Papercut and colored pencil art by Sheryl Aronson X 5

Friday, June 18, 2010

Its Okay to Ask For Help

Yesterday, my massotherapist yelled at me.  (Her tone of voice was yelling, she wasn't really loud.)   A little later, she lectured my 20 year old son, saying that I shouldn't be out there working like that, that he should take care of it for me.  It was all my fault.  We got 4 cubic yards of soil delivered yesterday, and I was out there shovelling.  Actually, I was getting down on my knees, filling a bucket with soil from the pile where it was dumped, standing up, and dumping it into the planter box, then repeating this process over and over.  My son was on the other side of the building, shovelling soil from another pile into the other planter box. 

So what's the problem?  My right knee has been puffy and painful lately, and the tendons in both arms are prone to tendinitis.  So why did I do what I did?  Because I like to.  Because I wanted my gardens to be ready to plant sooner.  Because I felt guilty having my son do all the work for a garden that was mine, not his.  (He doesn't like outside physical labor, he would rather be on his computer all day and  night.) 

This is a common problem for people with chronic pain and illness.   We don't like to admit that we can't do as much as we used to do.  I do okay when it means doing less of something than I used to do, not so well in cases like this, where I shouldn't be doing the activity at all.  We don't like bothering other people for things we feel we 'should' be able to do ourselves.  We don't like sitting around feeling useless.  

Yesterday, I didn't like the feeling of using my son for slave labor.  I felt it was okay to ask him to do the heavy work, as long as I was doing 'my fair share'.  This morning, my massotherapist's words fresh in my mind, my son and I worked on the gardens again, him doing shovelling, me doing my 'stamp down the soil dance'.  My body can handle this okay.  When I was done, and I wanted him to do some more shovelling, I again had those guilt feelings.  So I hung outside, chatting with him as he worked, and I brought him water.  Then I told myself it was okay for me to go inside.  I had been out in the sun about as long as I can before all the energy drains out of me for the rest of the day. 

My son was fine with me going inside.  He finished up what I had asked him to do, then he came in.  As an occupational therapist, I tell my patients it is okay to ask for help, and sometimes it is even necessary.  Telling others what to do and doing it myself are two different things.  The truth is, we humans are social animals.   We weren't designed to be self sufficient by ourselves.  In most societies throughout history, men and women did different work.  (In some societies, when people couldn't contribute they were dragged out into the desert and left there, but let's not think about that.)   Let's think instead about the societies where the elderly were venerated and revered, and cared for tenderly.  It is only in our 'modern' society where we are expected and we expect to'do it all'.   Contrary to what we tend to think, most people don't mind being asked for help, and often it gives them a sense of pride at being needed, trusted, etc.

Some things to keep in mind: Be polite and friendly, not demanding.  Give options when possible, such as when they will help.  Be flexible: just because they don't do it your way doesn't make it the wrong way.  Offer something in trade, such as something you can do for them, or something you can give them.  You will feel more in control.  Don't expect them to drop everything and come running- They have a life, too.  Say 'please' and 'thank you'.  Keep a list of things that need to be done.  That way, they can do everything at once, instead of coming back again and again. 

Dr. Deb (Dr. Deborsh Serani, a psychologist) did a post on asking for help a couple of years ago.  This is how she concluded her post:


Have realistic expectations for the kind of help you are seeking
Express your needs simply and clearly
Let others know you are there to help them as well
Praise your pals for their assistance and pat yourself for asking for help


  1. Wonderful post. I frequently do more than I know I should because I feel guilty making my husband do all the work. He asked me why I was vacuuming one time, and I knew I was busted. He was looking out for me, but I wanted to feel useful. I hate being a dependent animal in the house. That's not what my husband signed up for.

    Thanks for writing this. It's easy to forget that it's okay for us to ask (nicely) for help when we need it.

  2. Thanks. When we hear those words 'in sickness and in health', most of us don't really consider the sickness aspect, but it is part of the package. When we are healthy, most of us don't think about becoming sick ourselves, either. Life is full of surprises. Being dependent doesn't make you an animal. You can contribute to a relationship without vacuuming or washing dishes.