01 March 2010

The Line in the Sand

One of the most important lessons I learned when I was sick last year was that of setting personal boundaries.

I was born and raised in very old-fashioned patrician home in the Philippines. My nouveau-Victorian upbringing meant a "proper and gracious lady" was only to "be seen, but not heard." Respecting other people's boundaries was definitely ingrained in me; but I never was taught that the same was due me. To assert oneself was not feminine and was certainly vulgar. A proper Filipina lady was always soft and demure.

Although I was a very immature 19-year-old (I may as well have been 12) when my father brought us here to the U.S. to get a proper American education, my education went far beyond the walls of academia. Quickly, I assimilated and embraced the American/Western/modern way (much to my father's dismay). One of the most stunning and attractive learnings for me was that of personal freedom. And from that I found out about personal space and boundaries. I was floored by the discovery that I was equally entitled to my own freedoms and boundaries as others were. Sadly, although I quickly embraced all of this intellectually, I struggled with it for years in practice. Like my mother (and her mother before her), I was raised to be a "pleaser" and would rather avoid conflict at the cost of personal freedoms.

That struggle came to an end during my bout with cancer. Not surprisingly, after I got word to my family and friends that I was sick, they all wanted immediately to rush to my side to help -- drive me to and from chemo, keep me company during chemo, go with me to doctor's appointments, stay with me after chemo, cook for me, shop for me, clean the house, keep me company, care for me, or whatever else needed to be done. What an amazing and wonderful, people I have in my life! And though I was grateful for their help, I did the unconventional thing and gently said "thank you, no" to most of them. I was grateful. But, cancer was an deeply personal and private experience for me. And I wanted to keep it that way. I wanted only a small number of people to know about my illness and an even smaller group to be intimately involved in my battle with it. To maintain a sense of control of the situation, I needed to surrender control to only a handful of others. I had to do it. It was my cancer. And as such, I felt very strongly that I should have been able to regulate how and when assistance would be needed.

Though I had read many testimonies of how good it is to surround oneself with a community during times like these and to let people help lift your burden and carry you through it, I was overwhelmed by the notion. I wanted to focus on healing. The help and the community would have distracted me. To be frank, I also didn't want to deal with the politics of who's helping when and how. Those were all too complicated of issues for me to handle then.

It was my natural instinct to just succumb to my loved ones' supplications to help. I wanted to make them okay with the situation. And I knew that all of them would have felt better if I let them help and and participate in my healing. But that would have been to my detriment, no matter how well-meaning they all were. Because even though I would have made them feel better, I would not have felt right. What I wanted was entirely different. And the lesson was, no matter how unconventional or even perhaps gauche, ultimately, it was my cancer. And I needed to fight it the way I wanted to -- with as much personal space as I possibly could have gotten.

So, I drew a line in the sand and asserted my my personal space with the help of a very few people, who watched over it diligently. No, everyone else was not the enemy. It wasn't like that. It was more about preserving a space which I could breath, focus and get to the task at hand --getting well. They understood where I was coming from and they respected that. The sense of control that they gave me was an immense boost to me in beating the cancer. But most importantly, my own assertion of personal boundaries and space, ultimately fueled my resolve.


Karen said...

Very meaningful post. I think we can all relate. Sometimes we need to take control of the "little" things in order to tackle the much larger issue.

ce_squared said...

Thanks, Karen. I'm glad to know that the experience resonates.

Catherine said...

I can understand how you felt. I was very protective of my son and still am. It's such a huge thing to try to understand, let alone accept.

WhiteStone said...

Nicely written. I tend to be a very private person (and here I am, putting myself out on a blog. lol) and during the hardest weeks and months, I preferred the solitude of home. Even though church families offered to bring in meals, my mode was to say, "No, thank you, we're doing just fine." Sometimes on frozen meals, no less. LOL. Not that I didn't appreciate their offers... it was very kind and I truly recognized that kindness...but it somehow was easier to go through it all "by myself". In this as well as other important parts of life, the ability to draw a line in the sand is a good thing. Bless you.

ce_squared said...

It's a truly fine line between being grateful for the kindness of others and telling them "thanks. but no thanks." But those who understand appreciate the value of our need to protect that very delicate space we're in while we're struggling.

Bless you too, Whitestone. I hope you're faring well with the meds.

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