Natalie and Monk

You probably know that care-takers get a bad rap. It's bad to be one, you tend to focus on others, put yourself last, burn out, lose self. You deny other people the joy of taking care of you. I could go on and on.

If you're familiar with the show then you know that Monk is a famous detective with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and Natalie is his assistant. Monk's disorder is so severe that much of Natalie's job is watching out for him, making sure he is safe. His concentration on cleanliness (germ phobic) and order (symmetry) make Monk something of an absent-minded professor. He bumps into things. He gets hurt because he's more worried about the order of nature than his own safety.

But Natalie saves him, usually, from things like walking in front of a bus.

I tape the show and always have to hear the song, It's a Jungle Out There, will sing along with Randy Newman. What can I tell you.

Anyway, because I tape much more than I watch as a rule, I have a huge assortment of shows to choose from. One night I choose Monk and the Magician. I try to get FD to watch it with me, but as soon as he realizes who the murderer is (first ten minutes) he sees no point in watching anymore. Guys are like this unless they're watching recaps of sports.

So he goes out to do some guy thing or another and I have the remote to myself. I buzz through to where I've left off, and it becomes very obvious that the magician is a very, very bad guy. Monk figures it out right away, not as fast as FD but fast.

FD returns as it's just about to end and I rewind, make him join me. "Watch this!" I command. This is a good part so he can't complain. Monk is in very serious danger, I'm getting very worried. Pazowie! Abracadabra! Natalie shows up with the police and saves him. She throws her arms around him and gives him an emotional hug. I would have, too. This was a really close call.

My pulse eventually returns to normal and FD says to me, "She seems to really have feelings for him. That's not exactly appropriate for an assistant, is it?"

"She's his care-taker," I say. "Her job is making sure he's okay."

"He really needs that much care-taking? It's just OCD."

Just OCD.

"Honey, it's never just OCD. And no matter what the disabling disorder, we tell people to find someone, if at all possible, to check in on them, maybe even coach or take care of them, pay for it if necessary.

Some people really need shadows. In tribal societies this has always been understood. In our industrialized, independence-is-valued-to-a-fault society, too few of us have people to watch out for us, to make sure we' don't kill ourselves, don't drink or stick needles in our arms, who will brush the crumbs off our chins, tuck in or cut off our tags, make sure we've eaten, know where we've dropped our keys. It would be nice if we could always have it together, but most of us can't. And is it all that necessary, anyway? Always having it together?"

I can't help it, I'm on a roll.

"And this doesn't apply just to people who are a little less than functional due to some disorder or another. A person can be perfectly independent and still need a little help now and then. It's ridiculous that we blow off our parents so early, now that I think about it, so dramatically, find it necessary to bark things at people who are just trying to help, like that woman on a television commercial from the seventies, the one who said, Mother please, I'd rather do it myself."

This is the end of the rant.

And you know it's true, we can't help but do this when we're teenagers, even as children or young adults. It is very normal and very good to blow off the caretakers, to glory in our independent choices, our autonomy, at any age, really. Then, we're not sure when it happens, all of sudden it's not so bad to let someone else lend us a hand.

I tell FD, "You'll take care of me, I imagine, one day. When I get old and can't find my glasses."

"Uh, why would I do that?"



blognut said…
I could seriously use a caretaker. Where do I get one?

I tell my husband all the time that we need a wife. Not in a Big Love kind of way, but in a 'we could sure use some help around here' kind of way. ;)
Antonia said…
I hadn't thought of that phrase in years-I could snarl it with the best of them way back when.

And you're right-if someone wants to help, accept it. Martyrdom is overrated.
Maha said…
I see this so often with my elderly and disabled patients - it seems to me that their pride gets wounded when we suggest linking them with community services. I even do this myself - rejecting my collegues' help when I clearly need it. But surely and slowly I'm learning to accept and actively seek their help. A caretaker is a wonderful person!

Great post as always. Looking forward to the next one!
Anonymous said…
THANK YOU! THANK YOU! Yes, I'm yelling. We need to get over ourselves. There's nothing wrong with needing a little help or being a little help to someone else.
Anonymous said…
Monk's a really fun example for your rant there, Doc. Good point, too. We should all be more mindful of our interdependence. I mean, no one ever accomplishes anything in isolation. Am I right? (Am I...? ;-)
Rachel C Miller said…
I think it is cool that you touch on mental health issues. I still believe a stigma attached to getting help and then the oh so dreaded labels once you do. I think many people who need help don't reach out simply for those two reasons. We always joked that those who could afford it went into therapy, those who could not ran to neighbor, but those days of borrowing a cup of sugar to lay the heavy on your neighbor also have a come to an end.
I use to write a blog on mental health issues until I realized that I didn't like being surrounded daily by negativity. So I wish you luck not in as you say treating people but hopefully opening their minds to the common factors that are revealed in mental health issues.
The mind is an incredible place, that has yet to be fully understood or developed.
My mother is 81 years old when she retired from the hospital she picked up a part time job. If you ask her what she does, she will tell you she care for the elderly. I said what does that make you, she said in my mind 21.
Retriever said…
Great post, as always. Haven't ever seen Monk, but probably should as my sister has suffered episodically from OCD and I have not been as sympathetic as I should be.

In my family, there is usually one designated caregiver per generation. I'm it for mine. And my pride makes me a rotten patient or recipient of help.

The family cackles hearing the story of when I had a bike accident in grad school was bleeding all over the place and apologizing to the ambulance crew for being a nuisance.

When one has exhausted oneself looking after everyone else, it can be humiliating to be the one in need.

The other issue, as I look ahead to old age, is control: I don't want anyone helping me or they will tell me what to do.

I'd rather hire someone when I get old and frail than rely on spouse or kids as they are all bossy boots (tho loving) and they would say things like "Do you really think you should drink so much caffeine? I don't think chocolate eclairs are on your diet. Get off that blankety blank internet..."
Anonymous said…
If you think about it, all it boils down to is a having a support network, having a caretaker seems overkill. And not only is having a support network more popular because it doesn't undermine someone's independence, and actually increases their independence, it easier to form than a caretaker.
phd in yogurtry said…
This is good for my soul. Both the kids saying, "I can do it myself" to getting down on myself for relying on others too much sometimes... or so I used to think. Now, thanks to your post, not so much.
Mark said…
Funny and true!