How to Ask for Help When Everyone Is Struggling
Things are hard. The world is a mess. Most of us are feeling more — more stress, anxiety, pain, hardship, grief, loss, frustration, you name it — the bad feels. The weight of the world is weighing heavily. Whether it is the state of our planet, our nation, your community or your individual life, more of us are struggling.
In my own life since the start of 2020, my mother-in-law has been hospitalized and had a sharp decline in her health, my wife had a serious car accident, my father is experiencing symptoms of dementia, my marriage of more than 20 years has been pushed to new breaking points, my wife’s business folded with COVID and we are down to earning only what I make on disability, I had emergency surgery and am now facing down a hard new health diagnosis. The list goes on. I do not enumerate these things to elicit your sympathy but to clarify that these are the pressures of our lives — all our lives. I am not alone or unique.
My sleep is worse. My pain is worse. My anxiety is worse. My tendency to self-isolate is exacerbated. Life feels stressful by new orders of difficulty. If you’re now thinking, “Great, thanks for naming that, Annette. I appreciate you pointing out the obvious. This has been really helpful (insert dramatic eye roll here).” I’m working toward my point: contrary to what my tendencies are — to pull away, to shut down, to recoil; what we must do now is reach out and ask for help. If you’re thinking, “Ask for help? When so many of us are hurting, are in pain, and are struggling who am I to ask for help?” I’m glad you asked. Let’s take a look at that question.
Who am I to ask for help?
I’m someone who needs help. Empirically that’s true. I do. I need help getting places, getting things (groceries, prescriptions, meals, etc.) I need help getting my needs met. When it comes to our happiness, Brene Brown says that “comparison is the thief of joy.” However, there must be a parallel maxim about comparison and needs/pain/suffering, too. Comparison is the opening salvo of a race to the bottom? Comparison makes us all losers? This isn’t a pain Olympics, folks.
As soon as we start down the path of thinking, “I can’t ask for help because my need isn’t the greatest,” it’s like thinking, “I can’t grieve my friend’s death because I wasn’t their closest relative.” It’s folly. It’s often easier to see it in others or in other circumstances, but it applies to us and our circumstances, too. If we each decided that our need wasn’t the greatest, none of us would work to get our needs met? Can we all agree, that doesn’t make sense either.
I remember when I was young and believed that when I fell in love that the other person should just know my needs.
When I learned that I had to teach my partner about my needs — yuck. That sucked, at first. It went against my romcom notions that my partner would just anticipate my needs. Eventually, it became empowering as I learned how to identify what my needs were and how to ask for them. Yes, it is a risk: if I ask for a need to be met and she doesn’t choose to meet them, it can feel like rejection. But if she does? It feels like, well, like love. The same is true in my non-romantic relationships.
What might happen if I ask for what I need?
I might get it, or I might not. More than this, though, when I acknowledge and ask for what I need, I give others permission to do the same. I am also asserting my right to have needs, it is a declaration of self-worth. Just as we all have needs; we all deserve to have our needs met. Simply because that isn’t happening for everyone doesn’t mean that shouldn’t be happening for you. Additionally, just as there are so many suffering right now, there are many wondering how to help, what to do, and where to plug in. You might be the answer to their question. When I ask for help, others have the opportunity to give. You’ve given before, right? It feels good, doesn’t it? What are the ways that people in your life, your family, your community could help meet your needs?
If asking for help feels like leveling up for you, what are the baby steps you can take?
Don’t start with high-stakes asks, start with something small: text a friend to see if she can drop off your favorite coffee drink on her way home from work; find out when your neighbor goes grocery shopping and see if they can pick up a few additional items for you. Then graduate the ask — see if someone can cook an extra portion of food for you every week. Ask for help with childcare. I have a friend, who coordinates a care calendar for me, where people can plug in and bring us a meal, pick up my prescriptions, come over and do yard work for us, etc. She has helped me think about my needs as a whole person — physical, mental, and emotional/spiritual.
She encourages me to think about all of those needs when I make my calendar requests. Honestly, I’m not there yet. I have new frontiers to explore and asking beyond the mostly physical feels… extra(?). But as I read this, I see the arrogance in my beliefs. It’s me, deciding for others what and how they want to give. Why don’t I ask and then trust that people will give what and how they want for themselves? In light of this, I recently told a few close friends that I can’t afford counseling anymore and how much I pay, in case they care to contribute. I’m working to ask more and see what happens.
Yes, we are each suffering from individual and collective hardship. Because of this it is easy to be overwhelmed and feel like our own needs are not worth addressing considering the weight or significance of others’ needs.
However, when we have our own needs met, we are each better able to be in our own skin, in our own household, in our own community and I will argue that the world benefits from my getting my needs met. It is, in fact, how things start to change, by meeting the needs and healing deeply one at a time. Why shouldn’t it begin with me and with you? What step will you take to ask for help and allow others to give to you?
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