It's hard to ask for help. I've mentioned before that opening up isn't really something I do a lot (in person) but I'm learning. Asking for help is related to that. Asking for help is like opening up about weakness. Asking for help sometimes feels like a personal failure. Asking for help implies not being able to handle something "on my own". And although what it feels like and what it is are often two very different things. . . it's hard to overcome the idea that needing help isn't some kind of failure.
Leslie's the same way about asking for help. She gets more practice though, because I think she recognizes how uncomfortable asking for help is for me, and so she takes it upon herself to ask instead.
- Can you help with the kids?
- Can you pick Lily up from the bus?
- Can you drop Emma off at dance while we take Lily to therapy?
- Can you babysit so we can go out to dinner with friends?
Each new request seems like more of an imposition than the last, and all of those requests for help seemed to default to her until I started noticing how much they stressed her out and vowed (silently to myself. . . I like to surprise) that I would start asking people more often. And I do ask more often, but not more often than Leslie does.
In the autism blogosphere we talk a lot about "literal thinking" because in a lot of cases it applies to the diagnosis. Leslie and I find that, at least with regard to asking for help, or accepting help, we tend to be very literal. We need a lot of help, so I sometimes think that when it's offered in the context of "do you need us to. . . ", we scrutinize the concept a little too literally trying to decide if by accepting help when we want it but don't need it. . . we're perhaps going to "run out" of help when we literally need it, like offers of help are a zero sum equation and we've reached our limit.
It's nothing our family or friends are projecting on us. . . it's completely just how we're wired. When you need a lot of help, the more you ask the more you try super hard not to ask again unless it's REALLY important, and you try to "save up" for when you really need it. Sometimes the whole thing is made better when you aren't given a choice of whether you want help. . . it's just forced on you. It makes it feel less like you're being a burden.
My wife underwent her final radiation treatment for "the recurrence" last week, and she's suffering for the accumulation of treatment this week. Think of a beach vacation, when you walk in the house after a long day in the sun you look in the mirror and say, "Uh oh, looks like I got a little red!" then walk by the mirror an hour later and say, "Holy shit, I'm fried!". . . and apply that concept to 28 days of concentrated radiation. Or, think of the worst sunburn you've ever had, only instead of it just blistering and peeling the top layer of skin, it goes all the way through your chest and out your back, weakening and embrittling even your bones. She's got blister cream and prescription soaks and god knows what else. . . pain medicine so she can sleep through the night. . . cortisone. . . and she has to deal with my shit.
And she's tired. And sick. And her job said (I wasn't there, so I'll paraphrase), "Leslie, go home and rest. You're forbidden to come back until next week." And it came without a choice or a consequence, and so it felt less like she was taking "one more day off" or "one more day working from home" and became more of "they said I have to do this. . . so I will." Less guilt. . . easier to accept.
Leslie's mother called me at work yesterday and asked me if they could help last night. I didn't honestly know how to answer her. Leslie had told me she was feeling about the same as she had the previous day, but the previous day she'd worked. I really wasn't sure she needed the help. I told her I'd call Leslie and find out if she thought she needed it.
It was there that I sort of failed the whole process. I had the help. It was right there. It was being offered, it's not like I had to go out and ask for it, but then I said to Leslie, "Leslie, your folks have offered to help this afternoon if you need it. Do you need them to come over and help with Lily and Em til I get home?"
Did she need the help? She said no. Why? Because she didn't. Not really. Need? No. . . need's too strong a word. Would help have been . . . helpful? Would it have been awesome? Would it have given her a chance to get some damn sleep? Sure. . . but she didn't need it, and so she said no. And suffered through it. And I. . . I let her.
When I got home last night my wife talked to me when we had a free moment and told me tiredly what I (of all people) should have known. . . "Don't ask if I 'need' help anymore, okay? Just tell me who's helping." And I got it. We talked about the whole idea of "needing" versus "really really wanting" and how sometimes when you balance how much help we seem to request "need" takes on an almost literal definition. "Need" becomes "I'm physically unable to move and require assistance" instead of. . . "I'm really sapped of strength, and Lily keeps hitting me on the radiation burns and I can't fend her off and rest at the same time and, and, and. . . "
Thanks everyone for helping when we've asked, and for offering when we haven't. I have a feeling we won't be turning it down too much over the next couple weeks. . . we need to get over ourselves in that respect; we need to stop defining need quite so literally, or recognize that there actually is a literal need right now.
|Here's me in a magical unicorn mask (because it felt like this post needed it)|