I have always struggled with asking for help. I often prefer to put in the extra time and just get it done myself. I know I struggle to give up control — I want it done my way, on my time frame. I also don’t want to burden someone else with my needs or problems. While I have been in a “helping profession” for many years and I am readily available to help others, leaning on others for support isn’t second nature for me. Once I had kids, I had so many experiences when my life became unmanageable and I had to learn to ask for help. I realized that leaning on someone else was not only good for me, it was absolutely necessary. As I approach NINE weeks (who is counting?) of social isolation, I’m thinking about what asking for help looks like now, in this unusual moment.
Growing up, I regularly sprained my ankles. In high school, I had coaches who taped my ankles and taught me how to tape my own ankles myself. I grew up in a house with siblings that also had fragile ankles so there was a vast supply of tape, ankle braces and air casts that were readily available for each sprain. Through experience, I quickly learned the difference between a regular sprain that I could handle myself and one that needed a doctor’s care. When I did have a bad sprain, I never hesitated to get help by going to a doctor. But in those same years, when I had other struggles that couldn’t be solved by an orthopedist, I didn’t know how to ask for help. It took me a much longer time to figure out how to get the emotional support I needed than it did to figure out how to take care of my ankles.
We all know that the uncertainty in our lives is at a high right now and with that uncertainty can come fear. For many of us, our current reality is like having a fear of riding roller coasters and then waking up one day to find out not only are you on a roller coaster, but you are on a roller coaster with broken seat belts. We are on a scary ride and have gone up and down at least a couple of big hills, but the ride is not over yet and we’re not even sure we’re halfway through it. Boy do we feel unsafe. Many of us might be at a point in this ride where we need to ask for help.
Here are some ways I have learned to ask for help during this particular time, both as a mental health specialist and as an individual struggling:
Call a friend and ask if you can talk through something that’s worrying you. You can even ask them up front not to give you solutions — that all you really need to do is talk about the worry to shed some light on the issue. It sometimes helps to choose a friend that isn’t invested in the particular issue, maybe someone that has a little distance so they can share their perspective but are not tied to the outcome of the problem.
Admit to the people around me what I need. Right now, I would love to be sharing a home with people who can read my mind but so far, I haven’t found a person who can do it, so I’ve had to practice the muscle of asking for what I need from my kids and spouse. And you know what? They are pretty good at helping when I ask them and I am clear about my expectations. For example, since shut down, I asked that my kids and spouse take responsibility for cooking dinner every other day. I marked it on our calendar and spelled out what the responsibility means — they are responsible for the planning, preparing and execution of the dinner. I also lowered my own expectations a bit so the dinners my kids are making look like two kids made them, and I am ok with that. (Thank you Eve Rodsky, the author of Fair Play for enabling me to be ok asking for this and many other things that have to do with figuring out the domestic workload at this time.)
Ask a friend or friends to be your partner in an activity. Personally, I am having a hard time getting outside. Not sure what it is about but my instinct is to stay in and not move even though a walk or run is safe and good for me. I now reach out to a friend and go for a walk together (on the phone, with a mask and headset) so I can move and catch up, without my kids curious ears right next to me. It feels great and it is a taste of my life before lockdown.
Set up a zoom with some friends you haven’t seen in a while. After a particularly hard couple of days, I reached out to some friends that I studied abroad with. We had a zoom call with six of us and I couldn’t believe the positive multi-day effects that call had on my well-being. I certainly didn’t have to apologize for my crazy hair or sweatpants…. These are people who have seen me with much worse hair days and knew me when all I wore was sweats. And while I wasn’t specifically asking anything from them, just seeing them did so much for my mental health.
Have a couple of sessions with a trained mental health specialist — a seemingly simple step but one that often feels most difficult. You don’t have to have a broken ankle to go see an orthopedist. You also don’t have to be in the throes of despair to talk to a therapist. And, insurance tends to cover a couple of sessions. New York State has also made mental health resources available to those in need. New Yorkers can call the COVID-19 Emotional Support Hotline at 1-844-863-9314 for mental health counseling. You don’t have to be on the frontlines of this pandemic to ask for help.
What can asking for help look like for you? I promise this, anytime I have asked for help, my relationships have gotten better. As someone who can often present as having all my ducks in a row, my internal narrative is very different. When I ask for help from those I trust, I get to move past trying to do it all myself and feel less alone as I ride the rollercoaster that we all seem to be on for awhile.
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