Last weekend I suffered what I am calling a ‘minor collapse’. Or mostly, my house did. I heard some sort of crunch of damage on the Friday evening but it sounded a moderate distance away and it was too dark to investigate. But as I was leaving the house on the Saturday morning I happened to look down the passageway next to my house and saw a piece of fallen plasterboard maybe 1.5m x 1m. There were some bits of broken bricks and some other fallen debris, and it all seemed rather damp, and close to the overflow from my troublesome boiler.
Lots of waiting in, prevaricating and visitors later, including my landlord, my engineer neighbour and a plumber, the problem was found to be my shower which has been leaking. A week later there are finally some additional structural supports in place and some shower tiles have been replaced as well. I’m not totally convinced that it’s sorted yet, but it’s getting there. While I felt quite stressed at the prospect of structural damage to my house and my neighbours’ house which they own, I could see that the actual falling of the plasterboard was actually, on balance, a good thing.
It allowed access to inspect the beams and to identify the source of the leak from the shower. Once everything else is properly sorted, replacing the plasterboard will be a relatively inexpensive and manageable task. The plasterboard wasn’t the problem; it was covering up the problem. When I told some friends last weekend about what had happened, my terminology caused some alarm. I guess people don’t usually admit to having a ‘minor collapse’, and of course, for some medics, this would imply something rather different.
I actually had to call an ambulance during my year out when the woman I was caring for had her own minor collapse. She has cerebral palsy and spinal damage and I did quite a bit of manual handling to help her move around, but this involved her briefly supporting her own weight. On the occasion when her legs gave way and I couldn’t guide her back to sitting, I ended up lowering her to the floor and having to call for emergency assistance. I was pretty calm about it, and she was ok although she spent some time in hospital before returning home.
When other people are relying on you, you try very hard not to let yourself collapse. Maybe finding space for a controlled, minor collapse is hard. Maybe it’s denial. Maybe it’s an unwillingness to be vulnerable or a genuine fear of not knowing how to get up again. So instead we do our crying in the rain, or in cinemas or theatres watching Les Mis, or in front of TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy, or reading novels like The Hunger Games or Calico Joe.
Telling people about the damage to my house was fairly easy, and I did get some sympathy. When people ask how you are, and you can point to a specific tough thing that has happened, it can actually be a way of avoiding admitting how you are feeling. I said how frustrating it all was, and how it messed up my whole weekend and the other things I was planning to do. I even said how I nearly burst into tears when I was buying takeaway food and just couldn’t handle going out to the lovely social event that others really enjoyed.
But I guess that’s not the full story, and telling the full story might involve collapsing a little. It probably won’t fit into a quick ‘how are you?’ conversation, or even a blog post. And I guess I’m reluctant to go there, just like I was reluctant to let my neighbour go poking around in the gaping hole in the passageway. I didn’t want anyone to get hurt. I didn’t want to make it worse. But I also didn’t want to just cover it up and hope the problem would go away. I could see the minor collapse as a good thing, a helpful thing revealing an underlying issue and getting a step closer to being fixed. Asking for help is maybe easier when the responsibility lies elsewhere (with my landlord) or where other people might be badly affected (like my neighbours).
I usually try to turn my blogs around into something positive and encouraging – not just for my readers but for me. My tendency to try and see the bright side has drawn comments at work recently. I’m not sure if I want to encourage people to take the risk and fall apart a bit, especially since I don’t know if I’m brave enough myself. I do believe if you’re well-supported, a minor collapse can be a healthy thing, but there’s an obvious conditionality to that statement. But maybe even before a minor collapse, a bit of human weakness leaking out one way or another is a start. If you’ve read this far, apologies if you feel a bit leaked on. But thanks for your company. Feel free to leak back.