In 2010 I had what doctors call “minor” brain surgery. I maintain there is nothing minor about cutting into my head, slicing apart my skull bone, and messing around with the most essential parts of my insides, but the medical community is a bit more cavalier about my procedure.
Technical definitions aside, it was a big deal for me.
The operation took about six hours. I spent one night in the ICU and another three nights in a standard hospital room. I was unable to leave my house for about two weeks, and was completely dependent upon my mother, who took care of me like I was a toddler. I also benefited from generous and amazing friends who came to my house with food, books, DVDs of television series and entertaining gossip to help me heal.
One of the beautiful surprises that came out of the experiences was realizing that I was surrounded by an amazing, loving community. And their support was just what I needed to feel better in the initial weeks after my surgery.
As weeks went by and I returned to work and school, my friends would ask how I was doing and whether the surgery had been helpful. Without even thinking through my response, I would answer “yes,” because, of course the surgery had helped. I’d spent thousands of dollars and invested countless hours in recovery. My friends had worried about me, baked for me, sent me flowers and emails. It would be a tremendous waste for the surgery to not help. It had to be a success.
The truth was, at that point, I didn’t know… and I was embarrassed to admit that to anyone.
After my surgery, I suddenly found myself at the center of a community that embraced me. The experience was not typical for me – an extreme introvert – and it filled me with overwhelming gratitude. In my mind, to admit the surgery had not been an immediate success would be a betrayal of these people.
Now, several years later, I can confidently say that the surgery was helpful. But it took quite a while before I knew that with certainty.
If we want support, we have to do our part and be willing to be vulnerable. We have to trust that others won’t run away or turn against us just because their energy doesn’t instantly make us well. People are better than that.
Health is complicated. Support is complicated – both to give and receive. If we want others to successfully navigate the complexities of giving support, those of us who are chronically ill need to rise to the challenges of what can be a complex relationship with receiving support.
May 7, 2020