I had a health scare recently. Because I know a little too much about medicine (enough to be dangerous, not aware entirely, I suppose), I run off in my head with all the worst possible scenarios. Thus, I often find myself in thought experiments.
“What would happen if…?” “Who would support me if…?” “How would I feel about needing people in a bigger way than I ever have before?” “Would I be able to handle it?” “What would I do if a doctor told me I was likely to die?”
It’s terrifying asking these questions, but it’s also in some ways healing and reassuring to reach out to people and tell them I’m scared and there is a possibility I might really not be okay and they tell you “I’m here.” It’s when I am reminded that I’ve chosen well, that the people in my life really have my back when I need them. I’m lucky enough to have a lot of those people in my life. I know that most people don’t. Some don’t even have one person.
Over the years since D, I’ve realized that I’ve been hardcore against and even repulsed by the idea of needing people. I’ve labeled it as “unhealthy” and “codependent” in my head and thus avoided it at all costs. “I must be reliant on myself because I’m the only one who will always be there for me.” “People will betray me. Their words aren’t actions.” “Trust is weakness. Need is weakness.” I’ve been saying for so long that I “want” people and I don’t “need” them, but I continue being confronted with people (and therapists and books) saying we all do need each other and that’s okay.
So what is healthy “need?” I don’t have a model for this. This is the model in my head:
My parents seemed to only give me love, attention, and affection when I was sick or in need of them in some way. Once my heart issue was “fixed,” the attention moved to my brother. It wasn’t until I ended up in a mental hospital that their attention turned back to me (briefly). But then as soon as I went to college, met D, and basically became financially independent from them, it was back to being focused on my brother. He needs them. In everything. They (especially my mom) like that, crave that. Even to this day, I don’t think they would ever decide to come visit me of their own accord without a lot of hmming and hawwwing (despite visiting my brother at least a few times a year), but if I was sick, my mom would be on the next plane, ready to “mother me” (aka smother me) – because suddenly she would be needed.
Additionally, when I went off “the pill,” D was horrified at my newfound sociableness, semi-extroversion and excitement about life. He pathologized me being happier – calling it manic-ness. Whether it was or was not doesn’t really matter. I realized that when I was unhappy, I was pliable and predictable and I *needed* him. He could continue to reinforce his place in my life -because he was too insecure to think I actually wanted him there for that reason alone. When I was happy and making connections and living life the way I wanted to, he was suddenly unsure where he fit and I no longer needed him. That was terrifying to him (that last line is something he confirmed). The story from him and my parents were: You are loved when you need us. When you are strong, we’ll abandon you.
I realized I created this “strong” N to counter the N that my parents and D loved- the one that was sick and needy. I would not be the sick and needy N to be loved by people anymore. I’m realizing now that my story is that people around me only love me for being “strong N” and will disappear when I am “sick,” “needy” N again. Some examples in my life reinforce this, some don’t. The messages from these stories are: You are loved when you are strong. When you are needy, we’ll abandon you.
Deep down, it is likely that *I* reinforce this story. I judge people who seem “needy” in their lives because I relate to and am terrified of being that N again. That N was hurt and taken advantage of and the people who “loved” her needed her to be small so they could feel big.
Maybe I’ve just been living this “big” life so that I can pretend that life will never force me into a situation of need again. Or that even if it did, I would be okay on my island. “I am strong.” I’d figure it out. Need is revolting to me. Need is inevitable abandonment and hurt.
But it’s a lie.
If it’s true that people love me only because I’m strong, then abandonment if that status changes (one I can’t even control) is inevitable. If it’s true that only the “strong” me (or the “sick” and “needy” me) is lovable, then…that isn’t the love I want – from me or anyone else.
But I don’t know how to live in a world where “sick,” “needy” me is loved by the people who love the “strong” me. I don’t even know what that looks like. The people who love “strong” me expect to spend their time doing these activities with me that “sick” me couldn’t. They expect that I will have the mental and physical energy that “sick” N doesn’t. They might want to talk about relationships with “strong” N, but “sick” N’s brain is consumed by taxing thoughts about treatment and recovery. “Strong” N has space for all the things and all the people…and “sick” N doesn’t.
Who would choose to spend time and energy on “sick” and “needy” N?
I know the answer is “a lot of people.”
I want to believe that is true. And I want to feel that is okay and healthy and loving to accept their help when I am hurting, sick, scared, and lonely. I want to be in a community, not an island. I want to reciprocate that same support for others.
But I also want to never *need* to find out if those people really do come through for me if/when life around me collapses.