“I had some trouble with the bathroom,” my daughter’s friend tells me.
“OK,” I answer in a whisper from my place on the couch.
She stomps upstairs and I hear the girls playing again. They are not having a fabulous time and I feel guilty and angry. This was not the plan.
I watch the clock. My fever is gone, but the headache is so bad that I can barely lift my head without feeling sick.
I close my eyes and I hear a knock at the door. The play date is over and her dad is here. I make small talk as sweat pours off me.
“You need help with anything?” the father asks.
I assure him that I am fine as feelings of nausea sweep over me and I clutch the side of the couch to avoid falling.
“Call me if you need anything,” he says.
The second the door closes I collapse on the couch.
I hate feeling weak.
My mind yells at me that I’m worthless and pathetic.
Push through it.
Knock it off.
My daughter brings me an ice pack for my head and I try really hard not to cry.
A few hours later my husband arrives. I’ve made it.
“What’s the deal with the bathroom,” he says.
“What?” I answer.
“It’s completely flooded,” he says.
Oh. That’s what she was telling me. I don’t get up. He brings me some medicine and forces me to drink some water. An hour later he and my daughter leave to go get food.
The medicine has made the headache a bit more manageable, so I will myself to look at the bathroom.
That’s when some switch clicks and I go into full cleaning mode.
I go upstairs and grab towels to soak up the water. Then I go into the garage to get the mop and bucket and I wash the floor, the toilet and the hall. I’m dizzy and sweating, but I push past it.
My husband comes home just as I’m finishing up.
“I was going to do that later,” he says.
I don’t believe him.
It’s my responsibility and I push myself harder. I clean the guinea pig cages, because they are disgusting and they need it. I see tons more that needs to be done, but my body has had it.
I go to bed and collapse feeling satisfied that I did something.
See. I’m not worthless.
This is not an isolated episode in my life.
Whenever I feel the absolute worse, I feel compelled to push myself as hard as I can.
Some might call it being a martyr.
“Look at how hard I can work even when I’m sick.”
Maybe it is that.
It feels very primal to me.
“Please don’t give up on me, I can still be useful.”
For years I have seen this trait in myself as self-destructive and negative. I saw it as a result of not feeling cared for and loved by others. Not being able to ask for or receive help.
It’s probably all of that.
But I’m starting to see there is something else there too.
There is a drive in me to do hard things. To push myself even when I don’t want to do something. To prove that I can do things even when it seems impossible.
I am strong.
Being sick is just when it’s most noticeable, but I am strong all the time.
When I am at my lowest, I still push past those feelings of defeat and get up. Every day I fight my insecurities and move forward.
Even as I write that I think about how hard other people have it and I’m nervous to even call myself strong. I feel that if I say that, it will illuminate my flaws for all to see.
Others have struggles so much more than me. I know those fighting cancer, depression, bi-polar, divorce and daily physical pain so intense that they have to live on drugs.
Yet I call myself strong.
But I have to stop doing that. It’s not a competition of pain or struggle. It’s OK to think I’m strong and to be proud of the steps I’m taking.
Proud of how far I’ve come.
I’ve started tracking my food again and caring about what I put in my body.
I’ve started running again and signed up to run in a relay in December. I’ll run 6 miles.
I’ve made adventurous summer plans that push me to be active and around people.
All this terrifies me.
But I’m going to do it anyway. I’m going to demand more from myself and I’m going to start seeing myself as the person I am.
I. Am. Strong.