A week ago my husband tore his ACL playing ultimate frisbee, so our family is navigating a difficult and uncertain road ahead. It could be worse, but it’s not easy; a lot of emotions are swirling, our day to day norms have shifted because my husband is barely mobile, and we’re uncertain about what treatment will be needed, how long recovery will take, and what mobility my husband will have in the future. We are not alone in navigating difficulty, because one of the few inevitabilities in life is that we will have troubles. This is a simple truth, yet one we rarely aknowledge. At any given moment, someone is going through something hard. If we ourselves are not navigating something difficult, it is likely we know someone who is.
I spent my 12th birthday in the hospital after being diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, and later as a young mom to two kids, I struggled through hearing that I was experiencing the beginning of Diabetes complications. I have walked with friends through hard marriage issues, as well as challenging health diagnoses. Every one of these circumstances has stretched me beyond what I thought myself capable, and I have learned a lot by trial and error. I do not have all the answers for I am a work in progress, who makes many mistakes along the way, but I offer today what I am learning as I walk with my husband through his injury. My hope in writing about my experience is that as you walk with people through a job loss, a life-altering diagnosis, loss of trust in a relationship, feeling ‘blah’ about life, caring for aging parents, or children making poor choices, that you gain clarity, and receive permission to acknowledge the challenges and walk through them well.
It was Sunday evening, and I had just gotten home from geocaching with my kids when the phone rang. It was my husband Craig. He calmly stated that he had blown out his knee in the final play of his ultimate game. He fumbled through an explanation of what had happened, and let me know that his teammates would get him home. He seemed to be in good hands, but I didn’t know what to do, so I asked and we figured I could pick up some crutches. My kids overheard the conversation and I could see the worry on their faces because they knew something was up. When I got off the phone their horror-struck, wide eyes looked up at me for an explanation. I told them what had happened, hugged them, told them daddy would be ok, and that we needed to get him some crutches. I could feel the shock taking over as my body was shaking, and I couldn’t think straight. I wanted to attend to my kids and my husband and really didn’t know how to juggle both.
After finally finding a store that had the right sized crutches we came home to find my husband on the couch with ice on his knee. I could see that my kids didn’t know how to be around their dad who was in pain. I’ll be honest I didn’t know either. I realized I was used to being the weak one, because I am the one with a disease. It was strange to be on the other end of difficulty. It made me feel uncomfortable, so I put myself to work arranging childcare and packing bags to get Craig to the hospital.
I don’t think it was until we were in the car that I finally asked Craig how he was doing and found he was really emotional. I understood. I knew that fear, the feeling of weakness, uncertainty, and sadness of having the rug pulled out from underneath you. It was terrifying. I didn’t honestly know how to respond. I felt the pull to be strong for my husband, yet I could also feel my throat tightening as I shared in his fear and sorrow. We were together in a horrible moment, and telling each other how we truly felt was raw and vulnerable.
In the days that followed, after the dust had settled, I started to get tired from all the extra efforts that were required of me. I was reminded of my need to honor myself. In the past I’ve had a tendency to give to the point of being empty, before crashing hard. I wanted to avoid that, so on Monday morning I went for my usual morning walk, instead of staying home to attend to my husband. That was a big step for me. By Tuesday I was wiped. I hadn’t slept well for 2 nights, and I had been busy attending to my husband’s needs, while getting my kids to school, working, and doing both my jobs and his around the house. I just needed sleep, so I had a nap.
Listen to your body. What is it saying you need? Listen to your emotions, there is likely a lot there to unpack, maybe conflicting emotions, like empathy and resentment. That’s ok. Let yourself feel, and release whatever is getting pent up or coming out sideways. Your needs will be unique to you, and whatever it is you are navigating; and they will change. There may be a time to leave an intense situation to clear your head, and a time to step into it fully. There may be a time to be by yourself, and a time to talk your troubles through with a friend. There may be a time to grieve and a time to let loose and remember to have fun. You know yourself best, and through every step, you will know what you need. It is ok to take space to discover your needs and to honor youself by doing whatever it is you need. In fact, this is healthy, for no one can pour from an empty cup.
Next, I am realizing that I am different than everyone else on the face of the planet, and that’s ok. I do not need to compare myself to other people and how they attend to those in a similar situation. That is not helpful to me. Instead, I need to simply give what I have to give. I just need to show up, and offer myself. It may mean picking up crutches from a drug store, or checking in to see how everyone is doing. It may mean taking out the garbage and brewing the coffee every morning. We all have something of value to offer, and we may not know what that is, but if we allow ourselves the opportunity, we will figure it out. That doesn’t mean it will be comfortable, easy, or convenient all the time. It will be stretching, and you may discover you have more to offer than you would have thought, maybe less, or maybe different things than what you would have anticipated.
I keep reminding myself not to get too far ahead of myself, because when I do I get overwhelmed. Instead, I choose to take this journey one step at a time, while acknowledging my limits. I cannot do all and be all to everyone all the time. That is not realistic, nor is it what is required of me. In fact, when I’ve been through hard seasons myself, what I find most valuable, is when people genuinely ask how I’m doing, and listen without judgement, not needing to fix anything. I know that asking how someone is doing in the face of a horrible situation can be one of the most awkward things to ask, because we want to be respectful and polite, and not push too far, or end up in a really uncomfortable conversation where we have no idea what to say, but having someone care and listen is like balm to a gaping wound of feeling alone. Offer what you have to offer, but know that you need not be all and need not fix all. Just be there.
That segways nicely into receiving help. The first few days I was busy attending to all sorts of needs. I tried, but found I couldn’t keep up the pace, because I was quickly wearing down. I realized I needed to ask more of the people around me. So we have been asking our kids to specifically help with tasks that Craig or I would normally do, and they have been fantasic to help out. It’s making me realize they are capable of far more than I give them credit for! I’ve needed childcare for appointments and kids activities that Craig normally would have helped out with. Once you know your limits, you will have a good idea of what you need. It is vital and healthy to include people in your journey. It is so comforting to know that you are not alone, and that you are not bearing the weight of the situation on your own. Receiving help also gives concerned friends and family members a way they can put their concern into action.
This journey so far has been full of twists and turns and many low points. It’s taken a toll on all of us. In good moments I remember that we will get through this, one step at a time. In hard moments I absolutely dread the months ahead. If you are navigating a hard road with someone else, well done. You are stepping into someone’s life in a powerful and significant way. It is not easy; rather difficult, uncomfortable, and overwhelming. Remember to honor yourself, give what you have to give, acknowledge your limits, and receive help. You are not alone!
Photo credit: Asaf R