Mary Pipher, is the author of the bestselling book Reviving Ophelia and, most recently, The Green Boat: Reviving Ourselves in Our Capsized Culture. She recently wrote an article for More magazine, describing a challenging time in her life when a physical ailment caused her to depend upon family and friends. She learned to not only let others help her, but came to embrace the idea of it. While people with migraines may deal with them for years, Mary’s condition has improved to the point where she will not need to lean on others long into the future. Still, maybe her experience can provide some encouragement for you when times are tough…..
I made an appointment for hand surgery, but while I waited, I was useless. I no longer could wield scissors or a can opener. It hurt to snap my jeans, deadhead roses, or pull on a swim cap. It was excruciating to turn the ignition key on. My identity was in crisis. As a girl, I was often called a good little helper. All my life, I had been the onion chopper, the baby changer, the strawberry picker. Now I couldn’t tie my own shoes. This left me asking, Who am I when I stop being useful?
I taught my husband, Jim, to cook basic recipes, and soon we were eating healthy, albeit simple, meals. I resigned myself to letting things slide at home. I tried to be what Jim calls a class act. My hand would hurt no matter what, so I might as well behave in a dignified and cheerful way. But inside, my spirit crumbled. Despair is often a crucible for growth. When our problems are too big to tackle, we must grow bigger. I could no longer be a human doing, so I became more of a human being. Of necessity, I freed myself from being driven and became someone who simply appreciated what happens next.
Most important, I, the uber-caregiver, learned to allow others to care for me. My daughter brought me soup and books. My friends offered to drive me places or came by with apple crisps and chicken potpies. People showed solidarity by signing get-well cards with their non-dominant hands. Their writing was as bad as mine! This time leading up to surgery was surprisingly social. I also realized how much people relish opportunities to help. In fact, my lifetime of taking charge had denied others the pleasure of selflessness. I now allowed them their turn. Finally, I had the surgery, and my hand is now healing in a bright-green cast. My doctor told me that with physical therapy I should be back to normal in a few months.
I felt ambivalent when I heard his prognosis. My health crisis forced me to replace old habits with fresher ones. It slowed me down and changed the dynamics in almost every relationship I had. My being useless had been very useful after all……….More June 2013