I hate asking for help. Perhaps it’s because I feel like I have to ask for help so much that I resent it. Or maybe I’m just stubborn. Whatever the case, if I can possibly avoid asking for help, even if it’s at the cost of my health, I avoid it.
Unfortunately, events seem to be conspiring to force me to ask for help. This week alone I’ve faced three separate situations where I either need to ask for help, or would be best served by asking for help.
Situation One: I went to the doctor’s office for a long overdue appointment. Since I have four different doctors, even though I like my family doctor I try to avoid seeing her unless I absolutely have to. After the appointment, I realised I was token-less and 25 cents short of bus fare. So, instead of calling my father to ask for a ride, instead of asking someone at the doctor’s office for a quarter, I walked about six blocks up and then downhill to get to an ATM machine and the nearest subway station where I could buy tokens.
I finally got home and went to bed for the afternoon to recover. When I thought the whole thing over later, I knew I had no one to blame but myself. I could have asked for help, but I didn’t. Instead, I stubbornly exhausted my body in order to avoid admitting I might possibly need to rely on another person.
Situation Two: The liver biopsy I’ve been talking about for weeks is Monday morning. By 7:15 Monday morning, I must be at the hospital to have bloodwork to ensure my blood is not too thin to clot after the biopsy. However, I don’t have to check in for the biopsy until 9:30 am. After the actual biopsy takes place, I must lie still for a few hours in order to give the wound time to heal and prevent further injury. It becomes a long, extremely boring day really quickly.
Even though the thought of a liver biopsy turns my stomach, even though I have trouble sleeping the night before and even though the last time I had a biopsy I cried from stress the night after it was over, I still hate asking my friends and family for physical and emotional support.
When it comes to medical tests and issues, my theme song is I Am a Rock by Simon & Garfunkel. The song ends with the lyrics, “I am a rock, I am an island. And a rock feels no pain. And an island never cries.” I pretend to find the situation easier if I keep my feelings inside. If I don’t tell anyone I’m scared, maybe I can pretend I’m not. Also, what if I were to reach out for help or support and no one was there?
I also fear other people can’t handle what I have to deal with. The last thing I need when I have to deal with a medical situation is someone who I have to pretend to be okay for and reassure. Once for a biopsy, I was put in the room with a woman who was about to have her first liver biopsy. My turn came before hers and because I wanted to set a good example for her, I did not show I was scared or that I felt pain from the biopsy, even when the doctor had to stick the needle in twice because he didn’t get a sample the first time.
Last but not least comes the guilt I feel about my loved ones having to watch me go through painful and scary procedures. I’m stuck with my body, which means I have to be present for all the bloodwork, the heparin shots, the liver biopsies, the surgeries and what have you. At times I try to spare my family the pain of having to watch me do something by pretending I can handle it on my own. That approach mainly works with doctor’s appointments and minor tests like bloodwork and echocardiograms.
But with a biopsy, there’s no way around it. At the very least someone must pick you up and take you home after all the resting is done. If you don’t have a person there, they won’t do the test.
The prospect left me in a situation I didn’t want to be in, not only having to ask others for help, but also having to decide who to ask. Usually I try to base my decision on who would be inconvenienced the least in my family. This time, however, my sister and my boyfriend helped me realise a couple of important things.
My sister told me that whatever I wanted her to do the day of the biopsy, she would do it without hesitation. When I thought about it more, it occurred to me my whole family actually felt the same way.
My boyfriend told me there were two people in the world, those who tell others what they want in an arrogant fashion, and those who are extremely shy about asking for what they want for fear of stepping on another’s toes. We agreed in the end it wasn’t really that simplistic, but his point was I am the latter person.
Both conversations served to bring something to light I had not been acknowledging. I can talk all I want about my family and the people who care about me and how I don’t want to inconvenience them. But in doing so, I don’t even give them a chance to be dependable or trustworthy.
Fortunately, situation three is still open for action. Next week in cardiac rehab I’m switching from the basic class for people who have had heart attacks, strokes or other cardiac surgeries to a class specfically for people with chronic heart failure (CHF). The CHF class is quite a bit smaller, with a focus on managing your health instead of recovery. From what my exercise therapist has told me, a lot of the people who go bring someone with them.
So here’s another chance. I can use the excuse of not wanting to bother anyone else in order to protect myself, or I can break my old patterns. I can open up and reveal to others that I, too, need help and support sometimes. Dealing with chronic illness is hard, and no one should have to do it alone.