Sunday, December 13, 2009

the art of complaining

This morning I read a powerful post about pain, suffering, about how we rank our experiences against others, how we can often survive misery by acknowledging there are people out there in much worse shape. And what do we do when we're the ones other people look to as the end of the line. Thank you Lisa, for making me think:

This post actually made me think of my mom. My mom who, no matter how tired you are, she's more exhausted. When you're in pain, she's on percocet. When you have a cavity, she's suffering from the braces she had put on 3 months ago, that continually tear the insides of her cheeks to shreds. When you have an infection, hers required 3 courses of antibiotics. A headache? She suffered from migraines. Cramps? She had a 2 part hysterectomy with years of suffering in between.

When I gave birth, I wasn't left alone in a hallway on Thanksgiving, no one checking on her for hours at a time like she was. When Jack was having seizures, at least it wasn't a stroke, something else my family had to deal with years ago. When I'm overwhelmed, freaking out, struggling to get through my to-do list, things slipping off for days/weeks on end, things I haven't gotten to, can't get to as I try to maintain my juggle without falling off the deep end, she tells me I do too much. It pisses me off.

And she's right.

A few years ago I got the go-ahead for 3 writing projects. 3 days in a row in October. And all were due within 2 weeks of each other in February. An impossible feat. But, how could I say no to any of them? As a freelancer, a burgeoning writer, each was a dream come true. And so, I dove in. One project was a collection of 50 things to do with kids in NYC. I spent every weekend running like mad, checking out places, taking endless notes, dragging me (when the rest of the family wouldn't go) countless places. One weekend I had Jack—we covered South Street Seaport, Chinatown, Little Italy, the Lower East Side. In a day. My throat hurt. I had a fever. It was bitter cold but we kept going. Walking for miles when we couldn't find a bus or cab. Later that week my ear drum burst. At least the unbearable pain was gone, the throbbing, aching, stabbing, shooting fury had consumed me for days. Goo oozed for weeks. Pus, blood, liquid. It was the second time my ear drum had burst in 10 months and I was a mess.

A mess who had to go on a family cruise in less than a week. I should have said no. I did say no. But my guilt, my sense of responsibility, my not wanting to disappoint others, my need to make things appear less bad than they actually were, did me in. I spent 28 hours on a train to Florida, as I couldn't fly with my perforated ear, a week in the sun while taking drugs that required staying out of the sun. No rest, no lying still. I got back to NY with my face swollen to an unrecognizable place, in so much pain, again, I could barely think. My ENT told me it was a tooth issue. My dentist sent me straight to the emergency room, where I was told if I hadn't gotten drugs, as in the most powerful antibiotics available dripping into me for hours at a time until my vein burnt out and my arm was twitching, I could have died. For a few hours, they thought the infection had spread to my skull and were talking months in the hospital, recovering from having part of that very same skull removed, drugs flooding me to make sure nothing hit my brain.

I called my mom from my hospital bed, the only time I'd been in a hospital except for when I was giving birth. She immediately launched into a story about how she'd gone through something worse. A sense of joy (I'm not kidding) flooded through me as I got to say, no, she hadn't. She couldn't top this. As long as I was in the hospital, in isolation, 6 hours of heavy duty meds a day coursing through me, she couldn't one up me. It was bad. I was owning it. And that was ok.

I learned two things. Sometimes I am the end of the line and it's important to take that in, to not negate the seriousness of what I'm going through, to hit rock bottom. To not be the strong one, the comforter, the center of everything. Sometimes I'm the one who needs help.

And sometimes I have to say no. And know it's ok not be everything to everyone all the time.

No comments: