I thought I was fine on my own, then I needed a lift from the hospital

The prospect of having a skin cancer dug out of my nose, followed by plastic surgery which would require 50-plus stitches and a good month off work didn't really faze me. I was just happy that I'd found it in time and put my faith in the doctors to take care of the rest.

What threw me was when a nurse rang a few days before my operation and asked who'd be picking me up, given I wouldn't be in any state to drive home after the surgery.

It’s got nothing to do with being single. I’ve been in relationships where I’ve still not had a ‘person’.Credit:Shutterstock

"Who is your person?" she asked.

I paused. "Oh, I was planning on getting an Uber," I said.

"We'd prefer you don't. You don't have a person who could get you?"

Mild shame crept over me. No. I don't have a "person". Does this make me a lesser person?

I have lots of "people". I have many friends – rock-solid friends – and some family. My friends are there for me in a crisis and there's almost always someone to catch up with, to workshop life with, or to celebrate wins with – significant or not. I have people who care about me, understand me and want the best for me.

But a "person" is a different thing altogether. And in a moment of sobering clarity in that phone call, it hit me that I didn't have one of those. It's got nothing to do with being single. I've been in relationships where I've still not had a "person".

Until then, I'd barely noticed. I'm getting by just fine raising two young children mostly on my own, making tough calls every day for their best interests – the greatest responsibility of all – with no one to bounce them off. I'll quite happily decline the plus-ones and turn up to functions on my own. You meet more people that way. I have long branded myself by my independence; it's a badge of honour, a sign of my enduring strength and capability. I don't need a "person".

Unless, it turns out, I'm being collected from day surgery.

I told the nurse I'd get back to her. She gave me a day. One day to go into a spin and shake my belief that I'm a fully functioning adult without need for backup. A day to process one of my deepest and not yet fully explored fears – that I'm not worthy of others' time. One day to find a "person".

Asking for help has never been my strong suit. I know why. It's because rejection is one of my most potent triggers – a portal to my vulnerable self – so I avoid it at all costs. And there are costs. I fortify myself against the likelihood of it by getting the job done on my own, or paying for it, if it comes to that. I try to avoid situations where being knocked back is even an option, from asking people out to asking for a pay rise to asking someone to mind the kids.

The dread of not mattering is our collective suffering, all too familiar to us all. It's no wonder, when the core of our survival depends on being accepted by others – starting with our own mothers at birth. Which is why a rebuff – even an unanswered text – can feel like a calamitous desertion, a threat to our very existence.

Yet the threat is only imagined. A new stream of therapy has sprung up in an effort to counter this chronic social wound. In "rejection therapy", recipients are encouraged to seek out "opportunities" for rejection. This way, we learn it won't kill us; it also ensures that each experience packs less punch than the one before it. For many, it's worth it. Because fear of rejection is a curse which holds us back.

And so, I ask. I bypass friends with school pick-up duties and office jobs, asking only those who are more likely to be around. I get a couple of knock-backs; I'm still standing. Then a friend who lives on the other side of town who's raising three kids on her own – one in hospital at the time – steps up. I've got you covered, she texts. I might have cried.

She delivers me home with sushi, Panadol and the guts to ask again.

This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale June 23.

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