I struggle to ask for help. Ash will tell you that he has to drag it out of me when he knows I am struggling. I will get frustrated in those moments and give into his offers for help. Here’s how bad I am: when I was pregnant with Jai, I refused to ask for help even when I needed it. I had something to prove, mainly to myself, that I wasn’t helpless. While being independent isn’t a bad thing, learning to be okay with reaching out to others is equally important.
It’s humbling when I admit I need help. It feels like a weakness when I do. I am not imagining it either, American culture does not encourage asking for help. With the reemergence of the “bootstrap” narrative, it can lead us to feel awkward when we want to ask for help. Individually, Americans are happy to help those around them. But looking on a broader scale, Americans tend to prop up those who find success with minimal help.
This can lead to the rest of us feeling judged anytime we need to get help.
It would be nice to do everything on our own, but with a chronic illness, that’s often impossible.
Chronic Illness & Asking for Help
Having a chronic illness means we will need to ask for help at some point. It may be from family, friends, or healthcare providers. When we ask for help, we are performing an act of self-care.
But getting to the point where we can ask for help is the trick. Often, we’re dealing with an invisible illness. When we reach out for help, and we know we don’t look/act sick, it can feel like we’re being unreasonable. For myself, I feel like I am taking advantage.
If I need help from anyone, I will bumble out justifications why I need the help. I often feel like others won’t understand, or I need to remind them that I have a chronic illness. At times, I feel like I manage my MS so well, that others forget I even have it. So when I need help, I am coming from a place of “they will think I am taking advantage of them,” or “they will think I don’t really need the help.”
I recognize that I am being unfair to others when I take this attitude. I am not trusting that they will understand or that they don’t remember. People remember I have MS when I tell them. It also comes from a space of not believing others when they say, “let me help you.”
Learning to be “Okay” with Help
It is okay to ask for help. For the most part, you know what you are capable of doing. So when there comes a time where you need to reach out to others, do it.
But if you ask for help, show appreciation for whatever help you receive. I have helped others, and sometimes I receive an insult in place of gratitude. You may find it’s a similar situation when you ask for help: you feel vulnerable, and when you do, you may be slow to express your gratitude. But you want to preserve your friendship and be able to ask those people for help again.
Be sure to express your appreciation. Be okay with asking for help. Work on releasing any feelings of vulnerability and look at getting help as a sign of your inner strength.
You Are Not Alone
Coping with a chronic illness is a lonely affair. Your symptoms, your struggles, your victories, they are all internal fights for the most part. These battles become hidden from the outside world. It makes dealing with a chronic illness one of the loneliest journeys you’ll make in your life.
But you are not alone.
There are support groups out there relating to your illness, online and in-person. If you are uncomfortable with the support group dynamic, you can always read blogs and lurk in forums. You can find connections out there and similar stories/struggles to your situation.
The more you reach into these safe spaces for your illness, the more comfortable you should become in recognizing that there is normalcy with your disease. When you normalize your experience, it should be easier to reach out to others to help you. You see that getting help is part of the disease and there’s no shame in doing that.
Help Others Help You
In September, I reflected on the need some people have to help you cope with your illness. You can always say “no” to their help, but sometimes they are insistent, and you do need them.
To be clear, you are under no obligation to allow people to help you if you don’t want it. But sometimes it is easier to give in to the insistence and let them help.
In these scenarios, have a pre-set list of things you are willing to receive help on. It may be driving you to appointments, meeting for social interactions over coffee/tea, or dropping a pre-made meal off. By having an “okay” list to draw from, you won’t compromise your values, and you won’t be left struggling to find something for your friend to do.
It’s hard to accept help from others, but we cannot pretend we are an island. Sometimes it’s essential to reach out to others and let them help us cope with our chronic illness.
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