Author’s Note: Edited and revised on 9-14-15.
I think I was just called out by a friend. I don’t think she meant to or even realizes that she did but, yes, I feel like I have just been called out, in a good (very good) way, to vulnerability.
Vulnerability is not easy. It’s the proverbial exposing my belly but I also know that some of the best conversations and growth I have had with friends and family is through being vulnerable and exposing those tender, soft parts of my heart and soul. So, here I am and here it is:
I do not ask for help well. I don’t.
When it is emotional support I am in need of, that I can ask for because that can be given at a distance without me having to meet someone’s eyes in what so often feels like my weakness. But when it comes to physical help with the person offering standing there in front of me, that is almost impossible for me to ask for. Most recent example: I had a rough day with my toddler daughter the other day; she and I were at odds all the day long. I was tired; I was frustrated; I was angry. My girl was driving me mad and I had been graceless in response. My husband, bless his heart, asked me point blank if I wanted him to take our daughter for a while so I could have a break. And I couldn’t — could not — make myself say yes. Everything inside me screamed, “Yes! God, yes! I need a break! I need quiet! I need away!” But the words were stuck somewhere far away from my lips and would get nowhere near them. I physically could not force the words out of my mouth. I knew I needed help; moreover, he knew I needed help. But I just could not manage it, could not ask for it. And that is really scary sometimes. Scary that I cannot ask for help. Won’t ask for help. Even when I need it. Especially when I need it. It hurts and I’m sure it hurts the people who try to help me, too.
So why can’t I ask for help with my daughter when I really need it? Bluntly honest? Because I see her as my responsibility. Yes, she is our daughter but I was the one who wanted to stay home with her. I was the one who put my husband in the position of having to be the sole breadwinner with this desire, allowed that weight to settle on his shoulders alone for the first time since we got married seven years prior. So, as I took on the roll of SAHM, I often feel like I need to be there and do my job, regardless of what sort of day I have had. Now, I know what just pushing on in such a vein will do: eventually, I will twitch out of my skin and collapse into a puddle of stressed, exhausted tears, most likely after some sort of blowup with my husband that really had no need to become such a mountain-out-of-a-molehill.
I need time to to care for myself. I need time to recharge and, for me, that requires time alone. “Alone” doesn’t happen with my girl, even though we do have periods of quiet when she is in the mood to do her own thing. But, even so, I am often reticent to call for help because something says, and loudly, “You are her mother! This is your job! You need to do it!”That voice is insistent. It is loud. And it silences me at times when I need t speak. When I need to ask for help.
Now, it isn’t all gloom and doom. I have a great support system, and I get great joy from my daughter, from teaching her, being taught by her, and watching her grow and develop into a little girl. While my difficulty in making full/often use of my support system frustrates me and I despise frustrating others, I am better than I used to be. I am doing better at my self-care and strategies for helping Elizabeth develop more independence.
Asking for help is still hard, very hard sometimes, but I know that it is something I need to do, in whatever way I can manage. Right now, those few ways are: asking the grandparents to take her out to lunch for a few hours, having a friend over to give me an extra set of hands and dose of attention for my energetic girl, or letting her have Daddy-time while I hit the gym for an hour. This is a start.
I know I am not the only one for whom this is true, and it isn’t just mothers either. Many of us, though staunch advocates for others, often have a hard time advocating for ourselves and our own health, care, and soul rest.
Another dear friend of mine commented to me (after reading the first draft of this post): “While I don’t have a daughter to chase after, sometimes having depression and panic attack disorder can feel like I have something to chase around (or be chased by). So, when I’m feeling overwhelmed, people can tell I can lie and tell them that I’m fine. That I don’t need help. Even though I do. And I feel like a hypocrite because if someone else were to do that I’d call them out and insist on trying to help them.”
I appreciate this perspective and his opinion is one that I value very much. Sometimes asking for help for ourselves is one of the hardest things in the world, harder yet to work towards overcoming it. I have made a start, small ways to ask for help when I need it, and I am hoping that it will help me to get one step closer to finding my voice to answer with the specific words, “Yes, I need help.”
Until then, please, keep asking.