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I’ve always been the caretaker, the doer, the one who looks out for others. Since my diagnosis of sarcoidosis, I have had to change roles and not just ask for help but accept it, sometimes even when I haven’t asked for it.

So it’s hard to adapt from “helper” to “helpee”. I don’t like it much. It’s a humbling blow to my pride. But, in the process of making this change I have learned that while I can’t be useful in the same ways I was a “helper”, I can still find ways to be of service as a “helpee.” I have had to redefine what usefulness means to me.

I have come to understand that usefulness comes in many forms and it shifts and changes as situations dictate. There is more than one way to be of use. I don’t always have to swoop in and save everyone in need. Sometimes, I can quietly sit in my living room and write a blog post.

Or, I can make a really nice dinner for my husband when he’s had a rough day at work.

Or, I can quietly listen to a friend who needs to vent.

Being of use can be as simple as smiling at a stranger who looks sad.

It can be as easy as holding a door for a young mother struggling with a baby carriage.

And the thing is, now that I am a “helpee”, I actually notice the sad strangers and the young mothers in need more than I did as a “helper”. I have developed a keener awareness of my surroundings because of my own illness. Strangely, I am more empathic as a “helpee”. I have a richer understand of the need for help.

Even as I think about my career, I was probably the most useful to people when I was a home health aide, not when I was a healthcare administrator because being of use is about the basics. It’s not about quantity. Instead, true usefulness is about the quality we put into being of service to another. It’s about paying attention and knowing that even in situations were we can’t physically do something, sometimes just being there is enough.

We are never without the ability to be of use in this world even when our circumstances have limited our abilities. We just have to be open to finding new and different ways of sharing our gifts.

Being chronically ill does not make us less. It alters us and in our alteration, we can still be of use. Our value does not change so long as we find new ways to share it.