Sweet Adversity #2–Asking For and Receiving Help

When you’re drowning, you don’t say ‘I would be incredibly pleased if someone would have the foresight to notice me drowning and come and help me,’ you just scream.
John Lennon

Asking and accepting help isn’t easy.  It can make us feel vulnerable, weak, and maybe even embarrassed.  I should know.  I don’t do it very well.  But, I also recognize that in the weeks and months ahead, I’m going to need help from friends and family as I go through treatment for breast cancer.   This puts me in a major learning curve.

A street performer and 2 young girls on Newbury Street, Boston

A street performer thanks 2 young girls on Newbury Street, Boston

Up to this point, I have rarely reached out and directly asked for assistance because I pride myself on my independence and self-sufficiency.  I stubbornly insist on “doing it myself,” even to the point of foolishness–like that 10-hour drive I made by myself from Manhattan to Vermont in a blizzard, or cooking a complete holiday meal from scratch for 15 people–including the home- made challah.   But, guess what?  Even our self-reliant pioneer ancestors relied on their neighbors to raise the roof to the new barn and lend a cup of sugar.  So, there’s no logical reason why I should be reluctant to ask for help.

This leads to my first insight.– Asking for help is not a sign of weakness.  In fact, it allows people who care about you to step forward and show their love.  It’s my job to learn to graciously accept their assistance.

My second insight is that “help” can include advice.  For example, I can call my friend who had breast cancer and ask what the side effects were during radiation.  I can also ask her what she did to mitigate them.  This help is easier for me to ask for and is a great first step.

My next insight.  People will offer help in different ways.   I should trust that their offer is something that they want to do and can be accomplished in a  reasonable amount of time.  I don’t need to feel guilty that I am imposing or making unreasonable demands.   In the past few weeks, for example, one friend offered to pick me up from the airport and make dinner that night.  Another called and told me her experience with the disease and offered insights.  No one person is going to “do it all” and therefore, I should relax and give them my sincere thanks.

When I ask for help, my request should be direct, concrete and specific–as the John Lennon quote indicates.  That means I shouldn’t equivocate and say things like, “Well maybe it would be nice if some afternoon you stopped by and we can kind of  hang out together.”  This isn’t the time for being vague and fuzzy.  Try starting with a background statement:  “Next week, I am going to the doctor at 11:00  and don’t have anyone to drive me home.  By any chance, are you free then?”  If you are asking for advice you can start with, “How did you handle X?” or “How do you think I should handle X?”

You may be expecting (and hoping for) phone calls and flowers, but people will offer help in ways that they are comfortable with.  In other words, some friends will text you.  Others will send you a card or an email.  Their methods of expressing care and concern will be as individualistic as they are.  Accept that.

Tell people how much you appreciate them and their friendship.  Don’t rush to make promises that you’ll help them some day when they need it.   And, don’t feel guilty that you’ll need to repay them some day.  If you truly care about them, you will find a way.  Maybe it will be next month or next year.  But right now that doesn’t matter.   You don’t need to burden yourself with the weight of that verbal promise.  Keep it in your heart–where it belongs.

What have you learned about asking for help?  Insights, please!  And thanks for stopping by.

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6 replies »

  1. Oh man. Sending all good, healing thoughts and wishes your way, Patricia. Everyone who loves you is going to want to do anything and everything they can to help you during this time. Allowing them to do so is your gift to them. Take care. xo

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  2. So sorry to hear about your battle – be strong, warrior! I applaud you for accepting help and being open to your friends and family for their “help” will come in different ways. Being clear will help you not get frustrated and accepting what they have to offer will make them feel like good contributors. Win-win : )

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