On one hand, I was lucky. I always had people who were willing to help. But 99% of the time, it didn’t matter. In fact, it usually made everything worse. Because for me, asking was the hardest thing in world.
I don’t know why or when or how it happened but at some point, life left an imprint on me and I came to rely too heavily on myself. I’m quite stubborn in this regard. Even when the cards are stacked against me, I will try to take on the world single-handedly and ignore the people frantically waving their hands, trying to help.
The crazy thing is that I love helping others, sometimes to a fault. I’ve found over the years that I am most certainly a people pleaser. I realize this isn’t a healthy way to live, but I have an incredibly hard time saying no to someone in need when I know I can help them. It has led to a lot of interesting life experiences but, at the same time, it’s self-destructive. It took a long time to realize that sometimes you have to put yourself first. But I digress. Despite my tendency to overachieve in this regard, genuinely helping others is an incredibly rewarding and intimate human experience.
So why then is it so damn hard to just…ask? To ask for help. To ask for advice. To ask for understanding. To ask for acceptance. To ask for forgiveness.
Asking is Hard:
In her incredible book “The Art of Asking: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Let People Help”, Amanda Palmer offers this insight,
“American culture in particular has instilled in us the bizarre notion that to ask for help amounts to an admission of failure. But some of the most powerful, successful, admired people in the world seem, to me, to have something in common: they ask constantly, creatively, compassionately, and gracefully. And to be sure: when you ask, there’s always the possibility of a no on the other side of the request. If we don’t allow for that no, we’re not actually asking, we’re either begging or demanding. But it is the fear of the no that keeps so many of our mouths sewn tightly shut.”
When I first read this, my jaw hit the floor. I hadn’t recognized that the obstacle, this whole time, was fear. But it made so much sense.
When my Meniere’s symptoms first appeared, I waited for months to ask for help. The symptoms didn’t come all at once; it was a steady build up. As time went on though, it became clear that I wasn’t going to magically get better. Then the vertigo started. My fiancée Megan desperately wanted to help. She begged me to let her make a doctors appointment. It was hard on her, watching me suffer. I was so stubborn.
I knew the rest of my family was concerned too. But I would always say I was fine when they would ask how I was doing. I was afraid to ask for help. Afraid to LET anyone help. It took a massive vertigo attack to finally get me to understand. I broke down and finally asked my family for help. My grandfather was able to get me an appointment with an amazing Neurotologist at the University of Miami Hospital. That doctor ended up saving me, mentally and physically.
To ask for help requires a leap of faith. You have to dismantle the emotional wall that has protected you for so long, brick by painful brick. You have to allow another person to see a glimpse of your true self, bare, vulnerable and exposed. You have to trust that as you take your leap of faith, the universe will sort itself out fast enough to catch you. At its core, asking is an act of bravery.
At some point, I realized that other people wanted to help me the same way I wanted to help them.
Slowly, and with a great ball of anxiety in the pit of my stomach, I started to open up. I let people in, and I began to occasionally ask for help when I needed it.
Despite everything, I was shocked to find that most people were willing to go out of their way to help when I had the courage to ask. The generosity I often encounter is overwhelming. People can be amazing if you give them the chance.
How to Ask for Help:
There are many different ways to ask for help. Some work well while some don’t. Others work, but for all the wrong reasons. So how do you ask for help? Once again, Amanda Palmer offers a bit of advice,
“Those who can ask without shame are viewing themselves in collaboration with—rather than in competition with—the world. Asking for help with shame says: You have the power over me. Asking with condescension says: I have the power over you. But asking for help with gratitude says: We have the power to help each other.”
When it’s your turn to ask for help, make sure to ask with patience, kindness, compassion, and an open heart. And always leave room for a no. Never force an ask on anyone, always leave them an out.
The fight against Meniere’s disease can be a lonely battle. It doesn’t have to be. You don’t have to fight alone. Often our family and friends are waiting in the wings, like cavalry, standing by to be called into action. The unfortunate reality is that too few of us realize this, or worse, we know, but are too afraid to ask.
There is no shame in asking for help. Everyone needs help at some point or another. We are all in this life together. You don’t ever need to suffer alone. Be vulnerable. Be brave. Take a deep breath and simply…ask.
I cannot recommend this TED talk enough. It is amazing beyond words.
I also highly recommend Amanda Palmer’s book “The Art of Asking: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Let People Help, inspired by her TED talk. I read several books a week, and this was one of the best I’ve read this year by far. (Kindle version) (Audiobook version)