Today Jessica from Faith Permeating Life will be guest posting! Read here post here, and then check out her blog.
I have always been a fiercely independent person. When I graduated high school, I swore I was going to stay a single, independent woman who would live by myself and travel wherever my career took me. Well, that lasted only a few months into college as I was pursued by the man who would eventually become my husband. But even when I agreed to date him, I laid down clear boundaries. I didn’t want to use the terms “girlfriend” and “boyfriend” because I felt that would give him some kind of ownership of me. He asked for permission the first time he held my hand. I made it clear my first kiss was reserved for my wedding day. My body and my life were my own. He was respectful of all of this and was even on board with my being our family breadwinner.
Then, barely six months after we were married, I came down with mono.
In the time that has followed, I’ve heard stories of people with mono taking weeks or months away from school or work, staying in bed for days on end. I took a week off work when I was first symptomatic, then went right back to work and actually worked late while we were hosting an international conference, about a month after I was diagnosed. I nearly collapsed from exhaustion. My boss suggested I work from home two days a week, which helped, but not enough. It was wedding-and-vacation season and my husband and I were traveling every few weekends. I could never quite get enough rest.
The sneaky thing about mono is that it’s not like a broken leg, where there’s something visibly wrong with you and you’re physically limited in what you can do. I hated being dependent and I hated being needy, so rather than ask my husband for things I would get them myself or do without. This generally meant choosing between not enough rest or not enough fluids, the two things I needed most.
Because I didn’t ask for help, my husband didn’t know how bad things were or how much help I really needed. He did take on all the cooking, which he’d mostly been doing anyway, but since he knew how important my independence was to me, he didn’t try to hover or constantly check in with me. This made me feel even more guilty and needy for asking him for anything.
About six months into having mono, things came to a head. I was starting to struggle with depression from the long period of fatigue, and my husband was frustrated that I never wanted to do anything or go anywhere.
What followed was a lot of honest conversation and a lot of learning on both our parts. He insisted that he didn’t mind helping me out if I would just ask for things, and I got more comfortable with asking to be taken care of. He came to terms with my limitations and we found things we could do together, like watch movies and play board games. He would get up and pack my lunch for me so I could sleep in a little later in the morning. Since his work started after and ended before mine, he started driving me to and from the train station so he could help me up the stairs of our apartment building at the end of the day, when I was most tired. He made me fruit smoothies after work, mixed with vitamin C powder to help my body get stronger.
Eventually, I got my strength back, but what I learned from having mono has stuck with me. When I get a cold, I don’t hesitate to send my husband to the store to get medicine, tissues, soup--whatever I need. I know I’m incredibly blessed to have a husband who’s a good cook and likes doing the dishes. I believe that God gave me a life partner so that we could serve one another, and refusing to be served is just as bad as refusing to serve.
Lately the fatigue and weakness has crept back--this time not yet explained, maybe a mono relapse or maybe having to do with blood sugar--and we’re both working hard to make sure my body is taken care of. I try to let him know right away when I’m feeling tired so he doesn’t think I’m just shooting down his ideas for spending time together. When I’m feeling good, we take advantage of it--we recently participated in a community-wide day of volunteering--and when I’m not, I stay put on the couch while he refills my water bottle and brings me dinner.
As much as I value my independence, being sick humbled me enough to realize the value of being in a partnership. I don’t know how I would have managed through this illness if I’d been on my own. The greatest blessing has been having a partner who works with me to take care of me--not complaining and not being patronizing or controlling, just being there for me when I need him, as much or as little as I need.
Advice-giving and advice-seeking, full of wisdom and questions, Jessica is a 20-something data analyst, wannabe copyeditor, and general Type A who likes to pretend she’s not. Faith Permeating Life is a window into her attempts to make the most of marriage before kids, figure out how to be liberal and Catholic, and find a little bit of happiness every day.