Ever since I was about 7 years old, I’ve had the same recurring nightmare. I am running down a dimly lit empty hallway. On my face there is a look of sheer horror, and my breathing is fast and heavy. I am frantically looking around the hallway, as if I am searching for something. I am rubbing my hands against the walls, frantically trying to find something. Suddenly, doors begin to appear on the walls that were once empty in the dimly lit hallway. I quickly open and close multiple doors, but never quite find what I am looking for. After what seems like an eternity, I open a door that leads to a bright white room. The room is so bright, that when the door is opened it lights up the entire hallway. As I slowly walk through the open door, it quickly becomes apparent that the room is a bathroom. I run into a stall as fast as I can, line the toilet seat with toilet tissue, and sit down just in time. As I celebrate making it to the porcelain throne just in time, I notice that the toilet tissue holder is completely empty. I frantically look around the stall praying to find tissue, but there is none in sight. While looking for tissue, I hear “tap, tap, tap”. Frightened because I thought I was in the bathroom alone, I cautiously look around the stall for the source of the noise. As I look down at the floor, I notice feet in the stall immediately to my left. I watch the feet tap the floor, and hear a whistle the matches the rhythm of the foot tap. Still frightened, I take a deep breath, and quietly whisper, “hello, can you help me please. Can you please pass me some toilet tissue because I’m all out over here”.
Every time I have that nightmare, I wake up with my heart racing and covered in sweat. Just typing out the nightmare had my heart racing. The nightmare scares me half to death for several reasons. Reading it and knowing that I am a germaphobe, you are probably thinking that the nightmare is scary because of the public bathroom. While I do find public bathrooms disgusting, that is not the reason this nightmare is so frightening. See, it is easy to overlook the complex issues imbedded in my nightmare. For starters, I am all alone in the dark, in a seemingly unfamiliar place, franticly searching for something. Next, the nature of the space makes me only able to rely on 3 of my 5 senses, touch, smell, and sight (somewhat), although sight doesn’t help me much because of the darkness. When I enter the bathroom itself, my sense of sight gets stronger because the bathroom is well lit. I also gain another sense, sound, as evidenced by me hearing the shoe tapping and whistling in the stall next to me. Here’s the kicker, despite now having 4 of my 5 senses, I am still completely unable to help myself. In the nightmare, my Crohn’s has acted up, and I am stuck in the stall because there is no toilet tissue. You see, this nightmare is me in a situation where my skills, knowledge, senses, and other internal resources are not enough for me to help myself. They are completely useless…I need help from someone other than myself. That, friends, is why it’s a nightmare.
Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you were completely unable to help yourself? I’m talking about a situation in which you are completely unable to care for yourself, feed yourself, dress yourself, and anything else along those lines? You are completely at the mercy of others and you pray that they take care of you and your needs in the same way you would. Close your eyes right now, and visualize yourself in that situation…HORRIBLY FRIGHTENING! That is the situation for lots of people living with chronic illness and pain.
HELP. Such an easy word to say. It literally just rolls off the tongue. Try it right now, say “help”. Easy right? H.E.L.P. Four simple letters. Saying this four letter word is so easy that you would think this would be one of the most over used words in society. Well, it’s not. It is not even in the top 10 of the most used words in the world. Now, I can’t speak for all of society, but I can say without hesitation that I rarely use this word. Honestly, I go to great lengths to avoid ever using this word. See, somewhere in life I decided that no one could help me as good as I could help myself. Also, somewhere in life, it became clear that even if I did in fact ask for help, it was highly unlikely that I would receive help…despite always being there to help others. Now, I won’t act as if I have zero help…because that’s not true at all. I do have a small but mighty circle of people around me that will help if I ask or will help when they recognize my version of asking for help.
As I have shared before, I am a Type A control freak. While I am working on this, progress has been slow so currently this description is accurate. As a Type A control freak, people never seem to move fast enough for me, most people around me appear to be wasting time, and very few people can do things as efficiently as I can. That pretty much sums up life through the eyes of a Type A control freak. While being Type A results in lots of career success, that success comes at a cost. Recently, I’ve come to realize just how exhausting life is in the Type A control freak fast lane. I have also recently come to realize the impact that life in the Type A fast lane has on my health. So, I have been forcing myself to slow down, be still, and yes, ask for help. Now, I am going to be honest that this is VERY new…as in this started about 45 days ago. But, I am committed to living a different way and fortunately I have an amazing circle of support that recognizes my plea for help…even when I’ve only ask for it in my mind.
Back in August when I was hospitalized for an unexpected flare before my NYC trip, I was completely devastated. I cried more than I have cried my entire life. Honestly, I was completely surprised at how devastated I was for having to postpone my trip. When it became clear that I was going to be admitted into the hospital, it felt like the weight of the world came crashing down on my shoulders. Every time I tried to lift the weight off my shoulders or figure out a plan to still make the trip to NYC happen, the weight got heavier…suffocating almost. I was completely overwhelmed by the situation, but felt I had very few people around me that could understand. I texted E, a very good friend of mine, a simple frown emoji. We had a few back and forths and I thought I had put up a good strong front via text displaying an annoyed yet positive disposition. Fortunately, E saw right through it.
I’m still not sure how E knew that I was in trouble and needed help. I needed someone to take the weight off my shoulders so I could breathe, even if just for a few minutes. My friend E stopped texting and immediately called. She could hear the sadness in my voice, and it was unfamiliar to her. She immediately went to work, in a way only she could. She said “ok, we gotta get you out of this hospital. Yes, let’s grieve since you can’t go to NYC today like you wanted. But, after that we gotta come up with a plan. This can’t ruin your birthday. NYC will be there, I promise you that”. Intrigued by her words, I stopped crying and said “come up with what plan. I’m stuck in this stupid hospital and even if I get out, there is no way the hubs would ok the NYC trip.” E laughed and said, “let’s think outside the box. If you can’t go to NYC, then you bring NYC to you. I text you some ideas last night, but the way you responded I knew you needed a call.” Intrigued but exhausted from crying, all I could muster was “huh”. E continued “yes, bring it to you. Think about it, when you go home set up NYC top spots in your house. Grab some food from a NYC style deli. Rent a broadway musical to watch. Think of things with NYC in it, and bring it to your private NYC party. It will be a blast and I can’t wait to hear about it”. As E talked, I closed my eyes and visualized what she said as she spoke. The more E talked, the more relaxed I got and the more I laughed. By the end of the conversation, I was peacefully drifting off to sleep, and had laughed so hard my face hurt.
Friends, battling chronic illness and pain is tough. It is tough both physically and emotionally. While I have learned that I cannot fight this battle alone, I am still learning to ask for and accept help. So, the advice in this post is both for me and those reading. As people with chronic illness and pain, we must start letting those in our circle help…even if it is only to give us just a few minutes of relief. For the loved ones and friends that are in someone’s circle of support, pay attention. The word “help” may never be used, but the ask for it may nonetheless be there. Just like chronic illness and pain doesn’t always present like you would expect, a person’s cry for help doesn’t either.