I’ve been thinking a lot lately about help. The help we need, the help we get, the help we provide and the help that never comes. To me, help is just one more point of connection, but somewhere along the way we’ve lost the idea that we need it, or lost the ability to discern when we do.
When people ask me about how I got where I am now, they always seem to expect a story of strength, stoicism and solo action. In reality, it’s a story of borrowing someone else’s strength when I had none, of deep pain and florid emotional expression until I learned to befriend and channel my emotions and the collective work of listening ears, acts of service and the sharing of hope and experience to bolster my own small steps. It was all help – help paid and unpaid, paid forward and paid off. It was family, friends, lovers, colleagues, teachers and total strangers. It was faith, a spirit and a whole raft of hands at my back. I’m incredibly grateful for every single one of those hands.
But how did I know I needed help and when did I know?
It wasn’t until one of my very good longtime friends looked at what was happening to me, saw me struggling to maintain my teaching job, my schedule and my sanity, and said, “That’s what stress leave is for.” His own experience with therapy and his own healing, in that moment, dropped a stone into my pond and rippled out these tiny waves of possibility, a glimmer of ‘something different’, a new way to think about things. The complete sense of relief I experienced once I could surrender my ‘suck it up buttercup’ Ukrainian family grit for a gentler approach was profound. I dropped that façade in that moment and I’ve never looked back, never once regretted the choice to heal.
It was only because my friend saw me.
It’s not that I *couldn’t* have figured it out myself.
It’s that he sparked something in me, gave me an accelerant to light the fire, some twenty or so years ago.
He helped me see it.
Soon after, my counsellor helped me unpack the past and rearrange it into suitcases with wheels instead of dufflebags so I could easily transport it until I could travel lighter, leaving my luggage back with the people who gave it to me, or dropping it off like losing it through security in the airport, my personal security that said, “You can’t fly with that.” And then, my boyfriend-fiance-now husband helped me pick apart the patterns of past relationships to make up a new carryall for the things I wanted to bring with me, the new habits, new ideas and healthier behaviours.
He helped me leave suffocating work so I could breathe.
I got to feel not only lighter, but faster, energized, alive!
I met friends on my entrepreneurial journey who shared their stories of challenge, after my particularly harrowing ‘dark night of the soul’. They normalized my experience and made me feel like I belonged. They saw me. They heard me. They valued me and showed me what it would mean to grow into my business body.
Anytime I got stuck, didn’t know what to do, didn’t have all the necessary information, skills or understanding, my friends were there.
They helped me.
I hired business coaches, continued with my counsellor here and there, hired a nutrition coach, saw a naturopath, went to the doctor, hired a trainer. I got help.
And I learned…
I learned I need help when I can’t do something myself, even after a concerted effort.
I learned I need help when I feel frustrated.
I learned I need help when I feel stuck, unseen or misunderstood.
I learned I need help when I just…can’t…get…where…I…want…to…go!
And I learned that sometimes help is simply seeing what’s possible. We need other people to show us the ways we’ve never walked ourselves and the best guides are often those who are just a few steps ahead of where you are on the path. Beginners coach beginners and more experienced people coach more experienced people and I’ve learned that if you ask for help, it will arrive. Maybe not in the way you expect, but it will arrive.
You have to ask.
We stop ourselves – we feel ashamed that we can’t do it alone. We don’t want to bother anyone. We don’t feel worthy, we feel broken and weak and don’t want anyone to know.
Brené Brown, over ten years ago, stood up on the TED stage for the second time and called us all out on listening to shame. She dared to stand up and describe “the warm wash of shame”, and talked openly about how shame is organized by gender. For women, she said, “It’s do it all, do it perfectly and never let them see you sweat”, or “a web of unattainable, competing and conflicting priorities”. For men, it’s “Don’t appear weak.”
So we don’t ask.
Then she told us, “Shame can’t survive once brought into the light and dosed with empathy.”
Help is what gives us that light, the doorway into the next room, the boost over the next wall, the push on the swing. And empathy, the ‘me too’ part of ‘I’ve been there’, provides the warmth we need to grow. I know that every person reading this has had a chance to help someone else. I want you to take a moment to think about how that made you feel…
Why would it be any different for the other person?
When you don’t ask, you deny someone else the joy of helping you out. You rob them of the gift of service. You deny them a chance to connect with you in a moment when you really need them.
It’s not always easy to see or feel what needing help is like, but if we stop running off in all directions and get still for a second, we know…
It’s that moment when we feel kinda dumb.
It’s that moment when we feel hopeless.
It’s that moment when we feel sad, or lonely or tired.
It’s that moment when we cry.
It’s that moment when we rage.
it’s that moment when we are so scared we can barely breathe.
It’s that moment when we just…can’t…take…it…anymore!
That’s the time to ask. Ask a friend, ask a teacher, ask a colleague, ask a parent, ask a coach, ask a counsellor, ask Google!
We simply can’t do it alone.
We need each other.
We are the help.