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Ancient Communities vs Modern Independence
Independence is a much revered trait in the modern human being. But total independence is a bunch of bullshit. To be completely independent is to live in a bubble in which you’d die within minutes. To be alive is to be dependent; every living being breathes, and that requires synthesis. Knowing how and when to ask for help is a valuable life skill that not only improves your quality of life, but also brings out the best in others. This in turn enhances the humaneness within society.
I was reading ‘Religion for Atheists, A Non‐Believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion’ by Alain Botton (note: affiliate link), and there was a chapter dedicated to ‘community’. He spoke about the communities we used to live in, where people got to know each other at a deeper level. They had to help each other out during times of mass adversity, whether they liked one another or not. The saying ‘it takes a village’ didn’t come from nowhere.
But communities such as these rarely exist in modern spaces. People hurry by each other. An approaching stranger stirs immediate apprehension. ‘What do you want from me?” “What snake oil are you trying to sell?” “No, I have no spare change.” “Red Alert – Avoid oncoming human being: Distance = Speed * Time.” Add in an angle for better probability of avoidance. I am guilty of doing this myself; my method is to smile, mumble ‘no thanks’, and carry on walking with a firm step.
We Were Made to be Social
But community is an important aspect of being human. We were made to be social, to communicate, and to form connections, whether you’re an introvert or extrovert. In modern terms, this is also known as ‘finding your tribe’. As Aristotle sums it up:
“Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human. Society is something that precedes the individual. Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god.”
This lack of contact in modern society is one reason why it’s so sick these days. Why depression and anxiety are rampant, with loneliness cited as a modern epidemic. Having a tribe to call your own brings about many mental and emotional health benefits, and contributes to your over all wellbeing. People who live within the ‘blue zone‘ territories are known to be happier and to live longer. There are many contributing factors, with ‘family connections’ and ‘right tribe/friends’ as major ones. To know that you always have a support network to fall back on is a big reassurance and reduces stress. In fact, it can even propel you to greater heights as compared to going at it alone in life.
An Act of Survival and an Opportunity to Bond
As opposed to what many might think, there is a difference between asking for help, begging, or bossing people around. The act of asking for help is to open up your heart to reveal your vulnerabilities, from one human being to another. We all have our weaknesses. To ask and to receive help is an opportunity for love, bonding, kindness and humanity.
It is also an act of survival. There is this quote that I love, “Asking for help isn’t giving up. It’s refusing to give up”.
That pretty much sums it up, doesn’t it? You’ve reached a dead end, or you don’t have the strength to complete the race on your own, or you need an investor to give your business a chance. Whatever your need, reaching out to someone who has the capacity to give and is happy to do so, is what being human is all about. We’re all in this thing called life together, so we might as well make the most out of it. Remember, even mighty civilisations fell due to a lack of cohesion. And if not that, from climate change which brings us back to my initial point on how life is a state of interdependency.
Life Isn’t Fair, but We Have the Power to Make It a Little Better
I’m sure you’ve heard about the equality vs equity concept before. In brief, equality is where everybody begins at the same starting line, no matter their handicap or boost. A man with no legs starts at the same position as a marathon runner. Equity on the other hand, redefines that starting line based on what a person has or doesn’t have. Let’s admit, life will never be fair. But every person owns the power to make the world a little better to live in.
Revealing your weaknesses takes quite a bit of courage. Being labelled a pansy or loser isn’t very sexy, I don’t think. But no man is an island, and if you dare to be weak, then only are you able to be strong. It is about being aware that we all have weak spots, and that that’s okay. In fact, often our greatest strength is also our greatest weakness. As I wrote in another post, “call me sick girl”. Take that weakness that you’re trying to hide, and hang it out in the sun to dry. It will bother you less over time, and hopefully also weigh lighter, and evaporate at some point.
Learning how to ask for help is one of the biggest life lessons you learn when you live with chronic illnesses. It you want to live and live well, then you will need help. Full stop. Everyone in the world needs a little help, but being ill makes you more aware of this fact; it’s practically shoved right into your face every morning. There’s nothing like losing basic control of your body to alert you to this fact. Such as the days where you need help just to get from the bed to the bathroom, or when you need a nurse to shower you. Or when you’re unable to hold down a job, and can’t afford to pay for the medications you need.
Chronic Pain Changes the Rules of the Game
As they say, health is the greatest wealth. To be ill is to immediately forfeit all your god-given assets. It bankrupts your life of pleasure, quality time with friends and family, travel, and work. And also the ability to do things that you may not even like, such as housework. Yes, it can be depressing not being able to do something boring or icky. Life goals aren’t just something you reach out to pluck; they’re more like twinkling stars you try and reach out for during a rare good period. These good periods come and go like finicky toddlers. Life can become an empty husk if you let it, so you need to make an effort to maintain some sort of humanity within you.
Speaking from my own personal experiences, I started out as a very stubborn teenager (weren’t we all?). Of the seven deadly sins, mine was easily pride. Ego. I had to be the best at whatever, no matter. A real senseless waste of energy, if you ask me now. I have chronic pain to thank for that, it really is the best teacher you can get in life, besides grief. Day after day of being in immense pain will break any person, because there is no limit to it.
Being pushed around in a wheelchair for months was an eye-opener for me. Then the inabilities started to pile up over the years. I added new diagnoses, surgeries, symptoms, side effects, pain flares, A&E trips, one by one to the list. When you’re passed out on the floor, confused from a seizure. Or when you can’t even shampoo your own hair, because your fingers have frozen into claws. When you’re at your worst at almost all times. It’s quite impossible to go through all that alone, and I’m lucky and thankful that I have a good support network.
How I Learned to be Comfortable Voicing Out My Needs
My ex-partner and parents have supported me on this rubbish journey every step of the way. My ex was always proactive in lending a hand, which actually taught me how to be comfortable asking for help. He was always happy to oblige, and we even bonded over many of these painful situations. I’ve never been closer to someone else in my entire life and ironically, I have chronic pain to thank for that.
It now feels like a natural thing for me to ask for some help. Living with chronic illness trains you to be bold and to advocate for yourself, because the consequences are never worth it. There is no point pushing through pain, when I can get relief from it in one way or another. In fact, my request may only cost someone else a few seconds of their time, and take hardly any effort on their part!
Some Simple Truths to End (or Begin!) with
The simple truth is, as a person with (invisible) disabilities, I will need more help than others to get by in life. I have also learned that asking for help is not inherently wrong. What matters is the intention, what and why. This applies to both healthy and ill people alike – anyone who counts themselves as a human being. Life is about giving more than receiving, and there are no limits to some things you can give, such as gratitude and kindness.
Life is short, but it is also long when your pain or problems outnumber your capabilities, resources or threshold. There is enough suffering to go around in this world, and there are some battles you will have to fight alone. So give up the ones you can. Figure out what you could truly use some help with, then see if you can reach out to another human being to make a connection. Discipline your ego for a moment, and set this world ablaze with kindness, grace and meaning.
*Note: This article is meant for educational purposes and is based on the author’s personal experiences. It is not to be substituted for medical advice. Please consult your own doctor before changing or adding any new treatment protocols.
Read More: 7 Ways to Be a Better Friend to Someone with a Chronic Illness (and 3 Things You Should Never Do)
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For More Insight:
- A New Idea of Self-Care (wellbalancedwomen.com): http://bit.ly/2TsUVBB
- What Is Community, and Why Is It Important? (ikedacenter.org): http://bit.ly/2Z2ieY8
Wonderful insight, Sheryl! I may be your elder, but you have wisdom way beyond your years. I appreciate that you spell out how and why we need to connect with others and be brave to voice our needs. I’ve been able to ask for help when it comes to physical issues, but when it’s emotional, I lock up and lockout those who care about me. There are many reasons I have for this, but in the end, I really need to let them go and ask for help.
So true – even though asking for help is tough, it can lift us in ways we don’t realise until we don’t ask. It allows get the boost we need and also helps family / friends feel like they’re being helpful too.
Hi Shruti, yes it can be really tough, and takes a blow on your self-esteem. But I think that’s only if you view it from only one perspective. There are many perspectives to view it from, too 😀 Just yesterday I was reading a blog post on how a lady felt useless and her friend had to visit her all the time. But her friend actually felt ‘helped’ as well as it was her only alone, adult time away from her kids and own illnesses! Sending hugs to you!
Such a great post Sheryl, and perhaps particularly poignant at the time in 2020 when we are much more alone than before. Community is so important, and the support that comes with it. I am so thankful for online communities at the moment.
That’s so true, thanks for highlighting it in regards to 2020 and the pandemic. Community is definitely important now more so than ever, and the lockdown certainly increases the loneliness which we all need help with, in a sense.
Great post, Sheryl. Asking for and accepting help is something I still struggle with, even though I know I need it! I’m getting better but I still tend to have go through a battle with myself every time I need to ask! Found your post very thought provoking, thank you xx
Hi Emma, thanks for sharing your thoughts! Yes asking for help is never easy for many people! Am happy to hear you’re getting better at it though 🙂 It makes things easier for everyone all round, I think. Pushing through causes more flares and might ironically end up needing more help. Sending lots of love! xx
I love this post. I’m definitely saving this! Sometimes I notice the worse I feel the more I become stubborn and think I can do this all on my own. But most people will actually love helping. I know how I feel when I helped someone. It feels great!
Hi Kirsten, thanks so much! 😀 And yes you’re right, we all need some help sometimes 🙂 It truly brings out the best in us as human beings!
This is such a beautifully written and important post! I struggled with this so much in the beginning (and still sometimes now!).
I liked the post so much that I included it in my own Weekly Inspiration post today, with a link back here:
Thanks for the inspiration!
Thank you so much, Sue, this is such an honour! Yes I think naturally we all struggle with it as human beings. Never nice to put all your vulnerabilities on display. Thank you so much for adding the link there, I appreciate it 🙂
Such a powerful post. It’s so important that we become comfortable with asking for help. No one is meant to do this alone, we’re naturally social creatures and that should mean being able to ask for help when we need it.
Thanks Nyxie. Yes being ill really trains you to set aside your pride or fears, and just ask. When you’re in so much pain or vulnerability, there’s no point anymore. Asking for and providing help in return forms such deep connections and really adds a dynamic to humanity – perspective that is sorely lacking in our modern day black or white era.
This is a subject I feel strongly about, too. Living with chronic illness has made me be much more vulnerable and my partner doesn’t think we would have worked out it I was still a million- miles- an- hour kind of person. I think the next step is to thunk creatively about all the ways we might need to ask for help. My most difficult has been ‘can we please just meet for half an hour because longer than that is likely to make me ill’. I feel like it’s such a short amount of time but it’s really what I need the most.
Oh and on the topic of ignoring people around you, that’s one of my favourite things about living on the canals; you’re weird if you *don’t* say hello 🙂
Hi Naomi, you read my mind! My original post idea was about how to ask for help, but it ended up being more on the why, first. I suppose that’s vital to understand, before delving into the ‘how’! So keep an eye out for part 2 😉
Haha…so you need to say hi to every boat you pass by? But that sort of hello is a bit different I think, because that space in itself creates a different sort of community too, with people who are desiring a different lifestyle 😀