THERE is a fear that I’ve just looked up that many of us probably have. Soteriophobia — the fear of becoming dependent on someone else.
I have just experienced it. Before Christmas, I spent a gruelling five days in hospital (due to a scheduled procedure) unable to move. Then over the holidays I was confined to bed and home rest for another month; meaning friends and family were constantly on the run trying to create a normal life for me.
Lying in the hospital bed made me realise the degree to which most of us are going to be in this position one day if we live long enough, and that we’re not prepared, in this society, for what it really means to be dependent.
So many people I know are infirmed, due to cancer or other illnesses or are suffering ailments associated with old age. I know people confined to wheelchairs or locked in a home with Alzheimer’s. Even if we just get a badly broken bone, we’ll experience the humiliation of dependency.
Yet, when it happens no words can describe the dreadful nature of helplessness and loss of independence, and there’s currently no education that prepares us for it.
Being a person who likes to stay in control, I suffered greatly trapped in the hospital bed on a drip, waiting for kind nurses to come, watching the clock ticking minute-by-minute, 3am, 3.03am, 3.15am, unable to sleep, ringing the buzzer and waiting to be taken to the toilet; the shower; to get a vomit bag; or pain killers; to be turned over; given more water; begging that the TVs be turned down.
Finally home, the guilt of asking busy people to do favours was overwhelming. Although loved ones wanted to help, I did things I shouldn’t have because it was hard for me to pick up the phone.
Through the recovery process I meditated more seriously than any other time in my life; soothing myself with words from Buddhist teachers on my iPad as they talked me into a state of acceptance and surrender. And compassion for those who are permanently infirmed or imprisoned. The Buddhist philosophy is that our bodies are only on loan to us anyway — rent-a-body — and that we will all experience loss.
But if one has no spiritual practice, how do we as a society prepare for the shame, powerlessness and discomfort dependency brings? Especially in the West without the extended family structures found in other cultures like India where looking after family members is the norm. I have no answer. Just a knowledge that we need to consider courses, education, options or methods that help us face reality. Our collective soteriophobia is something we need to address.