Many times growing up and in my earlier life (before illnesses) I took on the role of entertainer, joker, people-pleaser, helper, cheerer and generally making others feel good about themselves. It became me. It defined me. It was a role I could not give up.
I did my job too well, because I began to help all those I could and was always being called upon in times of emergency or crisis. I was the ‘go to’ girl for people in need. My ability to make people happy and refocus their energy and thoughts towards a ‘better’ path was something I thought I did very well. It was also validating me as an important person in life. I felt I had a use and a place in the world. I thought I was doing the right thing. I was my own worst enemy.
These qualities certainly became useful during my life as a project manager and employers love people who will say yes to anything they are asked to do.
Until I couldn’t.
I tried to hide my declining health from my employer, my friends, my partner and even myself.
Until I couldn’t.
Slowly the walls started the crumble and when chronic illness comes it takes a lot of things away. Strips them away. Tears them away. Including our identities.
Women feel this particularly hard because we are taught to be nurturers and givers. When that is taken away it makes it hard to feel worthy or useful anymore. It did to me. Many women find themselves rejected when we no longer give and provide as we once did. I have read so many heart breaking stories of women losing their marriages and families because they couldn’t DO all that they once did. Even though they were still valid and lovable.
Those who called upon me stopped calling. Those who I was constantly helping no longer found me reliable and useful. And I had to work hard not to feel that it was a failing or flaw in me. It’s a very hard and lengthy adjustment for me and many others.
I now find myself the one who needs.
I need patience. I need understanding. I need cheering up. I need someone to encourage me and say ‘it’s ok’. I need someone to care about me. I need someone to see my value beyond what I can do physically. I need someone to stand by me and fight in my corner.
I would be lying if I said that people are lining up to fill these roles. Regardless of who they are or what I might have done for them in the past. Life doesn’t work like that.
Those that are still in my life (no matter how few) really are so wonderful. There are a few older friendships and a few ‘newer’ relationships that have gone through similar experiences. However, the most important thing about them all is that they are all genuine.
They are more equal relationships and I feel able to be my true self. My ‘needful’ self. They have seen the sad clown and still accept me for who I am. I don’t feel I have to be constantly ‘giving and doing’ in order to be appreciated and loved.
And that is truly an important part of making the most out of life with chronic illnesses.
Ironically, my illnesses have forced me to find some things I could not find as healthier person.