The phrase, ‘no man is an island’ expresses the idea that human beings are better off when they work in a team. Author Stephen Covey echoes a similar sentiment in his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, when he states, “Interdependence is a higher value than Independence”, and if you’re still not convinced, Proverbs 27:17 (NIV) says “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”
Many years ago, my psychologist informed me that she thought, not only was I fiercely independent, but perhaps my attitude was better described as ‘anti-dependent’. A self-protective mechanism developed as a result of an abusive childhood to keep myself safe. I was proud of myself. I saw this as a complement and a great asset, despite the fact it was stated as a drawback.
Many years later, with a bit more maturity, openness and self-reflection, that line out of Stephen Covey’s book pierced my dull brain and allowed me to entertain the thought that there were better ways to do things. I was fortunate to explore and address this issue somewhat, prior to getting sick, making my imminent Interdependence lesson less of a whop to the back of the head.
When you have good health, you can get away with functioning as an island to some degree. The thing with getting sick, with collapsing, with not being able to sit up, with a total physical breakdown is: you can’t go it alone. You are literally at the mercy of your broken body and those friendships and services around you. For someone like me, even with my epiphany around interdependence, I had never really been presented with an opportunity to put this into practise. I understood it on a theoretical level and I’d even made a cursory effort to step outside of my comfort zone occasionally as a challenge to myself to ask for help, but getting chronically ill was a total and immediate crash course in ‘Interdependence skill building – Level: Intensive’.
All of my unhealthy coping mechanisms were now exposed; in particular, my ‘Tally System’. My Tally System was a bunch of files that lived in my head about what I owed everyone and what they owed me. I made sure that I was always a little bit ahead in the Tally System, this made me feel like I’d earned my place, my worth and also, I was never indebted to anybody. Getting sick destroyed my Tally System. For the first two or three weeks I collected on well-earned friendship debts and my Tally became neutral. But months into my illness I found myself in massive deficit on my primary relationships, with no apparent way to make it up, as my health actually seemed to be getting worse. What ensued, were three years of debt (acutally, it’s indefinite as I’m still not well) where I was/am forced to accept unconditional love and help, perhaps without the possibility of ever returning the favours. I learned I’m a proud person. I learned I’m a damaged person. I learned to ask for help and trust that people really loved me and wanted to help me with no agenda other than friendship.
It doesn’t make it wrong that I want to return the favour, or have opportunities of my own to help others, but the way I was thinking was rooted in unhealthy core beliefs around my value.
I am now very grateful for help. I hope one day I can be of assistance in a larger capacity than I’m currently able to, and if I can’t, then so be it.
A new friend entered my life about a month ago. She had been through a breakdown many years ago, the kind of breakdown that destroys you and strips you back to nothing. She had minimal help, and her main source of support, her husband, had no idea what was happening to her or how to help, her family were cruel and lacking basic human kindness as were others around her. Over the years of healing and rebuilding, she built up a wealth of knowledge around art, physical and mental health, food, spirituality, relationships and balance. She visited me a couple of times and showered me with love, wisdom, healthy homemade foods, beverages, education and most of all, the hope that I could get better. Her generosity overwhelmed me – in a healthy, grateful accepting way. I thought to myself, if I learn all of this from her, then one day I could pass this on. I knew it was her pleasure and her joy to help me. I understood that. I knew she wanted nothing in return; it was a gift of the highest order and an opportunity to see my own personal growth, as I heard myself saying, ‘Thankyou’ and knowing that was enough.