A Recipe for Asking for Help When You Have a Disability
Confidence, Humility, Honesty, Empathy and Humor
I don’t cook. In fact, true story, when my twin step-daughters were home from college for the holidays they opened the oven to bake cookies. They found a cookie sheet filled with shriveled up, burnt, miniature hot dogs inside. Apparently, I must have forgotten to serve that second tray of appetizers at the party we had almost two months prior. I am not your go-to cooking expert. You should feel free to adjust any ingredients needed and modify any recipe I ever give you.
5 Cups of Confidence
The most important ingredient for getting what you want and need when you have non-obvious physical challenges is confidence. It’s the base every other ingredient adheres and mixes into.
Confidence is not a fast food item you can easily find. It must be grown and nurtured in-house. Everyone has the ability to get confidence, but some people have easier access and more resources.
Confidence is not seen; it is felt. A person with a disability can shout it from a rooftop wearing an “I have a disability” or, “I survived _____,” but still lack true self-confidence. This can be all show. Likewise, a person can conceal her leg braces or large scars, and be uber self-assured and not want or need an exterior label.
Confident people can and do have insecure moments. No one is 100 percent confident in every situation. A confident person knows this and owns her insecure feelings.
2 Cups of Humility
It isn’t easy asking people for help to do seemingly easy tasks. This is especially true if you’re a Type A person like myself. But we have to remind ourselves that able people are not mind-readers and unless a person has physical challenges of her own, she cannot intuitively get your need for an arm to hold for balance, or your need, rather than want, for that close-to-the-exit space in barre class.
Swallowing our pride doesn’t have to cost us anything. In fact, it can be low or zero calories if we remember to use a sugar substitute. We are not entitled to the space in exercise class or the lounger closest to the pool. No-one wants to help people they find to be rude and condescending.
We may need it and want it, but in order to get it when someone else already has it, we must be kind and “use our words,” as you hear moms of young children lecture. We also must accept the fact that 99 percent of the time, people will do the right thing when we ask them for something in a respectful way. We should not give any of our power away to the 1 percent of people who won’t. This is something I struggle with (just ask the guy who took my lounger at a certain Miami resort and is probably throwing darts at my photo), but I’m working on it.
2 Cups of Honesty
Mix in equal parts humility and honesty. I would recommend the organic kind, found in non-processed, real-food stores.
When I used to make up stories about walking funny because of a “sports injury,” I felt good about myself for about five minutes. I was trying so hard to be something I mistakenly thought made me look and seem better. I was trying to be a perfect person who had that perfect kind of person accident on a ski slope somewhere in Aspen.
Perfectionism is actually more about the fear of not being accepted or good enough. People try so hard not to show the things about themselves that in reality make them more likable and relatable to others.
Telling your story does not have to define your forever interactions with people. But if you are honest with people, in my experience it can and will make you closer.
2 Tablespoons of Empathy
Try not to make assumptions and be judgmental about what’s in someone else’s shopping cart. If you knew I had physical limitations and saw my grocery cart filled with overpriced, prepared, specialty-store foods, you might assume I can’t cook. Well that’s true, as you already know, but you get the point. You may think it has something to do with my physical challenges when in actuality it’s more a preference than a limitation. Don’t worry, my kids’ dad cooks, and they are well-nourished.
In order to get what you want from others in a way that feels good for both parties, you need to get outside of your own shit and be aware of what others may want and need too.
We never really know what’s going on in other people’s lives. If you want people to begin understanding your cues, then start paying attention to theirs. Everyone has stuff.
A Pinch of Humor
Humor is the ultimate dipping sauce for everything. It gives bland items flavor and makes delicious French fries taste even better.
When asking for help with something, like carrying your plate of food for you in a buffet line, make a joke to ease your discomfort. Say for example, “Do you mind helping me carry this plate to my table? I know if I try with my poor balance, it’s gonna end up all over that woman in the white dress.”
The Secret Sauce
Asserting yourself takes practice. Take small bites and chew slowly.
You can learn to ask for what you want without feeling like you’re a weak person for doing so. In fact, by using the right mix of ingredients, you can feel way more confident, happier, and have higher quality interpersonal relationships.
Getty image by Alex Raths.