I recently ended up in the emergency room with what turned out to be a bad reaction to a new medication. Apparently, when the small print on the bottle says to call your doctor if you experience things like dizziness and loss of consciousness, you really should! I am fine now, but the remarkable thing was how I handled this at first and what I learned about myself.
I actually tried to ignore the symptoms, because as women and men of a certain generation, that is what we’ve always been taught to do isn’t it? Suck it up, keep moving, and take care of everyone else but yourself.
I’m so used to ignoring my own symptoms, waiting for things to just run their own course and soldiering on that it took landing in the ER to remind me that I need to take care of me, and that its okay to let other people take care of me too.
I had plans that night to go to the Nutcracker. We had been looking forward to it for weeks. So here I was, in between putting my head between my knees to keep from passing out, ignoring my other symptoms and my growing panic, still trying to get ready to go. Suddenly, it dawned on me, when I was sitting on the bathroom floor applying make-up because I couldn’t stand, that maybe, just maybe, I should pay attention to what was going on at the moment with my own body.
So I did what I almost never do, what I hate to do with every fiber of my being. I admitted weakness. I asked for help. And you know what the most amazing thing was? Help was there!
Most of us women in middle-age were raised in a time when it was simply assumed we would be the full time caregivers to those around us. If we had children, we did most, if not all of the work of raising them just because we were the female parent. If we didn’t have children then it was assumed that we would step into the role of caregiver for elderly parents, grandparents or aunts and uncles. We just did it, no questions asked.
Oh don’t get me wrong, we did it out of love and we wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Unlike many women before us, we had been given the precious opportunity to “have it all” and we were desperate to prove we could do it! Yet, along the way we often forgot to take care of ourselves. We often sacrificed our own needs. We neglected our own health and our own well-being to get everything done that needed to be done so that from the outside it looked like we had the perfect home, the perfect career, the perfect marriage and the perfect children.
Men’s challenges have been different but no less difficult. They were expected to take care of their families without ever showing weakness or shedding a tear. Why, why have we made it so hard for all of us to just be human? If we had felt free to share both our weaknesses and our strengths wouldn’t we have all been better off in the long run?
We can only go along like this for so long, however, before it all catches up with us. Our bodies can only take so much. Our emotional well-being can only take so much.
The funny thing is I thought that I had conquered this already. I thought that I had gotten to a place where I was finally taking care of my own needs and in many ways, I have. I make the time to eat healthy. I have even learned to say “no” now and again when I am overwhelmed. I remember to get enough sleep and I always go for my annual physicals but it still doesn’t come naturally to me! It turns out that this is a lifelong battle. It’s not something you just decide and then do from there on out. Putting myself last is so deeply engrained in me that it will take years to get better at striking some type of a healthy balance.
It starts with being able to say “no” when you are over committed and stressed out but that’s not the only important step. You also have to be able to say “I need help” and then be willing to accept it. This is hard for those of us who are used to doing it all. This is even more difficult if you, at some point, trusted someone to help you along on your journey and they let you down.
Often we act like the martyr, doing it all because we don’t think anyone would help, when in reality the only reason they haven’t helped is because we haven’t asked. Even when they offer, we’ve turned it down. How many times have you been carrying bags and bags of groceries and someone offers to help, or holds a door and you say “no thank you, I’ve got it.” How many times has someone called and asks how you are and you say “oh I’m fine” when you are anything but fine?
It turns out that I have lots of people in my life who want to help! All that good karma I’ve been putting out there, all the good deeds I’ve done, really did make an impact. I really do have a support system of people who love me. All I had to do was say “I need help” and the people I love were all there. It was amazing. And then, all I had to do was let go, and let them help. I don’t always have to be in control, I don’t always have to be strong. We are all in this mess called life together and it’s okay, really okay, if we lean on each other now and again.