The Spirit of the Season
After my last post I was determined to say something funny and light. I’ve become aware that when I write about not feeling well it makes people (especially those closest to me) slightly melancholy and I was hoping to give my nearest and dearest a bit of a break as the year begins anew. Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is, my health leading up to the holidays was a real struggle so, despite my best intentions for humor, I think the sincerest post I can commit to is what I learned over the past month while I was so sick. For those of you who find these types of posts upsetting, stick with me, I am infinitely better now and in many ways I would say my recent weakness has only changed me for the better.
When you were five, I planned a trip to the mountains for Thanksgiving that went completely awry. Unable to breathe on my own we spent 12 hours in our rented condo before abandoning our trip to come back down the mountain. Unfortunately, my declining health didn’t stop at sea level and for the next three weeks I struggled to breathe without the help of oxygen and complete even the most minimal of tasks on my own. Not since I was first diagnosed was my life uprooted in such a tangible way, and it’s been a long time since I’ve felt so afraid and angry. Your Dad did everything he could, staying home from work, shuffling me from doctor to doctor, taking care of all the things I usually handle. But, he is only one man and he can’t be everywhere at once or miss work indefinitely. We needed help.
When people discover I’m sick, they often say things like, “Well, if there’s every anything I can do…”. It’s a lovely sentiment and I sincerely appreciate it but my standard response is always something like, “Thank you. That’s really kind. Hopefully I’ll never need to take you up on that offer.” If I’m being honest though, the truth of the matter is, I don’t want anyone’s help. Up until recently I found the whole idea of taking someone’s help rather distasteful. I’m a busy and efficient A-type person and I pride myself on my ability to get s*#@ done. It’s part of my self worth. To accept help would mean I needed help, which, on some level, diminishes me. It makes me feel needy and broken. Though offers came from genuine, altruistic places, the thought of taking people up on them made me feel like a failure as well as shining a big, glaring light on the one thing I was trying hardest to ignore: the fact that I was sick.
I don’t want to be sick so, I pretend I’m not. I realize it’s a little ostrich-y but I try incredibly hard to keep life as close to what it was before my diagnosis as possible. I fight reality tooth and nail in a wayward attempt to hold on to my pre-illness identity. It’s incredibly important to me. So, while I may smile and agree to the idea of taking help if need be, internally I feel like…Nope, I got this. Don’t worry about me. I’m fine.
Up until recently only the very closest people in my life have seen the toll my illness takes on me. Not even my mother knows the extent of the strain. Your Dad is the only witness to my weakest of moments, my outbursts and rages, most of which seem to come in the middle of the night. It has always been important to me that I appear normal to the outside world. Better than normal. Great. Pulled together. Highly functioning. I don’t want to be judged or liked, written off or underestimated, based on my illness. I want people to see me, not the potential ticking clock.
We’ve had people reach out to us in the past. The kindness and generosity of some of our friends has truly humbled me. But what happened in the weeks leading up to Christmas struck me on a completely different level. I was so sick, so weak, so disturbingly incapable of taking care of myself I had to let go. I had to stop holding so tight to the wishes of my ego and take the help being offered to us with grace. I had to accept that I needed assistance on the most basic of levels – help driving my child to school and taking care of him after, help making meals, help going to the flippin’ grocery store. I couldn’t do anything on my own and for as many times as I’ve said “No Thank you” over the past years, I said “Thank you” over the past weeks, and it was a completely humbling experience.
To benevolently offer to help someone without thought for yourself and frankly, at an inconvenience to you, is practically unheard of these days. Our closest friends in Los Angeles rallied around us. They joined something called “Meal Train” which allowed them to sign up for duties on a shared calendar and communicate via email. They kindly left me out of the loop because it quickly became obvious that even the simplest of questions like, “How do you feel about chicken for Thursday night?” had me gut reacting with statements like, “Don’t worry about it. Please don’t anything. I’m ok.” So, they just stopped asking me. The whole experience was unbelievable. My friend’s cleaning lady showed up at my house. Groceries were on my back door. Meals were in my fridge. My child was happy and busy with playdates and dinners. These wonderful people took over the reigns of my life so I could rest and get better. I was beyond touched and grateful but I honestly struggled with how to properly respond. I had no point of reference for this type of support, this level of kindness.
Truthfully, I panicked. What if this was my new life? What if these amazing people, who were being so kind now, ultimately saw me as a burden? I couldn’t possibly or sufficiently thank them enough. I felt as if I would “owe” everyone for life and never be able to deliver. I worried my needs upset the balance of our relationship. I felt “less than” myself, as if I was no longer a peer or an equal but someone beneath them. A charity case rather than a friend and as I started to feel better, I wanted to jump right back into my life. I wanted to stop the help machine. I wanted to go back to normal but I was convinced not to. With all the understanding they could muster, your Dad and Granny told me slipping right back into my life full speed was going to be a mistake. That my friends were helping in good faith and I should accept it with the same respect in which it was intended. They believed the best thing I could do for everyone who was going so far out of their way to help was to get well – really,truly well. Taking care of my family on my own would come. My friends weren’t doing so much just so I could get sick again. They weren’t planning to lord their compassion over me. They weren’t looking for endless, groveling thanks. They were supporting me because they liked me and wanted to see me well. As Sean said, “If it was one of them, wouldn’t you do the same?”
The answer was a resounding yes. Yes, of course I would. I wouldn’t help someone to make them feel weak or small or to get kudos or presents. I would lend a hand because I could and I would do it without question. I had to learn to take help the same way.
Once I stopped fighting it was astonishing how the experience opened up my heart. It was extraordinary to be the recipient of such an outpouring of love. To accept that was ok to need people. To embrace the fact I wasn’t able to do it all and allow so many people come together to assist us. The experience humbled me in a way I could never have expected. Instead of making me feel weaker I felt stronger. I came out of the situation feeling I could (and should) do more to help others. People being kind and gracious to me inspired me to be kind and gracious to others. I suppose that’s why the concept of “paying it forward” works. If someone is good to you, it incites you to be good to others. The truth of the matter is, NONE of us can do it all on our own, and when we truly accept and embrace that, the world has the potential to become a much better place.
Look around in your life baby. Offer to help those who might need it and graciously accept relief when it’s offered to you. Help is not just for people who are sick, it’s for anyone that could use a little lift or love. It’s not lost on me that this entire experience happened at the time of year when we’re supposed to be looking out for our fellow man. The period of time when goodness and compassion come back in style. “So this is Christmas, and what have you done….”
My friends didn’t help me because they wanted to feel they’d done charity before the holidays. They helped me because they thought I needed them, and I let them because they were right. The same circumstances could have occurred in April or July and I believe they would have done exactly the same thing. It’s just that with the overlapping of this time of year I feel just a bit more encouraged for the state of the world. That for all the selfish, me first behavior we see every day, there are still people are innately good, who look out for one another, who treat others as they would be treated, and that, my love, gives me hope.
Look out for others Loch, and let others look out for you. In a world that’s become so increasingly insular, it’s important we realize how very much we are all still connected.
From my heart to yours,
xo your mommy