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Why is receiving help so hard?

Updated: May 11

A close friend that I don't often talk to (do you have lovely friends like this?) recently learned of my awful winter. She wanted to do something to help me even though I had already crawled out of the pit of despair.

After offering some serious resistance to my friend's kind gesture, I allowed her to come to my home and clean my bathrooms. We struggled to find a time that worked for both of us, so she ended up cleaning downstairs while I was involved with a musical rehearsal in my living room.

This arrangement was emotionally chafing for a few reasons.

  • I am completely capable of cleaning my bathrooms...and so are my children!

  • The messy state of affairs in my house is embarrassing and should not be seen by anyone who doesn't live here.

  • My friend is a busy woman and has better things to do.

  • Surely my musician friends will wonder why a healthy woman has a cleaning service, especially a free one.

Why is receiving help so hard?

Last night I happened upon an article from the New York Times called "Do You Find it Hard to Let Other People Help You?" by Shannon Doyne. The tagline reads: "I'll do it myself. You don't have to bother. I can handle it."

Boy howdy, those statements ring true! The author shares an example of a friend offering kindnesses that she struggled to accept. Then she relates, "My friend's generosity made me realize that I do want for something. I want someone else to take care of me. Articulating this felt dangerous, vulnerable. Generally, I want to not want."

Ms. Doyne's observations are on point for society in general (at least in my experience) and for people struggling with mental illness specifically. Whether we're talking about dust bunnies or demons of the mind, we typically don't want others to see our messes. As open as I am about my illnesses, I still struggle to accept them myself. Though I advocate for standing up and speaking out, I sometimes question the arguments that vulnerability is okay and letting people in is the healthy choice.

It's interesting to note that I have no trouble walking into other people's messy places. I never judge those messes, whether physical or mental. It is so easy for me to craft a positive, empathetic narrative about another person: "She has had a rough year. She's just human. I relate to that completely. I'm so glad she let me in; that was brave." Why is it so hard to offer such kind and caring opinions about myself?

Ms. Doyne shares: "Maybe it would help to relinquish our hard-protected, false sense of self-sufficiency. I'm gratefully accept offerings from friends, family, and strangers: a home-cooked dinner...a house by the sea, a few minutes of unexpected conversation. I feel buoyed by a friend who unabashedly texts "I love you" every now and then, apropos of nothing."

The article concludes with a series of thought-provoking questions. I will share one here.

Have you ever asked for help or shared with someone that you were struggling? [Think of a time] when you accepted help, or even a kind gesture, from someone after you expressed your needs. How did it feel to share what you were going through? What did the other person say or do to help? What, if anything, did you learn from the experience?

Last night, I texted a friend at the end of a stupid day. My therapist recommended some social interaction and I chose to reach out at 10 p.m. Even as I tapped "send," I tried to talk myself out of it. My brain said, "It's too late tonight. She won't want to talk. Why can't you handle your life without bugging other people?" And then she replied, and we shared conversation about important things. Real Talk. I think we both needed it, and it might not have happened if I hadn't asked for help.

I hope that pondering the difficulty of receiving help will open you to a beautiful season of inviting and welcoming grace and generosity into your life. After all, we all need saving sometimes.

P.S. I love you!

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