Sunday, 17 July 2011

My Brain AVM Story: "Confront Me If I Don't Ask For Help"

The title of this post is from a movie called "28 Days". Sandra Bullock, sentenced to 28 days in an alcohol rehabilitation centre after causing a car accident at her sister's wedding, is forced to wear a sign saying "Confront Me if I Don't Ask for Help" on a sign around her neck as penance for breaking the rules. There were days after my brain AVM surgery and the stroke when I probably should have worn a similar sign.

I had a very hard time learning to ask for help after the stroke. And an even harder time learning to accept it.

"I'm Fine. Thank You, Though."

The word “help” hadn’t come easily for me for a long time. I’d always been fairly private about my affairs, and I’d already lived on my own for a year in university before moving out to BC. I was used to making my own decisions and coming up with my own plans for handling my problems. However, after my brain AVM surgery and stroke, for a couple of years, I was much more dependent on people than I liked. I didn’t have a driver’s license anymore, and in my small town there was no public transportation, so I was basically reliant on my father or taxis for transportation. I got tired extremely quickly, and had trouble doing even the most basic things without assistance. We won’t even get into the limitations imposed on me when I used my wheelchair in public.

When I was recovered enough to move out on my own, I was close enough to town to walk when the weather was nice and the sidewalks were clear (in winter, snow and ice still sometimes make walking unsafe for me). However, even on good walking days, I usually take a cab if I’ve been shopping and have groceries to carry. I can carry a week’s worth of groceries in plastic bags with the handles over my wrist on my good arm, roll a 12-can case of pop up my body and carry it under my elbow on my weak arm, and still get into my apartment, but I can’t pull that off for any sort of distance; sometimes walking home is out of the question.

Watching me carry that many groceries even the short distance from the cab to my apartment building makes the cab drivers, who all know me by now, awfully nervous. So much so that some of them, while they respected my refusal of their offer to help for a while, don’t listen anymore; they’re up and grabbing my bags before I have a chance to object. (Note: There are *very* few people from whom I’ll put up with that sort of thing. There’s only one cab company in town and the drivers see me enough to know when I say, “I’m fine, I just need to get organized” as I drop three things on the ground, I’m probably just brave-facing it and bull-shitting them a some of them just stopped paying attention to me. It’s actually kind of refreshing when people are willing to call me on unreasonable behaviour in this way.)

"She *Can* be Taught!"

So…it’s taken me a long time to learn that asking for help, or accepting help when it’s offered, is not a sign of weakness or dependency. One of my friends    says, when I’ve gotten too  stubborn about doing things  “on my own”: “I *know* that  you’re fine doing it by  yourself. But won’t it be easier  if you just let me help?” I think  it’s to my credit that I snarl at  them a little less than I used to  after hearing that.

Nick (name changed) was actually the first  person who brought this issue  up with me. We’d both been  away from Ottawa Rehab Centre for the weekend for visits with family, and we’d both gone to the Chapters book store in the area. I talked about how I’d tried really hard to do as much as I could on my own, even though it was harder to reach the higher shelves in my wheelchair. Nick said had shrugged and said that he’d asked for help when he needed it, and had much more energy to enjoy the book and the time with his family.

Man, I hated it when Nick was right.

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