Friday, June 20, 2008

The Traveling Helping Hand

I have noticed over the last few months that I seem attract a certain sort of friend. This would be the independent I don't need anybody's help friend. I wouldn't worry about it much, but every single friend I have fits in this category--from the neighbor who didn't want to disturb me in the middle of the night when she was sick to the friend who suffered through the loss of a family member without letting anyone know because--you guessed it--she didn't want to bother anyone.

So I think I will offer a gentle observation. When my friends stubbornly hold to their independence, refusing even the slightest help, they are sending a subtle message about our friendship. They are saying that their control is more important than our friendship.

I'm sure you're sitting back, giving this blog the old hairy eyeball about now. Yes, I know exactly where you're coming from--every one of you. I'm the high priestess of independence myself. I'm the one who moved across the country with three babies, dealt with crisis after crisis on my own, spent long hours alone because the house hunk was working two full-time jobs so that we could buy groceries. I managed just fine right up to the point that I fell flat on my face, ended up addicted to Valium, and nearly checked out.

That was when I learned that independence can be another name for pride. Sometimes it's another name for shame. Sometimes it's another name for private despair. Sometimes it's just another name for control. And most of the time it's unnecessary. The vast majority of women don't have any idea how to accept a helping hand. In our mad rush to prove that we don't need a man to lean on, don't need a man to take care of us, we lost something. We lost that ability to admit that once in a while it's a relief to accept that helping hand--even if it's just a sympathetic ear.

Since that time in my twenties, I've had many occasions when I gratefully welcomed that helping hand. Sometimes it was a couple bags of groceries when we had no food. Once it was a stack of maternity clothes when I found myself twenty weeks pregnant with no prior warning (that's an entirely different blog!) There were wonderful women all around me who pitched in to help me find crib, baby clothes, and other necessities.

When that baby had grown to be a troubled teen, I had new friends who held my hand, listened to me cry, even rode with me when I went to visit my daughter at the school where we placed her for twenty-two long months. There were many, many people I talked to during that period of time who commented about my willingness to share my experience. They were going through very similar things, but were too shamed to ask for help. Offering my story allowed them to share theirs.

Of course that wasn't nearly as humiliating as the time I had a small mini-stroke. I knew that there were certain "things" that were gone. But the morning that I realized that I no longer knew how to tie my shoes... Well, I found a pair of "slip-ons" and went off to work, still in shock. My boss asked me what was wrong. "I don't know how to tie my shoes," I blurted out. Very calmly she said, "Well come in my office and I'll tie them for you."

Forty years don't pass in a marriage without a stunning variety of crises. A few years ago I knelt on the floor in the main aisle of Wal-Mart screaming for help as the house hunk had a grand mal seizure. Little did I know the hell that awaited us in the future.

When you've had a seizure, particularly a grand mal seizure, you're not permitted to drive. In the space of a few minutes we went from a two-driver family to a single-driver family. We lived in an extremely rural area without the slightest pretension of mass transit. When the house hunk was eventually permitted to go back to work, I rose every morning, rain, snow, or clear to take him to the closest park n' ride so that he could commute to the city. Inevitably, there were doctor's visits and other family necessities that needed transportation. And I had to ask for help. And I did.

I can just see you nodding your head at my good sense. Of course--even you would be willing to offer your help under such circumstances. But let's put the shoe on the other foot. When was the last time you asked for help? Because this is a two-way street. Every person needs help sometime in their life. But more importantly, they need to return the favor. Yep. That's right. If you refuse to ask for a helping hand, you're refusing to allow that other person to do their part! When you're always the helper and never the "helpee" you're taking a valuable necessary opportunity from the other guy.

Success is possible in life without the help of others. But it's more likely when we all take turns lending and accepting that helping hand.



  1. Well, what can I say? I am too sweet and loveable for this to apply to me

  2. And now I feel even more ashamed for never calling when you offered. I'm sorry, Anny. Adding it to the list of things I've done wrong.

  3. I have always found asking for help extremely difficult. There is a certain sense of achievement that comes from doing something myself, and having to say "I can't...." all by myself means that I have failed.

    But when my husband went into the hospital a year and a half ago in screaming pain, and stayed there for a good week as the doctors tried to figure him out, I realized: It's OK to accept help. And I did.

    Somethings, though, no one can really help you with.

  4. I believe lots of women feel, at times, a lack of CONTROL in their lives. With that loss of control comes a horrible kind of helpless despair. I've felt it and I'm sure others have to. Soooo when you can finally grab hold of it the sense of pride can be overwhelming. It's hard to let go of it again.

    For what it's worth, I'm learning to unbend about that. It's taken years to learn but I find my greatest source of strength in my friendships with other women. We've all been there. Done that. And we understand.

  5. So we're all like that huh? Well, my dear, I get tired of hearing myself gripe so I can only imagine others thoughts who aren't going through the mess with me. Besides, it's a "protection" of you.

    And sometimes it creates anxiety in the people who are too far away to actually help when you ask. I no more want to cause that than burden someone with my troubles.

    There's the matter of asking but if there's nothing you or another far away friend can do about it, then why create that stress on them?

  6. Sometimes even a few kind words can help more than people realize. Or even an unkind word--if it's directed properly. When my brother died just 3 weeks after our mom, I still remember the one condolence call that touched me the most. I picked up the phone, said hello, and a friend said, "Well. Doesn't that just SUCK!" Not the most polite call I recieved. But maybe the best.

  7. You left out one category of person who doesn't ask for help. The one who has no reason to expect the call to answered. Some people grow up having to rely on themselves because there is no one else to do what must be done. They find it hard to ask for help because they don't know how and doubt it will come if they do. Sad, but those folks are out there.

  8. I am one of those people that don't like to ask for help. You and the h/h have helped me to learn it's okay and doesn't make me a weak person. I try to reciprocate as I'm much better at taking care of others than myself. This is a great blog. I'm glad I'm not the only person that feels they need to "do it all" alone.


  9. I discovered the power of friends when my hubby had his heart surgeries. It's no fun trying to handle everything by yourself; even the strongest can break down occassionally. I had to learn that the hard way, but I won't make that mistake again!

  10. Your blogs are always so thought-provoking, Anny.

    I'm guilty of not being able to ask for help. It's something I've struggled with my entire life, but I'm working on it. Thankfully, I have a wonderful husband who knows me well enough to know when I need help. I also have a fabulous brother and sister who are always there for me...I just have to remember to ask them.