I’m sick. The last two days, I have either been in bed or sitting on the toilet, as some virus wrings my guts out. I know, yuck, right? I almost didn’t write it because I didn’t want to gross you all out.
Yesterday, it wasn’t all that bad, but today I’ve been quite miserable. And along with that physical misery, I watch my own neediness creep out and become big and noisy.
I notice it first early this morning. I crawl back into bed after my latest trip to the bathroom. My husband is up, getting ready for work. He is dressed in his riding gear, fluorescent shirt glowing, backpack already on, eager to hop on his bike and ride downtown, where he and the bike will catch public transportation the rest of the way to work. He comes in the bedroom briefly to say goodbye, glancing at the clock. I can see he is calculating how much time he has, so I resist the words bubbling up to my mouth, “Don’t go. Sit here with me. Stay a while and be late. Better yet, don’t go to work at all. I am in pain. Stay here and take care of me!” I just smile and wish him a good day.
He ruffles my hair, an unusual gesture. Maybe he sees my unspoken childish neediness. Then he leaves. I hug my pillow tight and after a while, I doze uneasily.
I’m awake again an hour or so later, intestines cramping, nausea high. I realize I am not going to be functional this morning. I send an email cancelling a morning conference call. Then I text E cancelling our afternoon therapy session. That’s hard for me; I rarely cancel a session. As I compose the text, I realize I want her to feel sorry for me, to worry about me. Several times I write a sentence and then erase it, frowning at my melodramatic tone. I’m not dying. It’s just a stomach flu. Finally I send a very basic message saying I’ve sick with the flu and won’t make our appointment. Still, when I press send, I recognize that I want her to think, wow, Q almost never cancels; she must be really sick, oh no…
Instead, she responds with a perfectly reasonable reply: So sorry to hear that. I hope you feel better soon. She isn’t consumed with a desire to fuss over me, damn it.
The morning goes on. My body keeps finding something to make it sick, though I’ve not been feeding it. My head is also finding ways to make me feel miserable. It tells me a story: I am sick, I feel crummy, I am alone, no one is taking care of me, that’s because no one wants to take care of me, that’s because I’m not important, I don’t matter, that’s because I am not worthy of mattering, I shouldn’t even want to be cared for because I don’t deserve it…
It’s an old story. I have heard it before. I have talked about it in therapy before. I have realized it’s not factually accurate. But when I’m weakened, from stress or illness or whatever it is, there it is again, the same old story, trying to convince me once again of its take on reality.
For a while, I scold myself for my neediness. Neediness is ugly, I think. I am too weak. I want to punish myself, hurt myself, for this weakness. Why can’t I be stronger? I must be stronger. I must set that need aside, overrule it, ignore it, deny it. If I deny it, maybe it can go away.
Wait a minute.
If I’m not entirely insane, it’s thanks to mindfulness. That ability to step back and observe my own thoughts, even if I can only do it some of the time, is what saves me. I observe myself thinking that thought: If I deny it, maybe it can go away.
I know that isn’t true. If I have learned anything from therapy, I have learned that pretending something isn’t there doesn’t make it not there. Denial has no magical powers. Unfortunately.
Okay. No denial. I admit my neediness exists. But I don’t like it.
Wait, no, that’s not right either, I tell myself. My neediness is part of me. It is not just part of me, personally; it is part of being human. We are social creatures. We are meant to be connected. I am meant to be connected. And because of my early life experiences, I don’t always trust that people want to be connected with me. This is not a character flaw. It’s just being human.
This evening, I am telling myself the same message over and over: This neediness, it’s just part of being human. It’s not shameful. I’m not inadequate. I’m not unworthy of connection. I’m just insecure about that worthiness, which is a natural result of some past experiences. It is okay to feel like this. Furthermore, I can feel unworthy and know that is just a feeling and not a reality.
Tonight, I realize that I could have texted E, telling her I was sick and needy and doubted my value. In some way she would have given me more or less the message I ended up giving myself. It might have felt soothing mid-afternoon to read that. But it’s kind of satisfying to finally arrive at that conclusion on my own.
Now, I gingerly eat half a cracker and sip the boiled juice from some blueberries, a liquid which my Scandinavian husband swears is the best thing for a distressed digestive system. I ask him to sit next to me and cuddle for a few minutes. I’m feeling a little better.