I don’t get this mad very often, but right now I’m completely pissed off. I want to take all of the “shoulds” and get rid of them forever.
Let’s look at a few: I should handle this problem better. I should be smarter/wiser in this situation. I should be more patient. I shouldn’t let myself feel sick. I should have more self control. I should be a better friend/sibling/parent/worker by nature. I should know how to fix this. I should I should I should….
Ok, be honest, how many of these have you thought to your self? I’m betting at least one, but probably a lot more, not to mention many others I didn’t write out. Some of these are internal shoulds (we burden ourselves with these assumptions) and others are external (other people push them on us.) It’s important to look at the two separately, and I may do that on another day, but today I’m concerned that they exist at all.
Let’s get on the same page here: there are no shoulds in life. We are who we are. Well ok, there are some shoulds: We should all try to be decent human beings who care for one another and try not to hurt each other. But as for the rest, it’s complete bullshit. Giving birth doesn’t magically turn someone into a knowledgeable parent. Getting a job doesn’t magically make someone a great worker. Being sick doesn’t magically make someone strong enough to handle it. Just just not how life works.
I was recently talking with other folks with chronic illnesses and I noticed the same themes: people thought they should be able to handle their problems better just because it’s assumed of them. They felt they’d failed because they needed help. For some reason, not being able to do absolutely everything was considered a failure. Why is this? We’re only human. We ask for help with all sorts of things. When my friends’ roof leaked, they knew they couldn’t fix it themselves so they hired someone to do that. Is that so bad? When my grandfather has computer problems, he calls me to ask for help. What’s wrong with that? And if I feel too ill to get to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription then I’ll ask a friend to do it for me, and no one better dare suggest that’s any sort of weakness on my part. In fact, I think it’s a strength. It’s hard for many of us to ask for help, and knowing our limitations and respecting them enough to ask for help is a sign of how strong we are, not how weak.
A friend asked me to help her out with her kids. She was alone while their dad was out of town on business and she felt overwhelmed. Like me, she isn’t good at asking for help, so when I saw her message I knew it was serious. I was relieved that I was having a “good” day and was able to go over to help out. Sure enough, she was at her wit’s end. She was overwhelmed and exhausted. Having someone else there to watch the kids, give them food, keep them from crying, and all that other good stuff really helped her out. But afterwards, she talk about how she felt she wasn’t a good mother. Why? Because she felt she should be more patient. She should never get frustrated with her kids. She should never lose her temper. I pointed out that being a mom doesn’t make her less human. Of course she’s still going to lose her patience! There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as she keeps it within reason and asks for help when she needs it, like she did that day. But the part that pisses me off about this is that I’ve heard this same thing from so many friends who are moms! They all feel that they should be better, that simply because they have two X chromosomes and some kids, they’re supposed to magically be perfect parents. And they’re so embarrassed that they’re not perfect that they don’t talk about it, so they don’t realize it’s happening to everyone else, too. I think they tell me because I’m not a parent, so I can’t judge. But it also means I can’t reassure them.
The same is true for chronically ill folks. We hear the stories about the one-legged marathon runner or the person with MS hiking a canyon, and we figure we should be able to at least get to the grocery store. We don’t talk to each other so we don’t realize that just about all of us are going through the same thing. We all have limitations. We all have obstacles we overcomes and obstacles we don’t. There are no shoulds in life, just life itself. We all have limitations, and expecting them to disappear because they should won’t help at all.
It’s time we all talk to each other. Let’s open up the discussion. We’re all doing the best we can and that’s fucking awesome. Let’s not diminish that. Let’s celebrate it!