Chronic pain · Fibromyalgia

It’s okay to ask for help

slippers

When mum forgot her slippers, dad selflessly helped out

When did asking for help become such a bad thing?  I know it’s a trait common amongst those with a chronic illness but it’s not exclusive to us.  Back in my former life as a lawyer, I would sit in my office for much longer than I’d care to admit trying to figure out a problem before daring to surface and meekly confess my defeat.  Maybe that’s it, defeat.  For some unknown reason I have always felt like asking for help was admitting my stupidity, my failure at not knowing something.  At not being able to handle a situation on my own.

To this day, I am still in awe of those who ask questions I am too afraid to.  When “the situation in Chechnya” is brought up, I nod and look intently hoping against all hope that I can rush home to Google before I am expected to have an educated conversation on the subject.

Whatever the reason, asking for help has never come easily to me.  And you know what, I need to get over myself.  If asking for help lowers another’s perception of me, that’s their problem, not mine.

Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it’s the only way to ensure your needs are met.  I wish I could own this little pearl of wisdom but, alas, it was passed onto me by my doctor.  It’s the more diplomatic way of saying “Elizabeth, get over yourself!”  Which is exactly what a friend said when I was lamenting the guilt I felt about receiving help.  And she was right.  I mean, how self involved could I get!  My friends did not feel bad about helping me.  They did not feel imposed upon or put out.  In fact, they were the ones who offered to help in the first place.

People like to help others.  It’s a fact those in need would be wise to remember.  Think about it, if you had a friend who was going through a tough time and there was something you could do to alleviate some of their troubles, wouldn’t you want to know?  Wouldn’t you want the opportunity to help?

Earlier this year I attempted full time work for the first time in 17 months.  I honestly thought I was ready.  I had been working up to the moment by gradually increasing my hours every few weeks.  Turns out, I was not ready.  Oops.  We all make mistakes, right?  So why couldn’t I admit I had made a mistake?  Why couldn’t I admit I wasn’t coping?  Why couldn’t I ask for help?

At first I made excuses for my increased pain and exhaustion, my inability to sleep and concentrate.  I made excuses for all of the signs that were so clearly telling me I was not coping.  “The first week is always exhausting,”  I said.  “I had to walk up and down more stairs than I ordinarily would”, I reasoned.  “We had that late night”.  “It will get better when I’m in a routine”.   But it didn’t get better.  The only thing that got better were my excuses.  Turns out I can rationalise anything to myself when I want to!

Eventually though something had to give.  I can’t remember how it first came up or who I first discussed it with.  What I do recall is the automatic and selfless ways in which friends immediately rallied around me.  Knowing that I didn’t have the energy to cook dinner after a day’s work, my girlfriends took it in turns to pop around with an extra meal they had prepared when cooking their own dinner.  And I literally mean took it in turns – they would confer with each other during the day to see who was going to cook for me that night.  On weekends, I’d receive a ‘just checking in’ text to see how I was doing and if I needed anything.

Once word hit my parents, my dad packed his bags and jumped on a plane.  All of a sudden my washing was done, meals were cooked and both my little companion and I were taken care of.  Now I know that not everybody has a supportive network of family and friends.  But you never know, you might be surprised.  Unless you ask, you aren’t giving your loved ones the opportunity to help.  Particularly, if your troubles are invisible.  For me, my chronic illness is an invisible illness.  Most of the time, I look just fine.  Nobody but me feels my pain, my exhaustion, my confusion….  If nobody but me knows what’s going on, how are they going to know I need help?

Let your loved ones in.  If they really are your loved ones, they will want to help.  When you ask for help, your needs are met.  Nobody looks down on you, nobody thinks less of you.  They help, selflessly and compassionately.

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