Asking

Many folx cite “asking for help” as one of the hardest things to do, regardless of the circumstances. I hate asking for help. But it’s not because I feel proud or courageous. In fact, asking for help scares me.

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Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash

Something happened to my back yesterday- have you ever felt so much pain you can’t stand up straight, it takes you over five minutes just to will yourself to sit because your muscles are DEFINITELY tearing, you know they are, the agony is so real and you just want to sit in the car for goodness sake. The person screaming yesterday was me. My entire upper back felt like braided string cheese smushed so tightly in the plastic packaging. I could barely walk, let alone carry a grocery bag. In a perfect world, I would have teleported home so as not to disturb anyone’s fun. But I was out with some friends, wandering the aisles in a Korean grocery store in San Jose, and I had to ask for help.

First, I needed help carrying a bottle of vodka. Don’t judge. It was on sale and finals week is coming up. I couldn’t carry it through the store, so I asked one of the friends with me to hang on until checkout. Next, everyone patiently waited by the car as I crawled, muttering to myself, “a few more steps. That’s it. Just a few more. One foot, the other.” As I mentioned, getting in to the car (and the front seat, which I tried to demand I didn’t need) had me wondering if I could walk home because the pain upon bending my legs made me nauseous. Our classmate in the driver’s seat insisted that I couldn’t simply go home. So, the four of us embarked on an adventure.

I felt vulnerable and guilty. Here were three graduate students accompanying me for my own damn problem, something that didn’t affect them save hearing my groaning. I refused everything they suggested at each different point, only to succumb to their insistence. And I started wondering why I couldn’t just let these three wonderful people take care of me.

Many of the students in the sections I teach utilize me as a teaching assistant very well. They send outlines, rough drafts, even crap I don’t know how to label, and I respond within twenty four hours as a personal rule. I hate sending my work in progress to others. I hate it because it scares me to show people my process and thus, my imperfections. While I don’t call myself a “perfectionist,” I realized that this fear of showing the work behind the product comes from not wanting to admit a period of uncertainty. Yesterday, I couldn’t stand the fact that these helpful, kind and caring people could actually express their care for me because it meant showing my pain before I can show off how well I heal.

When I worked as a chaplain, my colleagues and I often talked about modeling good human behavior. What we meant was allowing our students to see that we do make mistakes, muddle through problems we don’t understand, and we work to improve. I will always hate asking for help because I will always fight the negative voice in my head calling me a fraud. Maybe that voice isn’t always a bad thing- it’s the worst of any criticism. Maybe it’s ok to sit in the front seat once in a while.

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Flu

On Tuesday, I got up early, went to work, and noticed a tickle in my throat that was causing a teeny, pesky cough.

Four hours later, I had to admit something to myself and everyone around me that I really, really despise admitting: I was sick. Really sick. Fever, chills, head explosion, no appetite, actually got a Lyft home sick. Sick like, took an actual four hour nap sick.

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PC: Nick Karvounis

I don’t get sick very often. That’s a really spoiled thing to say. I pride myself on my commitment to keep my body healthy- I run, cook my own food often, and try to sleep a good amount. That’s a privilege to have time and resources. It also takes discipline and a firm no to sugar which can be very, very difficult (why confetti cake. why).

Hopefully I’ll be fine tomorrow, I told everyone at the office. Tomorrow turned into a scary trip to the Emergency Room and a doctor’s note. “If this is what I think it is, you probably won’t feel better until Saturday,” Dr. Chua said. At least I was now equipped with some medicine to fight the fever.

I did not go back to work the rest of the week. In fact, I barely looked at my email, read any of my books, or watched anything on TV. I ate some applesauce every few hours and trudged to the kitchen to fill my water bottle again. Obviously, intense physical activity was out of the question. I skipped Tuesday’s four mile run, then Wednesday’s eight mile, then Thursday’s four mile. No yoga, no strength training. Even though there was no way in heck I could have attempted to even walk down stairs not not faint, I felt guilty. And yet, I felt weirdly as if this really, really needed to happen.

Since November of 2015, I haven’t gone more than four days without running, even if for two miles. Before I started running, I don’t think I had skipped working out for more than four days in a row- and if I did, I would have worked out double on the fourth day. Working out has become part of my routine, and my routine doesn’t do well when not followed.

Yet somehow, seven days passed with no running. I let go of the guilt. Several people helped me. “Your body is telling you that you need a break,” a student said. “This is everything you’ve been stressed and anxious about coming out,” my mom wisely stated. I believe that. When others around me are sick, or fatigued, or overworked, I believe their bodies tell them, just as mine informed me. Sometimes we have to stop everything, literally everything, and just lay on the couch wrapped in a blanket like a human burrito.

I began to feel better by day six. I wondered to myself, “how much doing nothing is TOO much? What if I took another day? Should I try? What is the limit?”

That’s my question moving forward. When we take time for self-care, when do we know we’ve done enough? When are we ready to push forward? And what if we are wrong?

Today I ran ten miles because it was 59 degrees and sunny, and I needed a moving meditation. I ran slower than I have in a while, and felt parched after the first half. I could tell my body was not at 100%, but it felt good to sweat and pump my arms. I don’t know if I was ready- did it matter? Maybe there is no right answer, except that we know when we are not.