Truth II – Shame

It comes, in a small swell of acid that eats away at my soul. Email heading: Garage sale volunteers needed Saturday!

I can’t. I need to do the grocery shopping, and I am actually proud of myself for being able to do that. It’s an improvement over some other weeks. And I am ashamed of not being able to help, for thinking of myself before someone else, for feeling proud of myself for doing something so basic!

A burning flame that starts somewhere deep and low inside me, building to a roaring fire that burns brightly on my face: “How about after the lecture and concert, we all go for drinks!”

I can’t. I am too ashamed … and scared … to admit that I’m going to skip the lecture, and miss the concert, and even if I was awake that late to go for drinks, I can’t drink on the meds I’m on right now, and I never have been able to safely drink… and… it doesn’t matter….  

A rising tide in the back of my throat, that several hard swallows will never clear away: A blogpost making a point about a different subject that reads “I try to learn, and I note the unavoidable self-obsession (sorry but yes) that can result from dealing with some kind of hideously challenging life circumstance, day in and day out…. That brand of self-centeredness and constant self-advocacy is a natural by-product to simply trying to function, to stay in your lane, and the alternative is simply to collapse.” (M for Musicology, “Mad Studies and Advocacy,” which by the way is a good read.)

I am that person. Am I guilty of being selfish? Of self-advocating constantly? If I ask for an extension on my paper, am I abusing my current conditions? I’m too ashamed to even consider it now. I can be so tired I throw up a few more times, and finish with the rest of the class … that’s really ok.

A feeling behind my eyes, a hundred helpful little shoe-making elves, driving in prickly tiny nails: A memo… please update your new program advisor on your progress, timetable to completion, applications for grants, etc.

I haven’t even updated my dissertation advisor for a long time now… I’m too ashamed to tell him I haven’t done anything of substance, so I keep putting off updating him until I have something, and… and… gulp… it’s been months… and… oh hell, I’m never going to have the nerve to email him, let alone talk to him, and I’ll never again be able to meet his eyes… crumbs…

A vacuum, a world of no oxygen, and no substance; nothing to fill my aching lungs as I gasp, nothing to hold onto: being asked if I really need all of those meds, if I can’t just handle it? Will I actually die? Like how big of a chance of dying are we really talking about?

And I am instantly ashamed that I can’t hack it, somehow, and so ashamed that actually dying can be much preferable to continuing … and then simply empty, pushed beyond shame to someplace else too dark for sorrow.

A bottomless chasm, a cyclone ripping me apart from inside, a well filled with nothing but dark, viscous, and vicious guilt: the deepest, most sorrowful, anxiety-ridden, and horrendous shame of all, the damage done to my friends and family. Hours taken off from school or work, mental turmoil, expensive travel, never-ending phone calls… all that and everything else I, through my “illness” for lack of a better word, have caused them.

I… can’t. To damage those I hold most dear. I.

I

 

Let’s be clear. Everyone has things to be ashamed of, things they’ve done. But this? These injuries, illnesses? Is this honestly something I could control, that I would invite? That I would wish on an enemy, even? No. No. It is not. When my actions are genuinely lazy, selfish, and absurd, then I should be ashamed. When I am wallowing needlessly in self-pity, then yes, I should be ashamed. If I allow my own self-interest to influence my scholarship unduly, then oh yes, I should be ashamed.

Sickness in and of itself is not “wrong or foolish behavior.” It is not a loss of esteem. You are not worth less as a human being, no one is… you have value and always inherently will. Do not be ashamed.

This is now, this is what is, and this state of being demands these adaptations, these restrictions, this assistance. Every day I face down my shame, sometimes a pointless, idiotic shame as well I know, over that which I cannot change to face with courage what I can: emailing my advisor, answering questions graciously, continuing to work, however slowly, on a project. Some days I succeed more than others. And I try to remember, to pray… let me run the race with endurance.

That is the truth of my shame.

Pineapple-Raspberry Ginger Ale Slush

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Pineapple-Raspberry Ginger Ale Slush. It tastes so much better than the picture turned out! I used fresh pineapple but honestly, I think frozen might work even better. For my handy little one-person blender, I used

4 ice cubes

about 1/2 of frozen raspberries

3 inches of pineapple ring + a little juice from the container, or probably 3/4 cup

4/5 can of ginger ale

Unfortunately, my blender has slightly less power than a child’s spinning top. I discovered I had to put in the pineapple, some of the raspberries, about 1/3 of the ginger ale, and blend… stir… blend… and then add the ice cubes in pairs and the rest of the raspberries. It would taste better with more crushed ice, but my blender balked and would go no further. I gently stirred the rest of the ginger ale in (which preserves a bit of the carbonation).

Next task: find some way to get crushed ice. Besides simply walking outside and whacking an icicle with a hammer a few times, that is!

Offering Help IV

When someone is reluctant to take help, but you KNOW they need it. It happens. I’ve experienced it from both sides now. Truth be told, both sides of this coin are difficult. This is one time when it sometimes seems like, whether you flipped heads or tails, both parties still lose.

It goes something like this: Helpful Person walks up and says, “I know it’s been rough. I’d like to bring you dinner sometime this next week or two.” And Life-Is-Falling-Apart Person, or LIFA, hems and stalls, because it’s difficult to accept help. It is. Mentally, the LIFA is probably rearranging the calendar, trying to figure it out, and working out a way to say that actually s/he has only eaten organic yogurt and raw honey for dinner the past week, when s/he has eaten at all, so… really… there’s no point.

Here’s where it goes a few different ways. Helpful Person can instantly back off from the situation, and that’s it. Or Helpful Person can continue to gently insist, pointing out that they’d like to do this for you, as well as others. It’s a gift to let them help at this point in time.

There’s song lyrics about knowing when to call and when to fold. Offering help is much the same dance. A little bit of resistance to accepting help, especially it seems in the West, is practically a cultural norm. Independent pioneer spirit and all forbids someone in need from actually admitting helplessness. It’s also humiliating to admit that you’re no longer capable of lifting a laundry basket or driving a car. So as badly as help may be needed, it can be so very difficult to accept. Gracefully accepting help is going to be another post, though. This is about gently overcoming that natural reluctance to have someone else scrub three weeks’ worth of dirty undies.

Offer help. Then once the initial squeamishness is detected, offer again. Say that it is something you can do, and you desperately need to do this, that this is a gift the person can actually give you, by letting you help. That’s right. Guilt trip time. If there is more squeamishness, start gently wheedling out why. It may be that someone is reluctant to accept dinner because s/he is only eating peanut butter. Some reassurance that you are capable of actually doing whatever it is you are offering AND working around their needs/schedule may need to be applied. If there is significant upset or resistance, back off. But if this is a situation where there is a clear need, don’t relent. It might take a few gently abrading passes to wear down the target. Sometimes even a direct attack — I’m going to bring over a casserole and six dumb movies! — might work with a close friend. But be sure you know the person well before attempting the direct attack! Even if your target doesn’t ever accept, though, you have given that person one thing that the person may hold close — that you are there and cared enough to offer.

 

Offering Help III

There is a difference in between being supportive and being an enabler. There is also a difference in being helpful and judging. It’s hard to tell the difference sometimes; it can be a terribly fine line. Chronic condition can affect the personality. Drugs can become addictive. Depression and other mood disorders may abound.

There is no simple fix. Every so often, it might become necessary to take that vital step back from helping a friend to question if this is really helping, or if this may be the moment to stop enabling someone to persist in a destructive pattern and start pushing towards healthier habits. Professionals exist to help people cope with the countless problems of chronic pain, and yes, professionals also exist to help you, the assistant, confidant, friend, support crew, battle buddy, survive this battle as well. Burnout, whether it’s in a car or from cancer, is real.

There’s a point when you have to call professionals instead of going over to help someone yourself. There’s a point when offering to help someone by getting them meds or loaning money or giving rides is actually enabling them to live a non-healthy life. At the same time, it’s very important not to mistake your wishes, your needs, your fears and desires, with what is right for your friend. This is a tricky situation. For an example… what if you are resistant to pain and prefer natural, homeopathic remedies? Your friend/significant other/whatever is not you; s/he might need those medications. As long as this is medically advisable and the path your friend wishes to take, it may be best to let it ride. Remember: it’s not your body. But what about when pills are disappearing too quickly, you think? When you’re fairly certain that now it’s fear, not fatigue, that’s keeping someone from going on a walk?

There is no easy way to handle this, no clear way to draw the distinction between what works for you and what works for your friend/relative/significant other/whatever. Between your wishes and theirs. Every situation is different, and every situation can change in an instant. In the end, all I can write right now, from the depths of my, well, inexperience, is to trust your instincts. When there’s a risk of bodily harm to you or them, that would be one line that should instinctively raise warning bells. Chose to err on the side of caution. And remember… put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.