Asking for help
Lisa A. Lieberman, MSW, LCSW
For many years, people have showered me with compliments about my strength in facing personal challenges. In truth, I often feel overwhelmed and isolated. Something happened recently to help me realize that opening the door to ask others for help may be the most effective coping strategy I can develop.
A few years ago, my family experienced an especially demanding three months. My husband had an acute gastrointestinal problem, independent of the usual challenges of his multiple sclerosis. The assistance he required beyond his usual needs was extremely taxing for all of us. In addition, a live-in caregiver moved out, leaving a gap in evening and weekend coverage, as well as in cooking dinners. Being the only able-bodied adult in my family, a large share of the work naturally fell on my shoulders.
I began to question my ability to go on, filling caregiving gaps, cooking, working full time, and advocating for our (then) 9-year-old son with autism. Only then did I realize I must start “walking my talk,” and begin to ask for help. I finally reached my limit. I knew that if I did not change my attitude about “not being a burden to others,” I would be causing a greater crisis for me and my family, both physically and emotionally.
I took the risk. One night while visiting with neighbors, I finally got the courage to ask. I let them know how hard things were, and that I was no longer able to handle everything alone. I suggested some frozen meals would go a long way toward getting us through the current crisis. After that it became easier to ask others for support. Within two weeks, five different people brought us meals. It not only helped not to have to worry about cooking, but I began to notice that the despair of feeling isolated had lifted; no longer did I feel quite so alone.
In trying to survive without “being a bother,” I ended up feeling even more isolated. Until then I hadn’t understood how mutuality rests both in asking for and in giving help.
I came to realize that I have much to gain when I strive to be more open to what others have to give. So often, people look at those of us whose children have challenges and wonder how we manage, but may do not grasp what would be helpful. In my experience, people mostly enjoy being able to give to others. Our gift to them is to say what we need. In actuality, when we tell people what we need, we are inviting them into our circle to participate more intimately in our lives.
Lisa A. Lieberman, MSW, LCSW is a psychotherapist with over 28 years of experience, and the author of A Stranger Among Us: Hiring In-Home Support for a Child with Autism Spectrum Disorders or Other Neurological Differences