The Psychological Impact of Having to Ask for Help
I was diagnosed with ME 15 years ago. Before that I was a confident professional in charge of my own life and completely autonomous. When I got ill I found myself in the difficult position of having to rely on others. I could no longer go anywhere alone as I wasn’t well enough to walk anywhere or take public transport or drive, so if I wanted anything from the shops I had to ask if I could be taken or if someone could go for me. I found sometimes cooking too much for me and again I had to rely on others to cook my food, make my bed, do my washing and so on.
I’ve never found this easy, and in fact, the mere act of asking for help has caused me great anxiety which has gotten worse over the years. If I happen to notice a flash of irritation cross the caregiver’s face when I ask for something, I am devastated and crushed. I feel like a burden, useless, demanding, a curse. Sometimes, at those points, I even feel suicidal because I don’t want to be a burden to anyone, someone who irritates others because she needs something from the shop.
One thing people who are not ill or disabled don’t understand is what it is like to lose your autonomy. If I could go to the shop myself, believe me – I would. I want to. I would put it on my bucket list, it’s such a significant thing for me – being able to have the health and independence to do something like shopping for myself, alone. So I am already crushed when I ask for that small favor.
Over the years the looks of irritation or the sighs – however few and far between – build into a big mountain for me. So much so that I start to stutter and stammer when I need to ask for something because I am terrified of the look of irritation and how useless and silly that will make me feel. I know no one intends to make me feel like that, and I find it difficult to explain why I feel the way I do. One of my caregivers said, “Yes, I do get a bit fed up from time to time. You’ll just have to put up with it, it’s not a big deal.” And maybe it isn’t to them. They ultimately have no malice, just fleeting irritation at their plans at the moment being interrupted. But that look carries for me all the shame I feel about myself. The fact I can no longer be the confident professional, the independent wage-earner, the go-getter, the party girl. That sigh because they don’t want to get out of their chair throws me into a pit so deep I’ve contemplated ending it all.
And when I need something and I’ve been asked if I need it now, if it can wait till later, I am forced to wait for that thing I need for hours – not wanting to ask again in case I get the sigh. That thing I need isn’t important to the other person and they don’t know why they need to go into the attic, for example, to get it for me now, but I can’t get it myself and I sit there getting more and more agitated, waiting for the favor to be done.
Another thing I do is apologize profusely before I ask for anything and I’m told with a look of exasperation that I don’t need to apologize, and then the tears spring from nowhere and I feel ridiculous. Sometimes I work myself up so much about asking for help that I bring on a panic attack. I even hurt myself rather than accept an offer of help from someone who isn’t one of my carers to carry a bag. I say, “No, it’s OK,” and struggle with the bag. Then I’m in excruciating pain for the rest of the day.
I know the problem lies with me. People don’t always appreciate the psychological impact of a physical illness. I get hurt when someone blithely suggests I jump on a plane to visit them as they haven’t given my limitations consideration – yet I don’t like asking for help.
“Help” is such a small word, but it has a huge effect on my life.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.
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Thinkstock photo via cindygoff.