When you have a chronic illness you can go one of two ways with it. Either you embrace being sick and make it part of who you are, or you fight it — nearly going into denial regarding your health status.
Neither place is especially good for you. As in all things balance is the best policy, but humans tend to live in extremes. With my asthma, I am a fighter, a denier of the highest order. I didn’t even go to a doctor for it until I was well into my twenties. It’s a miracle I survived on over the counter medication that long. But that’s what you did in my family — you sucked it up and you went on with your life.
My father freely admitted he didn’t ‘believe’ in doctors. I once told him, “Dad, it’s not like they’re Santa Claus — they really do exist.”. He did not find my correlation the least bit funny. Even as a kid, I was a smart ass. But I digress.
Finally, after seeing a general practitioner for my asthma and being placed on the current drug regime of choice for treatment, it still took another few years before I managed to find my way to an allergist to be treated for the root cause of the asthma. I was in my fifties before I actually landed in the office of a pulmonary doctor.
Because I just carried on.
I managed. I denied. I did not let my ‘condition’ slow me down or stop me or keep me out of work or from doing the things. All the things.
Until it finally did. Completely. For weeks at a time. Because my body said ‘enough of this shit — you will listen to me.’
And I found my strength of will only would push me so far. I had to give my body the time and care she needed to recover. I had denied her needs and her healing for decades. I had taken care of everyone around me, but her. And don’t think I ever let anyone else take of her. Oh no — let me amend that — oh hell no!
I was the mother, the nurse, THE caregiver. I did not accept care.
It has only been very recently that I have been able to amend that and allow the people who love me to care for me. It’s an incredibly difficult thing on so many levels.
It means you have to look your disease square in the face and admit you aren’t strong enough to do this alone anymore. There might have been a day — but those days are gone now. You and your body need some help with this, so yes, thank you all for being here for us. Because the warrior within is tired, defeated. We are raising the white flag.
It means you have to admit to everyone who loves you that you need them. More importantly — that you need them more than they need you now. When you’ve been the caregiver forever and a day — the shift of roles is something you feel right down to the foundation of who you are. Who are you really if you can’t take care of other people? If you can’t even take care of yourself? Your sense of independence evaporates when you find yourself unable to open a bottle of ginger ale without sending out an S.O.S.
It means allowing people to see you at your most vulnerable. Sick, short of breath, feverish, coughing, sucking on breathing treatments, coughing, so tired there is no moving — there is only being and sleeping. You have to learn to trust them with everything. With all the scary things. All the decisions you’ll be too weak to make about your life. And part of you knows at that point — you won’t even care, because you’ve been to that brink a couple of times already.
But today — today you are getting well. You have given your body what it needs and she is rewarding your patience and love with health. You are getting better at taking care of her. You are getting better at telling the real world to fuck off and give her the space and rest she needs to heal. And you are doing it without guilt. You have let people who love you come to your aid, you have felt their love wrap around you like a warm shawl and that has added to the healing.
You have learned.