Help! Recognizing, Asking and Giving Help…

I’ve been thinking a lot about help lately. Why do I have a hard time recognizing when I need help? Why its so hard to actually ask for help but also why do I love to help others. It seems contradictory doesn’t it? I want to help others but I don’t want help myself. I have a feeling that I am not alone in this paradox. Why is it so hard and why do I put so much pressure on myself around recognizing the need for help and then actually asking for it?

I’ve had 2 recent experiences of offering help that have forced me to look at how I accept help myself.

My daughter struggles with anxiety. She started high school this year and it came with some pretty big academic changes. Rather than having class every other day, she now has the same class each day. Where homework didn’t “count” in juniorhigh, it now has points assigned to it and … if you hand it in late, you lose points. Needless to say, when you add anxiety into a change in expectation, its not pretty. She is struggling in school to get her homework turned in and has some serious test anxietywhich results in not finishing her tests in the time allotted. This creates a constant spiral of trying to “get caught up”. When I see her grades, its clear she needs help. However, she hates to ask for help. If I had a quarter for every time I heard “I’ve got this!”, I’d be rich. Our dynamic made me think about how I am modeling recognizing when I need help. Do I just put my head down and try to plow through or do I lift up my head and ask for help from those around me? Do I understand when I am getting stressedand change course before its unmanageable or do I let it fester and take it out on Tom and the kids? It’s clear I have much to learn in this space.

A dear friend was just diagnosed with a fast moving cancer. I had the opportunity to be with her in the hospital as she recovered from a procedure and then also visit her at home the day after discharge. During this process, I offered to set up a CaringBridge site and/or get her signed up for meals with Open Arms. My offer was not welcomed warmly and I was surprised! Why wouldn’t they (she and her wife) want to take those cumbersome tasks off their plate ?! (ie: Keeping up communication via text and email to all their friends/family. Cooking nutritious food 3 times a day.) I was floored. Then I started thinking about how I would react in the same situation. I would probably try to keep going as normally as possible. I’d want to control the message going to my friends/family. I’d want to be left alone to get strong for others so that they wouldn’t feel sorry for me. I would feel like I was losing control of my life and would be grasping for straws to appear strong and “normal”.

In both cases, I want to help. Desperately. I want to help my daughter understand that it takes courage to recognize when you need help. Since I cant do anything to cure my friends cancer, I want to make it as easy for her as possible. I want to help. I want to heal. I want to do something. Anything. To make it better for both of them. And, when I think about helping, I don’t think they are “less than” or “not capable” or “weak”. I see them as someone I love that I want to do whatever I can for.  And, while I cant “make” someone take my help, I can put myself in their shoes and remember what it feels like to need help and to be nervous or afraid to ask.

This is a good lesson for me. People want to help. They want to make a difference. And, they do it because it makes them feel like they are contributing & making a difference. I mean, holy cow, we live in the land of 10,000 nonprofits, each and every one designed to help. There are people who spend years and countless time and money going into professions that help (1st responders, health care, mental health, etc). And, they are all doing it from love, not judgement.

So, my lesson in this… the next time I’m struggling or am overwhelmed or think I have to do it all myself … I’m going to step back, look up and give someone else the gift of helping me. Because, I know, being able to help some is a true gift from the heart. I want to be able to not only give that gift, but also receive that gift.

Especially at this time of year.