If someone told you to walk out onto this tightrope, would you ask for a tether? Perhaps Wonder Woman wouldn’t, but we aren’t superheroes. It’s ok to ask for (stage whisper) you-know-what.
Have you ever walked out of the supermarket pushing a carriage piled high with groceries, in the pouring rain, lugging a toddler, purse slipping off your shoulder, keys clattering to the ground—and had someone say to you, “Need some help?” What was your answer? This is a trick question; I know the answer. You smiled and said, “No thanks, I’ve got it!”
I know the answer to this question because I’ve lived this scenario. Did I need help with the 137 pounds of rain-soaked food and wiggly 2-year-old? I sure did. Did I accept help that was offered? I sure didn’t.
For some reason, I spent most of my life thinking that I could not/should not/would not accept help when it was offered. I believed that somehow accepting help would mean that I was weak or incapable or a nuisance. It was a badge of honor to do everything by myself at any cost.
It seemed that for most of my life, no matter what the circumstances, I was hell-bent on accomplishing every task without assistance. Moving a desk down the hallway at work? I got it. Broken down on the side of the road? I got it. Working full-time while going to school full-time? I can do it. As a matter of fact, my parents insist that my first words were, “I do it!” Are those backwards pants going to haunt 4-year-old me all day? I don’t care, don’t help me. I will do it myself.
I didn’t want help even when I looked like I needed help. In fact, I didn’t want help especially when I appeared to need help. Letting someone assist me made me feel vulnerable; it was as though I could only be strong if I lived behind the castle walls of independence that I had constructed for myself.
I took this concept to extremes. I was once hit by a car in a crosswalk—and instead of accepting help, I sprang to my feet in my ripped stockings and waved the driver off. The impact had been strong enough to break the compact mirror in my purse, my knee was all bloody and the car’s bumper left a heck of a bruise on the side of my leg. But my imagined death by mortification was a much bigger threat to me. I limped away as fast as I could, smiling and waving, assuring the driver that I was fine.
Another time, I cut my finger during an obstacle race and kept running with blood streaming down my arm, wrapping my hand in my shirt to avoid getting blood on the other obstacles. I broke my fibula at another event and limped along for almost two hours, refusing at least three offers from race staff to drive me back to the finish line. Crossing the finish line as a passenger in a Polaris?? Death by mortification.
I marched through my 20s and 30s with my head held high, cheerfully pushing forward from behind my wall of independence. I believed in hard work and sheer willpower. I graduated early from college and didn’t rest until I had obtained my dream job. I attended graduate school while working full time and planning a wedding. I worked hour after hour of overtime to save enough money for the length of maternity leave that I wanted. I suffered two miscarriages before my second child was born and used as little sick time as possible.
Marriage and children will soften anyone’s resolve to spurn offers of help, and I was no exception—with family, at least. I was able to recognize that these kind people only wanted to support me. However, I seldom accepted favors from friends and would never let myself seem weak in front of a stranger. Family members could offer assistance and I would sometimes accept it, but I was too proud to ever specifically request it. Even after I was divorced, I preferred spending an evening alone to admitting that I wanted company.
Then my son died from suicide. That was when fate stuck her foot out and tripped me. I landed flat on my face on a cement floor because she pulled the rug out from under me too. Fate was making sure I got the point: independence felt like control—but maybe I wasn’t in control of everything after all.
The biggest, scariest, most important lesson that I have learned in the last four years is that it’s ok to ask for help. It’s not only ok; it’s crucial. Asking for help is the most honest expression in the world. It requires shedding the outer protective layer of your psyche. Admitting vulnerability is allowing others a glimpse into your soul. The truth about life is that everyone needs help at one time or another.
When someone helps another person, they are showing love—not necessarily romantic love, but the connecting love of humanity. Asking for help is another way of showing love. Asking for help means you are placing trust, faith, and hope in a fellow human being. What is the meaning of life in the first place if not trust, faith, hope, and love? These are the most precious gifts we can give each other.
Asking for, accepting, and offering help can change the relationship between two people for the better. It can bring you closer. It’s especially important to the grief process.
When you reach out to someone who has lost a loved one, you are the embodiment of caring. You show the grieving person that they aren’t alone because the spirit of their loved one shines through in the concern. As a grieving person, accepting help from others eases the anguish of loss. Someone else is there to share the burden of despondency; leaning on another person makes your heart feel lighter.
I always thought that taking care of things myself and maintaining as much control as possible made me strong. It turns out that I have newfound strength from the support I’ve received from family, friends, colleagues, and even complete strangers. I’ve always been tough; being vulnerable has made me so rugged that I’m practically Wonder Woman.
My sincere hope is that life never forces you into a position of asking for help you never thought you wanted. But don’t wait for fate. Practice now. Practice reaching out to other people; practice letting a stranger pick your keys up from the ground; practice the humble grace of saying, “Thank you so much, as a matter of fact, I could use a little help.”