The prospect of having a skin cancer dug out of my nose followed by plastic surgery which would require 50-plus stitches and a good month off work didn’t really phase me. I was just happy that I’d found it in time and put my faith in the doctors to take care of the rest.
But what threw me was when the nurse rang a few days before my operation and asked who’d be picking me up as I wouldn’t be in any state to drive.
“Who is your person?” she asked, expectantly.
“Oh, I was planning on getting an Uber”, I say.
“We’d prefer you don’t. You don’t have a person who could get you?” she asked, pen poised on the blank line, I imagine.
Mild shame crept over me.
No. I don’t have a person. Does this make me a lesser person?
I have lots of people. I have many friends – rock solid friends – and some family. My friends are always there for me in a crisis and there’s rarely a shortage of someone to catch up with and workshop life with or to celebrate each other’s wins – significant or not. I have people who care about me and understand me and want the best for me.
But a ‘person’ is a different thing altogether. And in a moment of sobering clarity on the other end of that iPhone, it hit me that I was starkly devoid of one of those.
It’s got nothing to do with being single. I’ve been in some relationships yet still not had a ‘person’.
Until then I’d barely noticed. I’m getting by just fine raising two young children mostly on my own, making tough calls every day for their best interests – the greatest responsibility of all – with no one to bounce them off. I’ll quite happily decline the plus-ones and turn up to functions on my own. You meet more people that way. I have long branded myself by my independence wearing it as a sort of badge of honour, a sign of my enduring strength and capability. I don’t need a person.
But a “person” is a different thing altogether. And in a moment of sobering clarity in that phone call, it hit me that I didn’t have one of those.
It’s got nothing to do with being single. I’ve been in some relationships where I’ve still not had a “person”.
Unless, it turns out, I’m being collected from day surgery.
I asked the nurse if I could get back to her. She gave me a day. Only one day to go into a spin, ripping bear the facade I hold up to myself that I’m a fully functioning intact island without need for backup. A day to process one of my most cavernous and not yet fully realised or explored beliefs that I’m not worthy of others’ time. One day to find a person.
Asking for help has never been my strong suit.
I know why. It’s because potential rejection is one of my most potent triggers – a portal to my vulnerable self – so I avoid it at all costs. And there are costs. I fortify myself against the likelihood of it by getting the job done myself, or paying for it if it comes to that. I try to avoid putting myself in situations where being knocked back is even an option. From asking people out to asking for a pay rise to asking someone to mind the kids.
The dread of not mattering is our collective suffering, all too familiar to us all. It’s no wonder when the core of our survival depends on being accepted by others – starting with our own mothers at birth. Which is why a rebuff – even an unanswered text – can feel like a calamitous desertion, a threat to our very existence.
Yet the threat is only imagined. A new stream of therapy has sprung up in an effort to counter this chronic social wound. Called ‘rejection therapy’, recipients are encouraged to seek out ‘opportunities’ for rejection so it packs less punch while proving that it won’t kill us. And that it’s worth it. Because fear of rejection is a curse which holds us back.
And so I ask. I bypass friends with school pickup duties and office jobs asking only those who are more likely to be around. I get a couple of ‘nos’ and I’m still standing. Then a friend who lives on the other side of town who’s raising three kids on her own, one in hospital at the time, steps up. “I’ve got you covered”, she texts. I might have cried.
She delivers me home with sushi and Panadol and the guts to ask again.
This article was first published in Sunday Life Magazine and on dailylife.com.au and is published here with permission.