Four Sundays ago, I woke up with a tickle in my throat that had turned to pain by the end of the day. And ever since that time, I’ve been felled by a series of viral infections, bacterial infections, laryngitis, wet coughs, dry coughs, low grade fevers, sore throats, sniffles, and sundry aches and pains, along with simple exhaustion. At first, I took it in stride, finding my laryngitis amusing and seeing my forced vacation as something that might even be enjoyable. After a week or so, I began to get frustrated and squirrely. I worried that the muscle I’ve put on over the past few months would turn into mush and that my metabolism would collapse while my appetite raged.
It’s been almost a month. And I’m started to get scared. Not worried, but scared.
I’ve always thought of myself as a healthy person. While I get sinus infections fairly regularly, and don’t always feel great all of the time, I usually don’t get sick very often. Although I’ve been in the hospital a number of times, it’s been for procedures (wisdom teeth, C-section, carpal tunnel release) rather than for illnesses. I am physically fit and at a normal weight. I have normal blood pressure and normal cholesterol levels, with the exception of my HDL/LDL ratio, which is… exceptional. I get my breasts checked for lumps once a year and I am fairly prompt when it comes to getting well patient visits and regular teeth cleaning. So when I have a little cold, it doesn’t faze me, except when it’s like this one (not so little–it’s interfering with my life) and isn’t going away.
Last night, I made the mistake of typing my symptoms into Web MD and discovered that I could have anything from a sore throat to congestive heart failure or esophageal cancer. While I laughed off the more dire diagnoses at the time, I’ve gotten more and more worried since then. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at my age–46–and died when she was 50. Although she knew what was wrong with her from the very beginning, unlike how I feel now, she was a very frightened patient. Although she made a valiant effort to fight the good fight, she did it from a place of fear. I always said that I’d be different, that I would face my attacker bravely and call in help when I needed it, but it’s a hard thing for me to do.
I hate to ask for help. I’ve always prided myself on my self-sufficiency and my ability to “get ‘er done.” Give me a task and I’ll figure out a way to get you a result. Maybe it won’t be the way you thought it would be, and maybe it won’t be the result you anticipated, but being dependable and doing what I need to do (although not always at the highest possible level) is how I see myself–and how I want others to see me. Asking for help is like admitting a weakness, and I don’t want to be perceived as a weak person. I don’t want to be needy. I don’t want to have to depend on anyone else.
This doesn’t mean that I don’t need others. I do. I need connection desperately. But because it’s so hard for me to ask for it, I don’t always get it. And instead of trying to change the way I am, I pretend it doesn’t matter, that I don’t need it and don’t care if I don’t get it. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle and a dangerous one. When I expect help and don’t get it, I feel unloved and then withhold myself from those who love me because, in my own mind, they don’t REALLY love me because they should have known what I needed. Or worse, they DID know and couldn’t be bothered to give it to me.
I’ve had a few friends call me over the past month and offer to help, to pick things up at the grocery store or bring by some soup. It’s a nice offer, but there’s very little they can do, the pragmatic side of me reasons. I am ambulatory and am perfectly capable of going out myself and buying soup. Also, it’s painful for me to talk, so if they brought something over, I’d be compromising my comfort.
But I see now that I’m turning down their friendship by turning down their offers. They don’t know what to do to make me feel better any more than I do. They feel as helpless as I do. And I am taking away their power to help when I shift into self-sufficient mode.
Maybe the only thing worse than being sick and afraid is being sick and afraid and alone. My husband went out of town five days ago for work and to see family, leaving me at home with our two sons, both of whom promptly became sick. Yesterday, on a glorious spring Saturday that felt more like June than March, the three of us stayed inside all day and ordered Domino’s pizza for dinner. It’s hard enough to take care of myself. Handling my sons means that I need to hold it together for them, too.
This morning, something snapped. Waking up after a full night’s sleep and not feeling in the least bit better, feeling like every swallow is an effort and that my throat is half-closed, half-open, feeling exhausted and fat, and seeing the house settle a little further into a pit of dust and crumbs, I reached the end of my rope. I let myself feel despair and I cried (silently. It hurts to make noise). And then I did something that is really hard for me. I called my husband and asked him to come home.
My husband is a very reasonable man. He is also very competent and pragmatic, like myself. He also doesn’t like to ask for help (I think this comes more from the idea that he doesn’t think anyone can do anything as well as he can than any type of self-identification with his own sense of competence, as it is for me. But I could be wrong. Or it could be much more complicated, both for him and for me.), but he likes to help others. I don’t usually ask him for help, but today I felt like I just couldn’t be alone any longer in the house with my fears and in my misery.
I didn’t want to ask him. I knew that it would be a disruption for him, and he doesn’t like disruption. It would also be expensive and a hassle to change a plane ticket, also things he doesn’t like. But I didn’t want to be alone, and I didn’t want to make the decision “no” for him. So I asked.
Without getting into our communication dynamic (which is really fucked up and frustrating and could merit an entire blog in and of itself), it only took two phone calls for me to ask and for him to agree.
And now I feel guilty. I feel guilty because I am causing him to go to additional expense, asking him to leave his parents, who he hasn’t seen in months, asking him to forego a baseball game with an old friend, asking him to travel at the last minute on a beautiful day–all because I am a big baby who is sick and scared and doesn’t want to be alone any more. At least when I was being stoic, I could be pissed off at him for not knowing what I wanted or not hearing when I asked him the first time, or having to ask at all. Now I’m just an idiot who can’t get better and who can’t even stay by herself for a few days on her own.
I don’t know what to do. Assuming that I ever get better –and the dramatic, soap opera side of me sees this as my swan song, just as the pragmatic side knows that if I give myself enough time, I’ll be fine–I need to work on this area in a big way, because I am doing everything in my power to avoid the very thing I want so badly. I need to ask people for help, or take them up on their offers. Not only is it good for me, it’s good for US. I also need to put myself out there, to offer to help others, even though a part of me doesn’t want to. When I’m done, I always feel better. Maybe one day it will become like brushing my teeth, something that’s neither good nor bad, but that you kind of have to do because you don’t feel right when you don’t.