Please share your story:
When I was seven years old, my dad became sick. He’s been tested for countless diseases since then, but every test has come back negative. Because there has been no diagnosis, there is no cure for his inability to walk without shaking or losing his balance and chronic weakness. When he’s really bad, the shaking robs his ability to speak. He spent the next five years of my childhood bedridden. As a young child, I noticed two things:
1) If he became upset by something, he would get worse
2) He became the most upset if I was unhappy or not doing well
That was the beginning of my life as a caretaker. I wanted to be the happy, successful child--one that my overworked, scared, and exhausted immigrant mother would not have to worry about while trying to find work to support her family. My mother came to America from India, leaving her parents and siblings behind, and remains the strongest person I know. If I was sad, scared, or felt alone, I let those feelings out in the bathroom after school or under my covers at night. Until then, I was the one getting good grades, helping to clean and cook, tucking in my parents and brother and locking the doors before bed.
My parents are wonderful people who spent years encouraging me to worry less about them and start living my own life. It took me a long time to even imagine the concept, having been the girl who took the three hour bus ride to and from home every weekend in college so she could be there for her parents. Even in law school, I arranged my schedule so that I could drive home at least three times a month. Needless to say, things like dating weren’t on my radar. When the time finally came, I was twenty seven and living in Chicago.
The thing about being in a relationship is that you have to learn how to feel safe relying on someone else. I had no idea how to do that. I spent so much of my life being the person others needed me to be for their happiness that I couldn’t figure out what I wanted, let alone how to ask for it. I only knew how to give, not to ask or receive.
In July of last year, I was on vacation with my boyfriend, Ryan. While white water rafting, I got caught in the current and my body smashed into a boulder. After I was rescued, I found myself unable to stand or walk. The pain was unbearable, but what was even scarier was that I couldn’t do anything on my own. I needed to be carried to the car and Ryan drove me to two hospitals, then the fourteen hours back home. I was shocked that the person I was with was so willing to not just get me back to safety, but to carry me into rest stops and wipe off toilets so I could use the facilities.
When we got back to the States, I found out that I had broken my hip in four places, and needed to remain in bed for the foreseeable future. I didn’t know what to do, only that I could not let my parents see me in that condition.
Without me having to ask, and without complaint, Ryan helped me shower, made me meals, cleaned, took me to all of my doctor’s appointments, and held me while I cried out in pain. I kept waiting for him to throw up his hands and leave because I couldn’t take care of him, but he did the opposite. In January, he asked me to marry him.
On the day of our engagement party, I started to notice my recovery stall, and soon I was back to being stuck in bed. A doctor’s visit and an MRI later, I learned that I would need surgery, a process that would require six weeks in a brace and months of therapy to re-adjust myself to normal life. Again, I was terrified of how limited I would become after surgery, and how much help I would need. The brace meant that for six weeks, I would need even more help than before. Things had gotten to the point where I knew I had to face my fear of showing my parents that I was struggling, hurting, and needing of help.
My parents, being the amazing people that they are, didn’t hesitate for a second when I reached out. I moved in with them and they gave up their bedroom so I would be more comfortable. In some ways, I felt like I had become my mother and father’s baby again. I could no longer shower, sit up, or get dressed on my own. My meals needed to be brought to me. I had to re-learn to walk, and needed assistance getting around the house or around the block. Ryan came to stay with my parents’ as well, even though it meant that his commute grew to over three hours a day.
Whenever I try to thank my parents, my mom says, “You are my daughter. I don’t need a thank you. This is my pleasure!” My dad just smiles and tells me that I am “his joy,” and then charge me for his services with a minimum of two hugs. I am so incredibly blessed to have them- my twin pillars of strength and love.
Throughout this process, I have worried that I may never be the same after having faced so many setbacks. I worried that if I married Ryan, he would be stuck taking care of me forever. I tell him this, but he says he doesn’t care. When I ask him why, he simply says, “Because I love you.”
I was a fiercely independent woman, and I lost that over the past year. It was not easy to readjust, but the process has taught me so much. I was someone who hated asking for help and relying on others, but I have now learned that there is strength in asking for help. I never thought that doing so would actually benefit the people I love but it does- they are the ones who hurt the most when they see me struggling or in pain.
Even on my toughest days, I am so grateful that I am surrounded by people who love and support me. I am grateful that God gave me the opportunity to learn that it is okay to be vulnerable and imperfect.
I am on my path to recovery now, working and going to physical therapy. Ryan not only has been there every step of the way, but he has gone above and beyond to make sure that I keep smiling and have something to look forward to. This August he’s taking me to California so that I can fulfill my childhood dream of seeing the Redwoods. Come October, I get to marry the man who works endlessly to make all of my dreams to come true.
When I was a little girl, I used to pray to God that I would find someone who would say,
“You take care of everyone else. Let me take care of you.”
I am so blessed to have my prayers come true, and thank God every day for the life he has given me.
How has your story shaped who you are today?:
When you are afraid to ask for things, you are afraid to speak your truth and ultimately, face who you are. By learning that it is okay to lean on others and ask for help when I need it, I am less afraid to be the person that I am, rather than the person who I think the world wants me to be.
Why should your story be selected to be featured on our blog?:
I think in our society, women are often taught to be the one to give up their needs, desires, and wants. We so easily shift into caretaker mode, particularly when we become mothers, and forget that we are human beings who need to be cared for as well. I believe my story shows that it is possible to be who we are and ask for what we want in life while being supported and loved.
What encouraging words would you give to someone who shares a similar story?:
I would tell them that in life, there are two primary emotions: love and fear. We often choose fear- fear to ask for what we want, fear of being alone, fear of rejection. It is much more difficult to choose love. We must learn to love ourselves enough to stand up for what want, need, and desire, just as we would for the people in our lives. It is a lesson that has forever changed me, and made so much stronger.