When People Won't Let Me Help Them Because of My Illness


Please let me help you.

That’s right! I actually suggested I could help you.

“But that would be too much to ask of you,” I hear back.

“After all, you’ve got enough problems of your own already.”

“I don’t want to burden you.”

“That’s really kind of you to offer, but just take care of yourself.”

“But with your (insert chronic condition here), wouldn’t that be too much for you?”

Twice this weekend, I’ve heard these reasons why I couldn’t help someone dear to me. In one case, I’d offered. In both cases, the people didn’t ask me at the time of their greatest need, for the same above reasons. The responses triggered more emotional pain than I anticipated. They brought rushing to mind all the other times I’ve heard these things since my accident and chronic conditions onset years ago.

My offers for help could have been as simple as cooking a meal, (granted, that isn’t always easy or simple for me), driving them somewhere (believe me, I know my limits on this one), listening (talking hurts, but I can listen), running errands (as long as someone helps me lift, I’m good, really). It doesn’t matter. The person on the receiving end of the offer already has their mind made up about why I can’t do what I’m suggesting.

Those of us with chronic pain know better than anything that we can’t push our limits. Not that we don’t try, but we know the consequences if we do. All day long, every day, we decide whether doing something is worth struggling with the effects. Give us permission to decide when and whether we can offer to help another.

Yes, I get that when I offer to help someone, they may simply be trying to be polite by offering their responses. What bothers me is that behind seemingly harmless comments often lie assumptions about us. Those assumptions include what we can’t do, not what we can. Emotionally, they make me feel even more broken. If I’m already feeling depressed, this digs me into a deeper hole. In the end, I may feel like saying, “I wish I’d never offered to help!”

Will I keep offering to help others? Of course. Will I keep getting these responses? Afraid so. Will I still feel hurt? That depends on how I frame the response. Today my cousin explained how hard it was for her and her son, whom I’d just learned experienced brain damage from a fall weeks ago, to accept help.

Gosh, those of us with chronic conditions understand that better than anyone. We need help long-term. I hope and pray my cousin won’t. But as I told his mom, letting me do something to help does as much for me as for him. It makes me feel needed and useful.

We chronic condition warriors know that the feeling of being needed and a having a sense of purpose are like medicine. They can’t cure us, but they do sustain us. I learned that from my late friend, DonnaLee, who worked until the end, and believed in letting people help her out of empathy for their need to do so. DL, I wish there were more people like you!

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Thinkstock Image By: Goldfinch4ever

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