I have always been proud of my physical strength. Looking at me, you may think that’s a joke; I reach 5’1″ in my thickest shoes (and that’s a stretch). Without a doubt, a Napoleon complex comes into play here. I have always had insecurities about my uncoordinated and slow nature, my appearance, and my tendency to jumble words, among heaps of other traits that have made me feel inadequate. I used to get bullied, and secretly, I would agree with those bullies about the things they would say and the way they would treat me. I disliked myself, over-all. My physical strength was one thing that I clung to. In elementary school, a substitute gym teacher made an example out of me. She wanted everyone in class to see how perfect my form for push-ups was. Another time in elementary school, I did 100 push-ups in my bedroom one night, just because I could. As I got older, I started fighting back against kids who picked on me and my friends on the playground and after school. I made a habit of helping people carry their things, but rarely let people help me. I thought I was too tough for that.
In adolescence, I experienced the failings of adults to do right by children. While I understand that such things are common, and no one is perfect, these events still affected me. There were times when I needed help and support, and went without. There were other times when I needed help and support, and was threatened to have them withheld unless I complied with certain demands. The worst times were when I expressed a need for support and was met with anger for having those needs in the first place. I witnessed my friends going through similar experiences with their parents, teachers, and other trusted adults. All of these experiences taught me that relying on others is a trap that results in disappointment or loss of control. I learned that vulnerability is unsafe, and that it is best to keep my needs to myself.
Now, in my years of young adulthood, I’m chronically ill. My strength is inconsistent at best. Now I frequently need help whether I acknowledge it, or not. I can no longer just scrape by on my own. If I depend completely on myself now, sometimes things still won’t get done.
I have recently had to make a very quick move out of an apartment building that I shared with bats, mice, roaches, and violent meth users. I packed my things rather quickly, and found another place to stay, but a lot of my boxed-up belongings and furniture are still sitting in that apartment, waiting to be dragged down the stairs and hauled away. My life feels like it’s in limbo until I can get my things out of there. I worry that my belongings will get damaged by animal droppings or a meth fire, and I know that it all needs to be out by a certain date.
Every morning, I tell myself that I will haul a few boxes after work, that it’s just a few, and I can do it, no problem. Every night, I get off work so tired and sore that I can hardly make it up or down stairs one time without any extra weight, let alone several times with heavy boxes. As I wrap up my work day, I notice my shaking hands, my tendencies to drop things and trip over myself, my dizziness and my confusion. An extra 40 pounds, stairs, and a shaking me would be a losing combination in this state.
Should I ask for help?
No, I’m fine.
I am afraid that if I rely on my family for help, I will have to either conform to their expectations, or risk ruining the relationships that I have with them.
I am afraid that if I rely on my friends for help, they will see me as a mooch, and not want to continue being friends with me.
I am afraid that if I take off work to recover, I will get fired, because I clearly don’t deserve my amazing job in the first place.
I am afraid that if I confide in people about my pain and exhaustion, they will see that I truly am weak, and that I have nothing to offer them. And if I am truly weak, I will have nothing to offer myself.
If I truly am weak, I fear that I will be indebted to an amount that I will never be able to pay back. Because my needs are stupid and anyone who helps me meet them is doing me a big fucking favor.
So I pretend that I am not weak, that I don’t need help, and everything is “no problem.” I stuff these fears into a bottle, and hope with all the energy I have left that no one shakes it.
I bottle these fears up and soldier on until I have overexerted myself, and I am too sore to function or go to work. I bottle the fears up until I am crying in my mom’s shoulder that I don’t know what to do about a body that seems to fight me on every productive decision that I make. This guilt about what I am, and the fear about what I might become, pours out of every crevice in me as I sink into a magnesium bath that I do not feel like I deserve.
I’m not giving anyone in my life enough credit, not even myself.
It’s not like I am feeling this way on purpose, but that’s how I treat myself. I treat myself like every way that I fell short of taking care of my body, leading up to the flare-up of symptoms, was an act that was both premeditated and inconsiderate at the same time. Like I wasn’t just trying to live my life the best way that I knew at the moment, and that I actually just did it because I am a stupid asshole. So I mentally punish myself. I relive the pain in my head over and over, and ask myself repeatedly why I can’t get it together and behave normally. This stress exponentially exacerbates my chronic pain symptoms. It’s not a realistic view of my actions in any given moment, and it doesn’t help me.
My friends and family love me. I can’t grasp that sometimes. When I dislike myself– when I am weak and my imperfections are screaming to be noticed– I don’t know why anyone who knows me would feel any differently than I do. I just can’t fathom it. But they keep telling me that they want to help. I am so afraid of them seeing me at my worst, but when I do show them (intentionally or not), I am pleasantly surprised by the kindness and warmth in their responses. My parents, boyfriend, and friends all remind me that it is okay to ask for and accept help. My best friend (a psychologist in training, but I swear she was born with it) gently reminds me that it is okay to talk about my feelings until I finally do it, and then she still accepts me once I do. My boss kindly reminds me that sick days are there to use, and that she hired me for a reason.
Their compassion is true. I need to wise up and accept this truth. I need to shake my maladaptive behaviors, adopt healthier ones, and move on with my life. In the pit of despair, if someone throws me a rope, I won’t ignore it or hang myself with it anymore. I won’t say “No, I’m okay, I’ll just climb the wall by grabbing at rocks with my bare hands even though I have very little arm strength,” or, worse, “What pit?” Nope, no more. The pit is real. I’m in it. My hands are tired and weak. I’m gonna use the rope that’s in front of me to climb out, and I’m gonna climb out right now, thank you.
Today, I am reaching out for help. I am inviting some friends to a moving party. It will take place on my next day off so that I can use my energy for the day on it (and not run out of energy for it before the time comes), and my friends and parents will be there to help me get it all done at once. It will be a party because I am hilarious, great company, and because I will feed my party guests afterwards. Instead of feeling guilty or afraid for needing and accepting help, I am going to be grateful for their help and enjoy their wonderful company. And I will be relieved that the moving-heavy-things problem is solved.
Accepting help is accepting the problem, but admitting any problem is the first step to fixing it. I am thankful that I have people to call on to help me fix it.
I can’t do it alone, but that’s okay, because I don’t have to.
x Anna Luparell
“I know somebody, somebody loves my ass
‘Cause they helped me beat my demon’s ass”
-Chance the Rapper, “Everybody’s Something”