Imperfections

I am one of those people who often cannot ask for help.

At times, I am so afraid of seeming weak, or whiny, or overly-sensitive, or dependent on other people that I tend to either ignore my own needs until I start flailing around at the last minute in order to not get overwhelmed, or minimize the possibility that some things could be going wrong. I am one of those people who needs to outwardly look like I know what I’m doing and that I have things totally under control — preferably at all times. (Intellectually, I know that this expectation is intensely unrealistic, and can be dangerous; even the most “put-together”-seeming person can be a total wreck in private.)

Part of this is a defense mechanism that I developed around the same time that I started getting made fun of in grade school for my mild cerebral palsy and the limp it caused. Somehow, I figured that if I could be perfect at something — my something being academics — and make it look effortless, other kids would stop making fun of me. This didn’t work out quite the way that I planned; regardless, I still tend to hold onto remnants of this habit.

Part of it is also my own internalization of the cultural ideals that tell people with disabilities that we must always “compensate” for the imperfect status(es) of our bodies or minds, a la the Good Cripple or Supercrip, as well as the cultural messages that tell many women that they must be “perfect” while making it look downright easy, in accordance with the current “ideal” feminine role. A great number of women are told, in ways subtle and not, that we must try to “have it all,” and do it without a drop of sweat showing. We must look good all of the time, we must wear clothes that are “flattering”, we must keep a figure that approximates whatever sort of beauty standards happen to be “in.” We must take care of others’ needs and feelings and make this our number one priority, and think about ourselves last (if at all). We must project an outward appearance of cheeriness, strength, or deference, no matter how we might actually feel. If we cannot do most or all of these things, we have failed. And when this loaded set of expectations intersects with the PWD-compensating-for-disability trope, look the hell out.

These are just a few examples, of course, and these expectations shift in various ways depending upon race, class, ability status, sexuality, gender identification, education, and a host of other factors that are often derided as being remnants of “identity politics.” Identity and its politics, however, still continue to matter.

Here’s where I am going with all of this: For the past few weeks, I have been dealing with newer and more unpleasant fibro symptoms that are starting to affect my day-to-day life. At first, I thought these symptoms were just the result of a bad day, and then a bad week, bad month, et cetera (you can probably guess as to where this leads). I wanted to believe that these symptoms were not a huge deal, and look like I knew how to deal with them until I made it back to “normal,” however tenuous that position is for me. Now that these new and interesting symptoms have become a bigger deal than I had anticipated, a lightbulb has also gone off in my head: I need to work on letting go of this all-or-nothing, but-I-should-always-have-it-together-even-when-I-don’t-and-do-not-need-help mindset.

Today, I finally made the decision to schedule a doctor’s appointment to get help with my new symptoms.

Acknowledging that I don’t have some things completely “together” and that I (gasp) need medical help with these symptoms may be a tiny first step toward changing the tape loop in my brain that tells me that I am on one side of a binary — that I am either a or b, all or nothing, need help with everything or do not ever. There is a middle ground. Until now, I haven’t been able to acknowledge that.

6 Comments

  1. Go you!

    I made a conscious decision in my 40s to learn how to ask for help and I’ve only done a so-so job of it. And that is starting from able-bodied privilege.

    So I can only imagine how much harder it might be for you. I hope it helps.

  2. I know EXACTLY what you’re talking about here.

    When I was in elementary school, I somehow came to the conclusion that I could get friends if I showed the other kids that I was good at stuff (e.g., singing). Um, yah, not so much. 😛

    I’m the strong one, the caretaker, always in control, responsible, on top of things, organized… What’s hilarious (or maybe not so much) is that I have ADHD, so being all of these things actually takes a heckuvalot of spoons.

    And then I wonder why I have anxiety attacks. And people worry about me when I cry (because I never do, at least not in public). But I’m good at stuff, and one of the things I’m good at is, apparently, acting. Not on stage, of course; I can’t remember my lines to save my life. But in my day-to-day life? Hello, facade.

  3. Congratulations on making the doctor’s appointment. And thank you for making this post – it sounds very familiar, given me a lot to think about.

  4. I can relate to everything you write. I was told subtly and not so subtly that I had to compensate for my blindness by being more independent, more sociable, more academically able, more everything than sighted people. It took a major breakdown in 2007 for me to realize I couldn’t keep up that way. That was also when I was diagnosed with autism, which explains some of my difficulties. Still, there is a part inside me that tells me I’m not autistic and I just fake it in order to be cut some slack.

  5. I am also one of those people. And due to the brain-fog, and my minimising the effect of symptoms and so not writing them down, when I finally do go to the doctor, she asks ‘and how long has this been going on for?’ and I never know.

  6. I’ve been told my whole life that I’m selfish and spoiled, mostly by my family but also by various other people, including romantic partners. What gets me is that part of the reason people think I’m “selfish” is because I place a huge importance on taking care of myself–if I didn’t, I’d spiral back down into depression and anxiety. I know that from experience. It also has to do with what you say here about women being expected to take care of others first, I think.

    I find it difficult to ask for help (or accept it if people offer) because I don’t want to give people any more fuel for calling me selfish. But of course I can’t do everything on my own, and I don’t have any money so I can’t pay people to do the things I can’t, so I have to rely on others’ help. It’s hard.