Last year, when my mother was in her last stages of liver failure and suffering from hepatic encephalopathy, I found myself in some of the most chaotic and difficult circumstances that I ever could have imagined. She would get into these trance like states, with repetitive screaming, become inconsolable, unresponsive to anyone, angry, cursing, aggressive, and this could last for hours on end. I remember in one such case, with my sister and my grandmother present, us being unable to bring any peace or consolation to her. It was horrendous. My grandmother was in tears trying to communicate, but my mother couldn’t hear or respond to anything. We tried to just get her to swallow some simple liquids that would help relieve the pain and bring her back to consciousness.
All I could think in the moment was to get my sister and grandma out of the room. Especially my grandma. Compared to some others in my family, I wasn’t even there for most of these episodes. I pleaded with them to leave and let me handle it. This was no place for them. It was going to get worse. The pain was going to increase. I wanted to save them from the unnecessary experience. Even though they had experienced this already in different ways.
For about half an hour, because they would only leave for so long, I found myself there alone. I was holding my mother, echoing her cries for help with answers of presence. It was just the two of us. Her saying ‘it hurts’ and me saying ‘i know, I’m sorry, I’m here’ and back and forth we went. When it’s just you and pure suffering, it’s lonely. My mother wasn’t really there. It was just me and her pain.
The next day it all disappeared and she was back to what was normal at the time. I asked her if she remembered anything. She didn’t. I told her she was a psychopath and to stop it. She laughed and said sorry. It was like she went asleep for a few days, she had no memory of any of it. I realized I was actually there alone for those few moments. I wasn’t even with her, because she wasn’t there.
When you need to be strong, you ostracize yourself from those who you don’t think are as strong as you. It’s not judgment. Well at least it doesn’t feel like judgment. Rather, it’s more of a misplaced concern. When I feel extra burdened, or like I’ve entered into a place that takes a particular perspective and endurance, I have a hard time bringing someone else with me there in fear that it the burden will be to great for them to handle.
Why would I try to push away others from being with me? Why would I take that on myself and refuse solidarity in those moments? I have this incessant need to be strong. I think I can take on the world. I think there is nothing that can break me. Rather than sharing that burden I would rather relieve those around me and take more myself. My need to be strong resulted in me being alone.
This is just a really obvious example of a pattern that I’ve noticed in my life. In order to maintain feeling like I am strong, I push away anyone offering or able to help. I don’t admit that I’m not OK. I don’t even realize that I’m not. I’m so caught up in my own lie that I genuinely just believe I don’t need any help. I’m fine.
The problem though, is that I think my fear of being alone is much stronger than my fear of not being strong. So when my attempts to maintain strength result in me being more alone, I realized very quickly that I needed to change.
I am now learning about my own weakness. I am learning that my strength does not come by not acknowledging where I need help but actually in the dependence on those in my life. It’s been a hard year processing these things. Trying to maintain my strength strained relationships and caused me to feel ostracized and I have had to go back to that place and start to lean on people differently. I’ve had to be vulnerable and open myself up to the reality of my fleeting strength. I don’t feel as alone anymore. It’s hard for me to admit I need help. I am trying, and I’m learning a better way forward.
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