Coping with Dependence

Coping with Dependence

Before and after

I’m often tempted to draw myself a picture of life “before and after” migraine. At first glance, the comparison seems a bit tragic: before migraine I was a self-sufficient, financially independent, extroverted working professional following my lifelong dreams. With migraine I have become a financially dependent, introverted, precariously employed entrepreneur, making things up as I go.

Migraine has taken so many things from me (wine, aged cheese, my former career, late night dancing, the ability to take my body for granted, etc., etc.), but it hasn’t been all bad. While I continue to move through the messy non-linear process of grieving many losses, living with migraine has also increased my capacity for patience, resilience, and creativity in order to live well despite frequent pain and disability. I try to look on the bright side often, and I am grateful for my newfound goals and interests, but that doesn’t mean I’m not still grieving. And of all the things migraine has taken from me, the most difficult loss stems from the feeling that I’m no longer independent.

Living the single life and caring for myself used to feel pretty easy. Now, I can’t even imagine how hard it would be, and I hope I won’t have to find out anytime soon. I’m not sure how I would manage to feed myself properly if my partner didn’t do all the grocery shopping and bring me dinner on the nights where I can barely get out of bed. Even with a great support network of understanding friends and family, I’m not sure whom I would ask to sit quietly and hold my hand when I feel like I’m falling apart. Without the medical coverage through his employer, I’m not sure how I would afford any part of my current treatment plan. Considering my precarious income, I certainly wouldn’t be able to live in a detached house, and thus probably wouldn’t have nearly as much control over my environment. If I were on my own right now, I suspect I’d be way more of a hot mess than I already am.

My inner critic

So I recognize that I am endlessly fortunate to have this help and support. I wish every person with migraine could have at least this much help. But the independent woman inside me is SCREAMING.

You’re dependent on your partner!

You’re cleaning the house and doing food prep and cleaning the kitty litter while he’s out making the bacon!

What are you? A kept 50s housewife? A shell of your former self?

Why are inner critics so unfailingly harsh!? Geeez.

I know that if the tables were turned, I wouldn’t hesitate to extend financial support to my partner. I know that the disability caused by migraine is not my fault. I know that housework is an excellent way to keep moving and feel some control over my life when I don’t feel well enough to leave the house. Being sick is not a choice, and in fact, I work very, very hard to be as physically and emotionally well as possible, and generate some income too. So why do I continue to feel guilt and shame over this dependence?

It's cultural

There’s a lot to unpack here, and more than just feelings of being unfeminist. I think it’s also about the messages I have been fed my whole life about being responsible, pulling my weight, and making something of myself. It’s about a cultural tendency toward individualism.

I keep trying to remind myself that none of us is ever fully independent. We are social creatures that rely on each other’s generosity and skills to survive. Even though the hermit life may seem enticing now and then to my migraine brain, I necessarily rely on so many people in my life, and really, I always have. From the parents that kept me sheltered fed and cared for right down to the farmers who provide my groceries, I haven’t truly spent a day of my life without relying on my fellow humans for comfort and sustenance.

Recognizing the beauty of INTERdependence

I’m currently reading The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohllebeb, and there’s a passage early on that has stuck with me:

“On it’s own, a tree cannot establish a consistent local climate. It is at the mercy of wind and weather. But together, many trees create an ecosystem that moderates extremes of heat and cold, stores a great deal of water, and generates a great deal of humidity. And in this protected environment, trees can live to be very old. To get to this point, the community must remain intact no matter what. If every tree were looking out only for itself, then quite a few of them would never reach old age. Regular fatalities would result in many large gaps in the tree canopy, which would make it easier for storms to get inside the forest and uproot more trees. The heat of summer would reach the forest floor and dry it out. Every tree would suffer."

Are communities of people not similar in so many ways? Is it not worth our time to value every human life, nourishing and supporting each other so we can benefit from each other’s love and care and skills in order to be stronger together?

I may need more emotional and logistical support than I once did, but I haven’t lost my independence, because I was dependent on others all along. If we could see things this way even when we have our health, then perhaps losing abilities would feel more normal than tragic; our before and after pictures would not look so different after all.

Do you ever feel shame or guilt for relying on others? How have you dispelled these feelings?

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