14 February 2009

Lessons from illness

This infection has hit much harder than you'd expect from a few bacteria camped out in the tiny space inside my ear. It's been a full week now, and although I am able to be out of bed for a normal day, I am still unable to do any physically demanding work ... even sitting at the loom to weave would be enough to exhaust me. It has been a long, slow week.

The day after our late night run to the emergency room, I slept. The whole day. The Reluctant Farmer had a class to attend, and was worried that I probably shouldn't be home without another adult to watch over me, so my mom came and spent the day here. While I lay in bed sleeping, my mother and my son cleaned the house, scrubbing under the sink, washing laundry, sweeping floors, chasing dust bunnies. As we are close to the time of year when spring cleaning is scheduled, this is not really the ideal time to have anyone else puttering around in the really disgusting nooks and crannies of my house ... it's even more embarassing than usual. The truth is things are pretty dirty around here most of the time, and it's hard to keep up. A small illness or a series of other obligations can put house cleaning seriously behind.

My mother is an excellent house keeper. She is also a very generous person, and sees cleaning my house while I sleep off a shot of Demerol to be a gift she can give me, not an imposition. Yet, for me, accepting gifts of service from others is surprisingly difficult.

The Reluctant Farmer and The Boy have spent a whole week bringing me drinks, doing my chores, making sure I take my medicine on time, letting me sleep. My coworkers have filled in for me, picking up loose ends and handling things I would normally take care of ... and one of them even made a delivery run out to the house to bring me some things that I'd left in the office and had need of.

All this kindness is difficult to accept, somehow, even though I know that nobody who has helped me feels imposed upon, or is angry with me for needing their assistance. Yet somehow I can't help but feel like it is somehow wrong to require help, wrong to ask anything of others, wrong to be in need ... even though it is patently obvious that I cannot do these things for myself right now.

I seem to have this delusional belief that if I were just strong enough, or dedicated enough, or smart enough, then I would never need help from other people. Now, this is plainly ridiculous. I don't hold anyone else to that standard: when I see someone who needs a hand, I offer it, without ever thinking of them as weak or unmotivated or stupid. I mean, we all need help sometimes.

So why do I resist so strongly when it is me who needs the help? I don't think anyone else should have to do things all on their own. Why should I expect it of myself?

Because I don't like having to need anyone else. It is scary. What if I need them and they aren't there? What if they get mad at me for needing so much and then they go away and I'm left all alone? Silly fears, I suppose, but they are there. So I want to pretend that I don't need anyone, that I can do this all by myself. But it always turns out that I can't do this all by myself ... and then I get frustrated and berate myself for being too weak, too lazy, or too stupid to get by on my own.

But you see, that's all untrue. I am strong - well, I'm not physically very strong, but my body does function reasonably well and I can do most ordinary tasks. Even when I'm at my best I can't do heavy lifting, and I can't do long hours of physical work either ... but why should I think that I could? I have a small body and it's not well trained. I have weak joints that need to be protected. If I push my body beyond it's limits, all I will end up doing is injuring myself and then I'll need even more help. That would be stupid. Better to share the workload with others whose bodies are better suited to the hard labour, or to take it slowly and do only what my little body can safely do in a day, and no more.

And I am dedicated - I pursue the things I believe are right and the dreams I have for myself and my family with a sometimes frightening level of obsession. I don't need help because I'm too lazy to do things on my own ... I need help because my dreams are even bigger than what one person to realize all on her own.

And, I am smart - I read, research, and generally make well-informed decisions. When I need help to figure something out, it's not because I'm too dumb to do it by myself ... it's because I'm smart enough to ask for more input so that I can make a better choice in the end.

It can be so very hard to be a friend to yourself,though. It's so easy to beat yourself up, to let that little voice in your head start ranting about how you're weak and lazy and stupid. I'd never speak to a friend that way ... in fact, I'd never speak to a stranger that way ... so why would it be okay to talk to myself like that?

It's not.

So ... yeah, I need a lot of help right now. Someone else has to feed the sheep today. Someone else needs to mop the floors this week. Someone else needs to empty the dishwasher this evening.

But this is why we live in families, in communities, and not as solitary, lonely people. There is someone else to do the jobs this week that I cannot do - several someone else's in fact, and they are all willing to help. Some other week, when it's their job that remains undone because they are sick or preoccupied or grieving or busy, well, then it will be my turn to help.

Today, though, it is my turn to be helped, and I need to accept the help with as much grace as I would give it, were it the other way around.

After all, it's really not so hard to say "thank you for helping me, I really needed it".

And to smile when I say it.


  1. Anonymous11:20 pm

    Receiving will equal giving when practiced with
    honesty and sincerity; the giving and receiving
    become both generous acts. These actions express
    to the receiver, “you make a difference” and to the
    giver, “thank you for your kindness.” When we
    genuinely both give and receive, we become richer
    with a connection to that person, inspiring our lives.
    From Mission Possible Website and your Mom.

  2. Oh, if only I couldn't relate quite so well.

    I hope you heal quickly and completely.

  3. Ah, finally I am starting to feel improved. What a rough go this was - the antibiotics were, indeed, the root cause of the horrendous exhaustion but what a lesson in understanding others whose bodies do not function within normal parameters.

    There is that old saying, 'be kind to everyone for you do not know what battles they are fighting'. My hearing loss and exhaustion carried no external signs but oh, what a battle.

    Fortunately for me, everyone around me was kind to me ... and I am learning, slowly, to be kind to myself as well.

    And, today the doctor checked my ear and said it is healing nicely, so that's very encouraging!


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