The first Saturday of 2020. It’s a bit gray and rainy, and the day couldn’t be any more beautiful! As this weekend gets underway, I wanted to return to a blog post I started almost 3 weeks ago. The idea of discussing Help really interests me, but for some reason working it into a blog post proved difficult. I ended up doing more of a ‘micro-blog’ on Instagram at that time. As 2020 gets underway, it’s time to return to this post.
Of course we all have different upbringings, and we’re raised differently. But in general we live in a society that nurtures children. Beginning at birth when we need help with everything. Feeding, changing, being put to sleep. You may have grown up with established routines and traditions. My mother shared songs with us that her mother shared with her, and I have shared with my children- and yes I do love them a bushel and a peck! Bath time brought out the ‘shoe shine boy’ as a playful way to dry our hair. We had help learning how to tie our shoes, ride our bikes and read among many other things.
As we get a bit older, we’re expected to be more independent. At a point, baths became showers and we’re on our own. We learn to tie our shoes and ride a bike without assistance. Even after being taught to fear the stove, and it’s heat/fire more than anything else around the house, we’re off on our own to make toast or an egg. In school we read independently, do our work independently and are guided to learn to figure things out on our own. Where I was told to go to the library, look it up, check the encyclopedia – how many of us tell our kids to ‘Google it’. But how, when and where do I ask for help?
Without getting into a discussion about our educational system, unless you’re blessed with a Montessori program as our oldest daughter was, or an amazing school/teacher that stresses group work and collaboration, the pattern of teaching independence = strength continues. I am also not debating the need to be independent. And I get the idea of teaching how to fish in lieu of just providing the fish. But I think independence comes in all shapes and sizes. And judgement on degrees of an individuals independence is really irrelevant. I have ‘officially’ been independent since the age of 19. But truth be told even hundreds of miles away, I have always been blessed with my Parents support. I believe a focus mainly on independence, without guidance on when to ‘raise our hands’, is at the detriment of our emotional health. Even the popular concept of self-help presents itself in a way that says, ‘you go figure this out’. I believe we need to teach how to manage help – asking for and offering. And work to move away from a view of people that ask for help as ‘needy’, less strong and less independent.
I found myself thinking recently of an event in my life when I needed help. I had left my first job in Human Resources, and was back in school to add a degree in Elementary Education. I was working service jobs nights and weekends to support myself as I returned to school. I remember being out one evening, and by out yes I mean out with friends enjoying all the Broad Ripple neighborhood of Indianapolis had to offer. I had felt twinges in my ankle during my restaurant shifts for the prior week or so. But it was a shooting pain that would subside as quickly as it presented itself. This night it was different. I remember standing in one of the bars, and realizing the pain wasn’t subsiding (I believe the spot was The Patio for my fellow ‘Broad Ripplians‘!). I decided to leave my friends, and head home to get off my feet. About half way through the ten minute walk home, my ankle gave out completely. I literally couldn’t take another step. My options were to hop the rest of the way home, sit down for a bit of rest or wait for some help. Fortunately for me, a friend – thank you Donny – was taking the same path home and found me ‘stuck’. He let me wrap my arm around his shoulder, and provided the human crutch to get me the rest of they way home, upstairs to my apartment and made sure I was settled before he left. Without asking, and without hesitation, I received the help I needed.
A bit more on this story. After being diagnosed with a bone cyst, and being told to stay off my feet for a month. I was presented with a situation where I would be involuntarily out of work. I couldn’t really wait tables with crutches. A bit of research and a few phone calls later, I decided applying for Unemployment was the next step. I was comfortable with this knowing it would help with rent that month. And I recall rationalizing it as a ‘benefit’ back for what I had already paid into. As I completed the interview, and my request was approved, I remember being asked about groceries. How was I going to buy food that week or the next? I was offered food stamps. I was initially embarrassed and wasn’t sure if I should accept them. But she explained I was ‘eligible’, based on County/State programs and being involuntarily out of work. And in effect she handed them to me and told me to use them without much more discussion. Why was one form of help acceptable and the other embarrassing? Now I am sure some of this has to do with bias, immaturity and other thoughts and feelings I probably haven’t identified yet. But I am 100% sure I didn’t want to be seen as needy.
Then, how do we redefine this construct of seeing people who need help, regardless of the form, as ‘needy’? This concept is obviously deep and systemic, and will not be solved in this post. But for me, there are several ways I am trying to change my thinking and approach to help for myself and others.
I am working on my understanding that while independence has its place, and people need to do a bit of fishing on their own. When independence is our sole focus, and we approach need for assistance as weakness, this isn’t only wrong, it can lead to isolation for the impacted individual. I am continuing to look for ways that I can offer assistance and serve others – be it through coaching, mentoring, and volunteering time, money and materials as I can. I plan on exploring these concepts in posts like this in more detail on Social Media, trying in my own way to promote the idea that help is an amazing thing – knowing when to ask is a strength, offering is a blessing. I will continue to work on my own vulnerability and ability to openly discuss emotional health.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on help and emotional health. Connect with me on Twitter or Instagram to continue the discussion (@strauss51). Sending love, light and laughter! ❤️🙏