Fear and Need and Loneliness

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.  

 

Happy Birthday

Aside

Fifteen years ago, my baby boy was born.  And my life has never been the same.

His older brother was born almost two years prior, to the day.  My older son, after getting over his colicky period (eight weeks of hell), was a dream baby.  He was an early talker, usually pleasant, compliant, and utterly charming.  At one point, I remember looking at my husband and asking him why we were pressing our luck by having another baby.  “How could we ever have a kid as great as Danny?”

So when J.J. was born and wasn’t colicky, I thought the worst of it was over.  He fed every four hours or so and fussed just like a newborn should.

Until he was no longer a newborn but still fussed like one.

We learned quickly that J.J. was–and still is–a high-intensity child.  He was grouchy for the first three years of his life.  He would have a fit if there were too many raisins in his cinnamon toast.  He refused to use the potty until I locked him in the bathroom and sat in front of the door (so he couldn’t escape) for an hour and a half.  It was a month before his fourth birthday, by the way.  He constantly questioned us, “How do YOU know?”  when told something like, oh, “Dress warmly.  It’s cold outside.”  And he often acted as though he believed he was the only one in the world whose feelings mattered.

Except when he didn’t.

One day, I had a minor argument with my husband over theater tickets.  It wasn’t a big deal, except that it must have come at a bad time because I remember slamming down the phone and dissolving into sobs.  And then I felt a little pair of arms around my hips.  J.J., who was probably around three or four at the time, had walked up to me and was hugging me, to try to make me feel better.  It was the only thing anyone could have done that would have worked, and he knew it.  At that point, I realized that my son, who was so intractable and prickly, had a deep well of empathy as well.

Parents don’t realize that they can learn from their children.  The things J.J. does to press my buttons are the very things I don’t do for myself that I should:  holding firm to his beliefs, defining his boundaries, refusing to agree if it doesn’t feel right.  He is emotional because he feels things and lets them out instead of repressing them.  He is a gift.

Happy birthday to my baby.  Your mom loves you more than anything.

 

Are You Really What You Eat?

Yesterday for breakfast,  I had a bowl of braised kale with pancetta (yes, it was breakfast.  I’m weird that way).  And for a late lunch, I had a plate of brussels sprouts.

Roasted in bacon fat.  With bacon bits.  And a little bit of cheese.

When you take into account the carnitas I nibbled on while the brussels sprouts were heating (extremely delicious but made out of pork shoulder, a heavily marbled cut of pig), this meant that the only animal protein source I had thus far was from pork. Fatty pork. Continue reading

Secrets

I have secrets.  Everyone has secrets.  Some are horrible in a sophomoric, disgusting way.  Others are beautiful, like a rare jewel that I keep buried in my heart.  But still others are a central part of my everyday life.

Therein lies my problem.  

Because I think deep down, I am lonely and want to connect more with others.  But having secrets, and keeping them, is like tiptoeing around the elephant in the living room when I am establishing connections with others.  It makes it difficult to really feel as though my new friend (or old friend) is a true friend, accepting of me with all my warts.  When I keep a secret, I manufacture distance when all I really want is closeness.  I sabotage myself.

I know that people like me when they meet me and that I come across as a direct, open person who is not afraid to talk about most things, about what she really thinks, how she really feels, and what she’s done in her life.  But those secrets that I choose not to speak about are so deeply buried that most people would not guess that they are there.  They have no idea what’s not being said.  So while others may think our connection is deep and intimate and uninhibited, I know differently.

The ironic part is when I DO choose to share my secrets (very selectively, mind you), more times than not, I find the connection I so desperately want.  Far from being repulsed by my truth, others are drawn to me because of it.  In turn, I feel closer to them because they have seen the real me, not my public face, and still love me and–perhaps more importantly–like me.  They still think I am a good person.  (Yes, I still like others’ approval, even at my ripe old age.  I don’t NEED it, but I do like it and getting it always gives me a little boost).  

Our culture has an element of shame with respect to secrets–think “dirty little secrets” or tabloids blaring headlines about drug overdoses, sordid sex scandals, or financial ruin.  When I see these, I don’t feel the schadenfreude that perhaps the editors and writers intend, that little frisson of superiority because the mighty have fallen and at least I’m not that bad.  I feel, instead, a sadness and think there but for the grace of God go I.  These people, these human beings (because even celebrities and public figures are human beings, have been exposed in the most humiliating and public way.  Their secrets have been ripped from their psyches and plastered all over the world.

But it’s the fact that they have these secrets that put them in harm’s way.  Acknowledging the truth, saying, “Yeah?  So what?” instead of calling press conferences, uttering mea culpas, and falling on one’s sword would probably take away any public indignation.  You can’t inflict shame if the target refuses to feel it.

As a person who has very few people interested in her secrets, I’m not under the same scrutiny as, say, Demi Moore, Whitney Houston, or John Friend (What?  You don’t know who he is? You obviously don’t practice yoga).  Each of these people had secrets, they were exposed, and they either suffered or are suffering through a public outing of their own making.  I don’t have to worry about that.  I simply have to make sure I choose to share my secrets wisely.  

Ana Forrest, who advocates speaking one’s truth (and who practices this with a sometimes startling and even off-putting candor), still tempers her advice by choosing one’s words and one’s audience wisely.  The fact that it’s true and a secret doesn’t mean I should open up to just anyone.  No, I need to choose my audience and protect myself while opening myself up.  Nor does the fact that it’s a secret and it’s the truth mean that it needs to be disclosed to someone in a hurtful way, or to whom the truth would hurt.  Words can hurt just as much, if not more, than physical actions and painful secrets must be disclosed in a compassionate way, if at all.  

I’ve shared very few secrets willingly.  Most of the time, I’ve been caught in lies or prevarications and have simply decided that telling the truth would be easier than continuing a fiction that most people wouldn’t believe anyway.  Regardless of how my secrets have come to light, however, and regardless of how others react to them, there is always a sense of relief–sometimes huge, sometimes tiny–that comes along with the fear of opening up.

Right now, my blog is one of my best friends and I share things here that are hard to say to anyone else.  But I still don’t share anything.  There are some things that I don’t know if I ever can.  But I do want to start trying harder, so my secrets lose their power when they cease to become secrets any longer.  I just need to find the courage to start.

I Lost My Voice

Aside

Have you seen it?  I’m finding I have very little to write about these days, although I’m still thinking.  Hopefully, I’ll find my voice  soon and begin using it again.

If you only knew how many posts I’ve begun and thrown out….

Dumped

My friend broke up with me today.  This is a woman I met through mutual friends about two years ago.  She’s one of those rare people I clicked with immediately, and we became very close very quickly.  Although we both appear on the surface to be quite outgoing, we are very private people and neither of us makes good friends easily.  We both have secrets and past lives and spend much of our time in our heads.  Having her in my life, in my heart, was a precious gift. Continue reading