In the US of A, we value independence. We planted the idea with our revolutionary roots, nurtured it through immigrations and cowboys and have carried it into the 21st-century with our cell phones – connected and disconnected simultaneously. The urge to go it alone is strong in the mainstream culture.
When we become ill, amidst such a culture, we are encouraged to identify the cause, participate in a treatment and get over it. If our illness is chronic and/or leads to disability, we have veered off the cultural track into the weeds. We can’t be independent.
Dictionary.com defines independence: freedom from the control, influence, support, aid, or the like, of others.
Freedom from control sounds good, but who wants to be free from support and aid? Not I.
In the last few months, my health has taken a turn for the worse and I am now truly quadriplegic. Independence is no longer an option. I can’t get out of bed without help, can’t eat or get from one place to another without help. That’s the reality. When I am frustrated with my lot, I find myself snarling, “I can’t do anything!”
In nonviolent communication theory, there is a group of needs labeled “autonomy.” Included in that group are choice, freedom, independence, space and spontaneity. Teasing those shades of meaning apart is helpful. While I can no longer be independent and my ability to be spontaneous is limited, I still have choices, freedom and space. Maximizing those three will lead to my best quality of life.
This month I am considering the kind promise “I will advocate courageously.” When it comes to self-advocacy, I want to identify my needs and communicate them clearly, politely and assertively. When I don’t get what I think I need, that’s an opportunity to reassess. Do I really need it? Am I asking the wrong entity to provide it? Is there another way? Advocacy requires creativity, patience and persistence.
The dominant culture’s mythos of independence includes the understanding that those who are needy are inferior. I can feel that judgment in my gut. I need to remind myself that it’s not the truth.
I am not independent. In fact, we are all interdependent. We live in symbiotic systems from the minute of our fragile birth to the moment of our frail death. Midwives, mothers, teachers, friends, firefighters, doctors, nurses, farmers, truckers, cashiers, factory workers, servers, coworkers… The list goes on and on. Let my need move me to compassion and gratitude. May I recognize and celebrate the many people who help me. May I revel in my countercultural vulnerability.