Friday, April 8, 2011

What Does It Mean to Ask for Help?

Learning to ask people for help when I needed it was one of the most difficult psychological hurdles I had to overcome. I used to pride myself on being a strong, all-powerful, self-sufficient individual who was ready to offer help to others but never needed any assistance from anybody. Once, when I was regaling my sister with a self-congratulatory rant on how I saw my self-sufficiency as my best and defining quality, she got fed up with it and told me the following:

"Look," she said, "what you have is not self-sufficiency but an extreme case of hubris. You like to see yourself as superior to others who always need your help but from whom you neither need nor accept anything. You have no idea how humiliating this attitude is to people who are close to you. In normal human relationships, everybody helps each other out when need arises. You, however, love showing people how little you need them while they, poor, helpless fools, are nothing without you. Could you just stop doing this already because you are getting annoying?"

It took me a while to realize that she was completely right. Never asking for help not only allowed me to feel superior to everybody, it also gave me the perfect opportunity to indulge my drama queen streak. (There was a period in my life where I proudly used to say that I practice depression as a form of art. One day, I will write a post on depression, as well.) By not requesting timely assistance I would routinely get myself into even bigger trouble and could then engage in happy contemplation of my profound misery.

To give an example, in the summer of 2008 I was in a really bad financial shape. My Canadian and my American banks ate up my paltry savings through a series of mistakes that they recognized but refused to rectify. I was going to start working at a great, well-paying job in August, so I knew money was coming. I still, however, needed to get through June and July. At that point, I was staying with my boyfriend (who is now my husband) in Indiana. A moment came when I was left with no money whatsoever. Things were so bad that I couldn't even buy a soda during the sweltering Midwestern summer. If you don't know what it means to have exactly one dollar and fifty-seven cents to your name in the entire world, let me tell you that the feeling is not enjoyable.

To say that I worried about money is to say nothing. I was eating my heart out because of how broke I was. I couldn't sleep, I had panic attacks, I was constantly sick. At no point of that drama, however, did it occur to me to inform anybody of what was happening. I have no shortage of wonderful people in my life who would have been happy to assist me. All I needed to tide me over was a couple hundred bucks, and there were many people who would have happily loaned me the money. But solving my problem so easily would have been no fun at all. It was much more pleasant to subject everybody to my endless suffering whose causes they were not allowed to know. 

The boyfriend kept asking me why I was so miserable but I proudly refused to answer. When I finally revealed the causes of the drama, he just said "Oy", and headed to an ATM.

"No!" I proclaimed with an attitude of a bad tragic actress from low-budget movies. "Who do you think I am? Do you think I am a person who accepts money from men? I am not that kind of a person!"

"No," he said. "You are the kind of a person who will accept this small loan and pay it back when you start getting paid at your new job." 

That was my first step towards realizing that sometimes you need to stop feeling sorry for yourself and accept a helping hand.

Today, I discovered that I had unwittingly messed up and was facing some not very serious but annoying complications. My inner drama queen was about to plunge headlong into the depths of depression. Pleasing thoughts about how life has no meaning and the world is an inhospitable, nasty place started coursing through my mind. The warm, comfortable feeling of being a misunderstood, lonely genius whom the universe couldn't appreciate because of its vast limitations enveloped me. Still, I resisted, picked up the phone and dialed the number of somebody who is always there for me.

"Hey," I said. "So I messed up here. Could you help me out?"


Lindsay said...

I've had a similar evolution over the years --- for me, though, it was as much an inability to ask for help, due to underdeveloped verbal/emotional skills (and a weird, deeply ingrained response I still have, which is to avoid people and communication when upset or dealing with serious problems) as it was a deliberate refusal to do so.

I'm a lot better than I used to be, at both aspects of it, but it's still a bit hard to do, and often doesn't occur to me.

GMP said...

what you have is not self-sufficiency but an extreme case of hubris. You like to see yourself as superior to others who always need your help but from whom you neither need nor accept anything.

Aaah -- brilliant! I must admit I recognized myself in your post.
Thank you for your candid writing -- I am fairly new to your blog, and have come to really appreciate your no-bullshit introspection. We are all full of it at times, and who better to call us on it then ourselves. Great post.

Pagan Topologist said...

I have a touch of the same hubris, although I have never been reluctant to ask for help when I needed it.

el said...

RE Depression, your take reminded me of Stephen Crane's poem :

“In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said: "Is it good, friend?"
"It is bitter-bitter," he answered;
"But I like it
Because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart.”