Learning to Ask for Help With Mental Illness
At the age of 30, I have now been dealing with mental illness for over half of my life. I was diagnosed at 12 and spent a lot of time in an adolescent psychiatric unit on an inpatient basis. I was in there for 10 days the first time. What I learned in those first dark days of grappling with the fact that I had mental illness was that it is OK to ask for help.
I am so grateful I learned that lesson because when I was 25 I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, after already being diagnosed with fibromyalgia. I had two debilitating physical conditions to add on top of the mental health diagnosis I already had. It was too much to bear.
Depending on your upbringing, and the biases you already have when you begin your struggle with mental illness or physical disabilities, you may feel an obligation to struggle alone. Whether you fear judgment from your peers that you’re simply not trying hard enough, or you don’t want to be a “burden” on your family, you may not want to be open about your struggle. You may feel embarrassed to ask your sister to come over and help you tidy up the house. But imagine this: you’re in the throes of a depressive episode, you haven’t showered in a week and the dirty dishes are piling up. Your house has fruit flies. Before this episode struck, your apartment was usually spotless and organized, but you just lost control of it all and now you’re completely overwhelmed.
Does that sound familiar? It does to me.
So many times over the last 10 years I’ve found myself in that exact position. When I lived close to my friend, Amy, she would come do my dishes for me and sit with my baby (who is now 10) while I took a shower. When I got out I felt so much better. I was able to perform better at work. I was also able to concentrate on being the best mother I could be because I wasn’t so worried about how my apartment or I smelled.
It is important to ask for help when you need it. Not only will it help you regain control of your life, even in small ways, but it could also help your state of mind. Who can feel at their best when their hair is knotted and greasy? Sometimes due to my multiple sclerosis, I cannot grip a hairbrush or raise my arms to wash my hair. I have to ask my husband to do it for me. I still feel like a burden sometimes. When my husband works all day (he works from home), and then I ask him to please wash my hair, I feel like I’m taking from him his only time to relax. It makes me feel a sort of heaviness, a burden I don’t even know if I can bear.
And then I sink further into depression.
But asking for help is sometimes the best way to practice self-care. Executive dysfunction may take away your ability to you know “do the thing,” but more often than not it only takes a bit of courage (not competence) to ask for help doing it. The difference is subtle. If you are a parent, the importance of asking for help is tenfold. By asking for help, even from your kids (when they’re old enough to safely help you), you teach them it is OK for them to ask for help when they need it. You’ll teach them they don’t have to struggle alone. Be an example and show them the power of community. It will teach them empathy, compassion and a valuable people skill.
Ironically, when I need help asking for help, I look to the following quotes for inspiration. Hopefully, they’re as helpful to you as they are to me.
Asking for help isn’t weak, it’s a great example of how to take care of yourself. – Charlie Brown
Sometimes in life, you can fall down holes you can’t climb out of by yourself. That’s what friends and family are for—to help. They can’t help, however, unless you let them know you’re down there. – Meg Cabot
You are never strong enough that you don’t need – Cesar Chavez
The best advice I can give to anyone going through a rough patch is to never be afraid to ask for help. – Demi Lovato