I am not good at asking for help, and in my family, we call it the “I do it” syndrome.
Large families are notorious for assigning nicknames and coining phrases and ours is no different.
Once, when my mother observed her two-year-old, strong-willed granddaughter trying to single handedly wrestle her tricycle up the stairs, of course she offered to help.
“I do it!” was the emphatic and in no uncertain terms response.
My husband loves this story and finds it particularly enlightening vis-a-vis our own relationship. Anytime I refuse an offer of help from him, even the smallest gesture of help, he says, “I do it!”
Sometimes I give him my iciest glare but most often, I laugh at myself and let him help me wrestle my tricycle up the stairs.
“I do it” served me well in life.
Or so I thought.
I always went after what I wanted, became an entrepreneur at an early age and made, what I perceived to be, some pretty fearless decisions.
That said, one of the most fearless decisions I ever made was to ask for help.
It was February 9, 2006, I was 48 years old and I had just been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Wisely, I had asked my friend to come with me to the clinic where I was to receive some test results. I asked her to come because my “spidey” sense told me all was not well. I asked her to come because I knew she would be able to handle whatever news we were to be given.
When the doctor uttered those crushing words, she stepped in and took over my life for the next two hours. She took the notes, drove me to a safe haven and made all the calls.
You would think that vulnerable yet life-giving experience of asking for help would have changed me, but no. If you’ve been a lifelong “I do it,” old patterns die hard.
A week later, I was still telling myself I could get through this, that I didn’t need to bother my best friend and sister who lived 700 miles away. She had her own life, her own family, her own troubles. It would be too much to ask her to come to me.
What an idiot I was.
I spent a whole week mired in fear and sadness, sadness and fear, before finally realizing that asking for help is not a shameful act, but an act of the utmost vulnerability.
Being vulnerable makes you visible. It’s also the emotional equivalent of standing stark naked on a stage in front of thousands, which is why it’s so difficult to do.
Telling someone they need to be “vulnerable” is like telling someone they need to be happy. You can’t just flip it on like a light switch, you have to experience it.
And in my experience, the best way to show your own vulnerability is to ask someone for help.
So, I stripped myself bare, picked up the phone and asked my sister for help. She came, and for the next week I turned my life over to her.
She researched everything and made me a binder of all the things she thought I needed to read. She looked at photos on the internet of what a woman post-mastectomy looks like and she didn’t cry. She only told me it wasn’t so awful and that there were all kinds of options.
She made endless cups of tea and consoled my partner in life. It was during her stay that Ric asked if he could take a portrait of the two of us. He set up the camera in his studio and captured what I think is one of the most raw and real images he has ever made.
Sometimes when I look at it, I don’t recognize myself—there is no guard, no defense, no restraint. I see only this—one person asking, “Is someone there—do you see me?” and another answering, “I am here—and I have you.”
This is the power of asking for help.
The act in and of itself is one of vulnerability, and the biggest fear of being vulnerable is being hurt. That said, I know very few people who don’t respond positively to someone who needs them.
So, next time you feel disconnected from those you love, or they feel disconnected from you, don’t freak out. Don’t assume you have to start talking about your “feelings,” or shed tears or get all cuddly when all you want to do is lash out at the world.
Instead, sit quietly with yourself and do a little (or a long) internal audit (my Type A description of meditation).
Ask yourself what you need—to feel happier, less troubled, more at ease—and ask someone you love for help with that.
In my case, I felt overwhelmed with the information I had to absorb, and the decisions I had to make.
In asking for help, I gave my sister the chance to give something to me, and in that exchange, our connection with each other deepened.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Alison Wattie
Apprentice Editor: Brandie Smith / Editor:Renee Picard
Photo: Hartwig HKD/Flickr