I used to be really independent. I’ve lived abroad, travelled to many countries, negotiated my way through different languages/gesturing madly by myself… Not a lot phased me at one point.
The thing with independence is you have to keep practising it for it to be effective. I look at how unindependent I am now and I’m pretty horrified. I don’t leave the house by myself, I can’t cope at home by myself, people take me places and do basic things for me and I really, really get wound up about having to make a phone call. It’s not even a case of telling myself to ‘get on with it’ like I used to in the past, because if I do that and get myself a little stressed, my body reacts even if I don’t want it to and I end up in a big mess. So I’m not very independent at all now, but a lot of it is an unfortunate outcome due to circumstance rather than me being happy about it.
This week my husband had to work away overnight, which meant I needed a ‘babysitter’ and I went to a friend’s to sleepover. Some of this is because I can’t manage to make meals, tidy up, or I need help doing things because I can’t do them safely, but most people would assume that I could go to someone’s house for tea and then go to sleep in my own house overnight, which would be a reasonable assumption- I’m an adult, I’d be asleep and it’s only one night. What could go wrong?!
Lots is the answer. Night time is when I don’t take any medications (normally I don’t anyway, I have been this week). I haven’t spent a night by myself in years. If anything is likely to go wrong and I’m going to need help, it’s probably at night- most of my hospital admissions are at night. Earlier in the week involved a middle of the night phonecall for advice to a nurse friend because I woke up suddenly not feeling well and couldn’t work out what I needed to do. It’s a feeling I can’t fully describe but it’s kind of like running out of breath when you’re under water and desperately trying to get to the surface. You’re not really with it and you have to fight hard to keep yourself heading upwards rather than just giving up and floating underwater. I know for sure I couldn’t do my injection myself in that state if I had to. So the other side of independence is to do with confidence. Confidence is key to being independent, I’ve discovered.
Confidence is something that can take a long time to build up but seconds to destroy. Sometimes, it can be as simple as a flippant comment that someone makes or minor changes to a plan. They’re not big things to people who are independent and have confidence, but they are if you’ve had to build yourself up to do something in the first place. And because the only way you can get independence and confidence back is by pushing yourself bit by bit out of your comfort zone, very minor things soon become big things and make it less likely you’re going to try again in the future.
A tough love approach might work if you want to get someone to do something as a one off, to prove that they can do it. So if someone has a fear of heights, making them do it might shock them into realising that it’s not that bad. But if you want someone to be able to do something repeatedly afterwards, tough love doesn’t necessarily work. It would probably shatter any confidence left into a million pieces. I could make myself stay at home by myself (which would be stupid anyway, because I physically wouldn’t be able to manage it), but the stress alone of having to do so would be enough to set off my fight or flight and then I’d definitely feel ill and alone and potentially have to sort out ambulances and hospital myself. Which would mean I wouldn’t want to do it again in the future because I’d remember those feelings of panic, which would make me twice as anxious than in the first place. It’s not just a lack of confidence with me, the stakes are irreversible if I get it wrong. Why don’t people leave kids alone by themselves? Because they can’t look after themselves, they might need help and lack the mental competency to do so themselves or they might hurt themselves. These things are all true for me at the moment. Hence needing a babysitter.
Instead of tough love, someone sitting down with you and helping you put together the pieces is more helpful (my friends are good at doing this for me). Sitting and looking at the bits waiting for something to happen or getting someone else to do all of the work for you are both unhelpful in the opposite way- it’s important to try to be as independent as possible within your own means of what you can manage. It’s finding the balance between support but not getting someone to do it all for you versus nudging in the right direction but not bullying. From having been a teacher and coached hundreds of kids through performances on stage, there are very few kids I used a tough love approach with because it tended to cause more problems than it solved. I didn’t lie, I told them if there were things they needed to do differently, but I didn’t tear them down while I did it and I always made sure I was there to help pick up any pieces.
Realistically, building confidence and independence isn’t easy for anyone. Everyone has something that they lack confidence in, it’s just the degree with which it impacts on your life which differs. Some things I find difficult might appear trivial to others and likewise I have no issue with some tasks which other people find challenging. At the end of the day, it’s our previous experiences which have shaped our confidence now, so everyone is different. For me, sleeping over at my friends’ house meant that I knew there was someone nearby if I needed help and they made me meals and looked after me, but it didn’t feel any different from hanging out with my friends normally. I find it hard to ask for help and hate feeling like I’m a burden (my friends don’t make me feel like that, it’s my issue based on my previous experiences), so asking for help and receiving a positive outcome helped me regain a little bit of my confidence and will make me more likely to ask for help again in the future.
Thanks to my lovely friends for having me stay over 🙂