I knew my breaking point was coming last year. I could sense it; I could the cracks starting to form and I could feel myself crumble bit by bit. But I kept going until I broke. In this case, my breaking point came in the form of shingles in the eye, leaving me unable to see out of my right eye or move without experiencing excruciating head pain for weeks at a time.
Why did I keep going like that until I couldn’t? To survive. To demonstrate strength and perseverance and tenacity. To be independent. We live in a society that thrives on independence, to do it all on our own, and to do it all. I’m not sure why that is. It seems strange to me that one would be perceived as weak if they lean on others for help. I would never think that of others. Isn’t that what friends and family are for? But in this generation, in our current society, the expectation is to do everything on your own and to do it with perfection. Be a perfect parent. Be a perfect partner. Do the dishes, keep a clean house. Have a successful career. Make enough money to have a big house.
Women especially feel this pressure to be perfect. Perhaps things were different a generation ago, with fewer women working outside the home. Growing up, everywhere, girls around me (including myself) were taught that we could be and do anything we wanted to be – and aptly so. But somehow, I think this got translated into, “You must do everything, and do it with grace, perfection, and a smile on your face.” Shortly after the holidays, I was still in a great deal of pain and felt extremely fatigued from shingles. Since I couldn’t use my eyes much, I did the only thing I could do and still remain productive – I did laundry. It needed to be done anyway, since we had just gotten back from our trip and had a mountain of clothes to wash and dry. But this was my meager contribution to our household at the time since I couldn’t do much of anything else in the way of caring for the kids, driving, cooking, or cleaning (or working, for that matter). When I told a friend this, she replied, “Wow, still the super mom. Always looking out for others instead of yourself.” And I realize she meant to say this with the best of intentions – I do. But I really didn’t intend for this to be an act of bravery or courage or superhero strength. I was just trying to survive and help my kids. I definitely was not trying to be a super mom. I think trying to be a super mom was what got me into this mess in the first place.
…which brings me back to my original point. Why can we not ask for help when we truly need it?
If there is anything I have learned from this situation, it is that pain can not just be debilitating of your physical abilities, it is extremely humbling. It makes you realize how finite the state of our bodies are and that we can’t really be independent all of the time – and that is okay. Humans are social and we are meant to live in packs and groups; evolutionarily, that is how we have survived for thousands of years. We are meant to rely on the community around us, our “village,” per se. But why are we perceived as weak if we ask for help? Are we really seen as less independent and strong if others around us help us out, or is this all just in our heads? Why can we not openly pour our hearts out when we suffer? Isn’t this what has bred this recent epidemic of loneliness that we all suffer today? Why must be proud and not rely on others? Does it make us stronger to not ask for help? Or, on the contrary, does it make us stronger to ask for help?
I don’t know what the answer is to that question. I do know that asking for help does not make you weak, though. And, that asking for help and helping others are gestures that are a normal part of life.
Although I was initially hesitant, we did end up accepting offers for help when I became ill.
What changed my mind was letting my guard down and accepting the fact that, although we could survive without help, we could really use it for our own sanity. And that that was okay. Since telling people about my illness, numerous people have come by to drop off dinners. I haven’t cooked more than two meals since December. Friends and coworkers have dropped off cards and flowers, called and texted to check on us, and offered to take care of our kids so we could rest. My parents were here for a week and helped me build enough confidence to start driving again. We have been eternally grateful for our village. I truly don’t know how to repay people for what they have done for us. How can you thank your community for helping you get back on your feet? Thank you cards feel hollow and insufficient.
The only thing I can think to do is to vow to help others rebuild and heal when they need it the most. To gently remind them that it is okay to let your guard down and let others in. That even though you may not need help, you may want it. And that is okay. I see you. I hear you. Please, let me help you.
This author has chosen to publish her work anonymously