When it comes to asking for help, I am terrible. Scratch that: My ability to ask for help is abysmal. Sometimes I fail to ask for help because I’m stubborn. Do you want me to carry something? Nope, I’ve got it. Sometimes I don’t ask for help because I don’t want to be a burden. Do you want me to — no, don’t worry about it. And sometimes I don’t ask for help because I don’t want to be judged; I don’t want to appear weak. Needless to say, my hardheadedness has gotten me into trouble. It keeps me isolated and lonely. It gets me in over my head at work, it leads to arguments at home, and it is the thing that keeps me from truly managing my depression, and from managing my life.
But when I had a fight with my husband last week — not so much a fight as an overly emotional, teary, and scream-filled meltdown — I knew things had to change. I knew I had to change. So I did what any writer would do: I emailed my editor and pitched this piece. Why? Accountability. Responsibility. A bit of fear, and guaranteed follow-through.
The gist of this experiment is simple: I was to ask others for help, period. I had to ask my husband for support, I had to open up to my family and friends, and I even had to have one very difficult conversation with my boss. But, for me, a chronic giver/people pleaser and fiercely independent (i.e. overly self-critical "Type A" personality), this task was far from easy.
Over the course of seven days, I asked for help from my partner, my friends, and my boss. I left the comfort of my comfort zone, and did the impossible: I asked other people to for help.
This is what I learned about myself in the process.
Asking For Help: As A Mother
When I became a parent, I struggled to ask for help. Sure, I struggled with this in all aspects of my life, but I wanted to do everything right, and I assumed “doing it right” meant doing it alone. In order to be a good mom, I had to be superhuman; I had to be a Superwoman. (I mean, if I was leaning on someone else for support, I wasn’t really doing it, was I? I wasn’t really being mom; I wasn’t really being a “good mom.”) And so I put myself on the backburner. I put my health and happiness on hold, and I became a stoic and strong martyr for the mothering cause.
My daughter is 2 years old now and I still struggle with asking for help. It’s even difficult for me to ask my husband to watch our daughter so I can shower — and he’s half the reason we created her! I struggle even asking my mother-in-law to babysit, even in the most urgent situations (not because she doesn’t want to — God knows she does — but because I don’t want to be a bother) and it is impossible for me to admit when I need a break, to tell my husband I need to step away even for a second. Why? Because it makes me feel selfish. It makes me feel less than, and it makes me feel like I can’t handle my job. It makes me feel like “bad mom."
But I spent the week asking for little things. I asked my husband to do the dishes one evening so I could sit on the couch before 10 p.m. I asked my mother-in-law to come pick up my daughter from the emergency room, so I could undergo observation after enduring symptoms mirroring a heart attack. (Don’t worry; I am fine!) And I asked my husband to get up with my daughter one morning, just one morning, at 5 a.m., so I could sleep in.
Hell, I just asked him to wrangle our pantless, broom-wielding child so I could finish this article!
And you know what? He said yes. My mother-in-law said yes. Everyone said yes. Everyone offered me their time, their love, and their support. They didn’t make me feel inadequate or “less than” because I needed help, they simply showed up.
Is this always the case? No. There have been times I’ve asked others for help and they were not there, or they were — but with judgment and strings attached. But did their unwavering support that make it any easier; did knowing they were there and 100 percent behind me make asking for help any less daunting? No, not really. I’m still struggling to believe that these tasks a truly worthwhile. (I mean, does it matter if I don’t sleep or don’t get to drink a hot cup of coffee?) I’m still struggling to let go of the “mom guilt” I feel — the guilt that implies I should be able to do it all and be it all and never, ever ask for little luxuries like a hot shower or girls night out — I am still struggling to figure out if I matter. I know the answer is yes, but it’s a struggle. Even at the end of the week, I still find making these requests impossibly hard.
Asking For Help: At Work
How did I ask for help at work? Did I ask my boss for training or additional tools to allow me better manage my time? Did I ask for my colleague – and my friend — to help me update our online inventory? No. I didn’t ask for help ask you would expect; instead, I asked for help by quitting.
Yep: I quit my job.
Wait, what? That’s not asking for help; that’s giving up!
Let me give you a glimpse into my world: I am the mother of a see-everything, touch-anything toddler. I’ve worked almost everyday since the day she was born, and for the last two months, I’ve worked two jobs. When I was offered a third position last week, I knew something had to give (and this became all the more apparent when I ran the dreaded daycare numbers). The help I needed was the help to walk away which, in this case, game from my husband. The help I needed was the help to know my limits.
The help I needed was to realize these circumstances — if juggled — would place me beyond help.
That said, it still sucked. I’d worked for this company for six years and I’ve developed great, personal relationships with my boss and colleagues, but sometimes help isn’t what we want it to be — or hope it will be. Sometimes help is simply knowing when, and how, to help yourself. And recognizing this felt amazing. I felt empowered, I felt relaxed, and I even felt relieved (and it sure as shit didn’t hurt that I had my husband right there in my corner).
Asking For Help: Mentally, Emotionally, And In My Relationship
As I’ve mentioned, I’m a stubborn ass. I don’t want to be a burden, a bother, and I sure as shit don’t want to be seen as needy, so this kind of “help” was — by far — the hardest type to ask for. (Seriously, I had to Google “how to ask for emotional support.”) It wasn’t that I didn’t know what I needed; I know touch therapy is very helpful to me — a back rub, a shoulder massage, a tight and genuine hug. And I know it is the one thing I miss most, being both clinically depressed and stay-at-home/work-from-home mom, but how was I supposed to say it? How was I supposed to say I just need to be held?
I know; I know. I just needed to, well, say it. But it isn’t that simple; it doesn’t feel that simple.
Sure, the actual question came out very much the same as above — i.e. can I have a hug? or can you give me a back rub tonight?, sent to my husband via text — but the words felt clunky. I uttered them in a whiny, childlike voice or in a barely audible one because they were hard to say. It hurt to admit I had any needs. I didn’t want to appear vulnerable or weak. I didn’t want him to know how much I needed him, even though I did (and do).
He reacted as one would assume: compassionately, although I did incur a bit of gentle ribbing. The point is, he didn't tell me to fuck off or ignore my feelings. That's just what I tell me. That’s just what years and years of protective barriers, internal walls, and invisible shields have done to me.
So what did it feel like when I didn’t get the reaction I expected, i.e. when the tape in my head didn’t play out as I planned? Well, it was a bit jarring. You see, I’ve spent so long not asking for help — and pretending I was A-OK all the time — that I didn’t know how to handle it knowing I could ask for help, and I still don’t. Sure, it is a bit easier, but asking for help still feels like getting trying to take care of a cavity at home. It is still hard, and it still hurts.
Was It Getting Easier To Ask For Help?
This past week taught me a lot, much of which I already knew, but some of which I didn’t. Logically, I knew I should ask for help — because I know people need help — but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
I was afraid of being weak because being weak means being out-of-control, being weak means being vulnerable. I was afraid of being seen as incompetent. I was afraid of being rejected. But while the words were hard to say, while it was hard to admit I couldn’t tough it out alone, not saying them is harder. Because by not asking for help I feel isolated, stressed, overwhelmed, and even slightly crazy. I feel angry and sad. And I go through everything completely and entirely alone.
Do I still feel shitty asking for things, and asking for help? Hell yeah! I've been living this way for 31 years; I didn't think one freakin’ week would change me, but I did learn I need to keep trying. It is worth it to keep trying because the more comfortable I become with being uncomfortable, the more I will trust others, love others and — in turn — love myself.
Images: Courtesy of Kim Zapata, Pixabay (3)