I’m Only Human: On Sucking It Up and Asking for Help

Nothing gladdens my heart and pisses me off more than when a loved one calls me on my own bullshit.

And it’s happened twice in the past week…jerks.

After feeling the requisite sense of persecution for a few days, I have to admit: I deserved the truth.  Since Independence Day, I’ve tethered myself to the kind of self-pity that runs mottled and ugly like smeared clown make-up.  I wanted to scream at the world and yet, I chopped it off at my throat…decorating my neck with a nice pair of swollen glands, I might add.  I needed to cry.  To be comforted.  To be heard, damn it!

But no one was listening.  No one was willing to help.  I even told my husband, “You don’t know what it’s like.  Everyone wants me to listen to their problems.  But no one wants to listen to mine because they expect me to always be strong.  Hell, I teach this stuff so how could I possibly have any problems?”

My husband didn’t respond appropriately.  Without pity, he simply said, “That’s a crock of shit.  Get over yourself!  Now, what do you want to talk about?”

Offended and petulant, I moped, “Nothing!  I’ve got to go.”  I hung up the phone on him.

I continued to let it build.  The glands welcomed spasms in the deepest, tiniest, most painful muscles in the neck.  I ate my way through a third of a chocolate cake.  Tears hung on for hours and finally in desperation, I called one of my girlfriends.  In a long-distance call, the meek and slouched ball I had become poured forth all that I had been holding in.  With each revelation, I apologized: I’m so sorry to burden you like this; or I don’t mean to vent, I just don’t have anyone to talk to.

Finally, my friend had enough, “Would you stop apologizing?  Don’t you know what friendship is about?”

“Yeah, but…”

“Syndy, it’s like you’re not even human.  You think there’s something wrong with asking for help!”

There it is.  My ugly truth: I have a hell of a time asking for help.  In my personal life, asking for help means shame and weakness; in my professional one, it means I am a fraud.

Because two people who know and love me dearly thought me worthy enough to tell the truth, I’ve given this inability of mine a lot of thought.  I now know where it comes from: my family.  I’m not blaming my family; I’ve only stepped back from it and observed its dynamics.  Without realizing it, my family taught me that if I need help, then I am weak.  Weakness then lends itself to boundaries overstepped, ridicule and even shame.

When my parents married, my father was unable to hold down a job.  His mouthy demeanor swirled like a dust cloud of obnoxious irresponsibility.  Finally, his parents gave him a job in the family business.  They also bought my parents’ first house…and thought nothing to use their key.  They felt entitled: their twenty-three year old son with a wife and a baby on the way couldn’t even handle the basics of life without their help.  No one let my father forget it, either.  He needed too much help too often; so, he was worthless.  No wonder he became a tyrant.

In my mother’s family, it was the same.  All my life, my mother has preached about responsibility.  It became natural, then, to work and go to school full-time; to earn mostly A’s in both high school and college; to feel guilty for the two B’s I made; to push myself to exhaustion always; to berate myself if my life doesn’t seem productive or successful enough; and if I had to ask for help, to expect it to be catalogued in the family memory bank as a detriment to my character.  This sounds dramatic and overblown but there is truth in this.  Not only did my mother have a first husband who couldn’t handle life, she also has three siblings who have battled various addictions for decades.  She’s seen firsthand what providing too much help can do: it gives adults permission to abscond from all responsibility and remain in a perpetual state of babyhood…and one that’s no longer cute.

This is how I learned not to ask for help.  Who wants to be like the father or relatives who needed too damn much and who never seemed to grow or to learn?  I certainly didn’t.  I determined I was never going to be weak.

And I’m not.  After a very long time of living with an abstract of what responsibility “should” look like, I learned and championed personal responsibility for my own happiness and identity.  I took a giant risk, dug into my core and pulled out who I really am.  In doing so, I began to learn balance.  Finally, several years ago, I even got to the point where I could ask to be helped.  These lessons I learned, I now teach to others.

But then I began to falter.  In putting myself into the public more and more, I’ve regressed.  I stopped asking for help.  I’ve held in too much.  Superficially, it looks like arrogance and ego: shouldn’t a person who teaches how to deal with life more honestly have it all together?  The greater part is fear: if you see just how human I am, you may misunderstand my strength and ridicule me as a fraud. 

Addicted to doing it all on my own: can you think of a weaker way to exist?

I’m not weak.  Not anymore.  Finally human, I now ask for help.

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