In a previous job many moons ago I was the designated fire officer. As such I was trained to pull a body from a smoke filled building and to give first aid. On my course I was told that when you come across the scene of an accident you ignore the people who are shouting because they are clearly still alive and find the people who are quiet because they are the ones most likely to be seriously hurt, unconscious or to have stopped breathing.
During my time in the ‘chronic illness world’, particularly online, I have met two groups of people: those who constantly ask for help, advice, love and support and those that don’t. And it’s those who ask for support that often need it the least. The friend I fell out with a couple of years ago had parents who had been together for 50 years, a loving, caring, supportive husband of over 20 years, private health care, a beautiful home overlooking the sea, lots of online friends………..yet virtually every post was asking for love, prayers and positive thoughts because she was having yet another crisis or hard time. On the other side of the coin I have a friend who has been single her whole life, is horrendously ill, can barely leave her bed let alone the house, can’t have pets or friends to visit as she is too poorly to cope with them, must be soul-destroyingly lonely, frustrated and unfulfilled……..yet never complains. She comes across as cheerful, positive, caring, kind and thoughtful but I worry about her far more than I worried about my other friend. Yet it was the other friend who got all the support on Facebook, cards and flowers sent through the post, thoughtful gifts on her birthday and Christmas and my very sick, isolated friend is just left to get on with it.
When you meet me, I come across as bubbly, energetic, enthusiastic and hopefully kind and helpful. I have a strong work ethic and will tackle jobs which actually make me sick or cause me huge pain because I refuse to give in to my diseases. I will do things to help others, even if it means I end up in bed or braces (which they don’t see because I don’t tell them – I don’t want them to feel bad that helping them has made me worse). I have been accused of exaggerating my illnesses because I can ‘do stuff’ or because I don’t dwell on the consequences of ‘doing stuff’ so no-one knows how ‘doing stuff’ affects me. I sometimes wonder if I’d’ve received more help, understanding and support if I’d been more verbal about my limitations. If I’d constantly gone online saying how lonely I was, or how isolated. If I’d shown the world how depressed I’ve been at times over the last twenty years. How I mourn not having a husband to share my life with. How I’d love to go on holiday to somewhere sunny. How I worry about finances and how I struggle to afford joint supports, orthotics, supplements and special clothing. How I’ve sat in a heap on the kitchen floor crying due to the exhaustion and pain of cooking my dinner. And the 1001 other issues I’ve faced. But it’s not in my nature to whine. I’m not comfortable asking for help and on the odd occasion I have asked for help it’s been less than unconditional so I haven’t asked again. I’ve been around people who are negative and constantly ask for reassurance, help, guidance, advice, love, prayers and support and it’s bloody exhausting…….I don’t want to be a huge black hole of need, sucking the life out of others just so I can feel better.
But it is often those who don’t ask for help who need it most. It’s not the person shouting “I’m going to top myself” who actually commits suicide, it’s those that pretend everything is fine and paint a smile on who ultimately take their own lives, then everyone is shocked because “they always seemed fine”.
So I make a concerted effort to ask my friends who seem like they have it together if they’re OK and I don’t take the first “yes, I’m fine” answer as the truth. I dig a bit, and often when I dig a bit they admit that maybe things aren’t so fine after all. It’s hard to ignore the friends who shout because, well, they’re SHOUTING and it’s easy to not contact the quiet ones for 6 months because they’re just getting on with it but it’s the people who don’t ask for help that often need it the most.
“Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.
Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.”