants help tying her shoes, I pout, “Do it myself!” as if it is a badge of honor.
What would it be like, I wonder to have a partner who was willing and able to take care of me?
I have experienced it sporadically over the years, both prior to my marriage, at times during its nearly 12 year run, and since then. I know that what I invite is what shows up. I first need to untangle from the belief that it has to come attached to incapacity in some way and from my vulnerability emerges my strength.
Since I have found that writing is therapeutic for me, as I am finishing this, the tummy twists have somewhat subsided, and my own scatological musings have me recognizing that all of this is merely a potent combination of fertilizer and Miracle Gro for the blossoming of the garden for which I have been seed planting.
Author: Edie Weinstein
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Monica H/Flickr
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