For the past two and a half weeks since my surgery I have dealing with various degrees of helplessness. Those first few days the only thing I could do by myself was go to the bathroom and trust me when I tell you I would have gladly paid someone to do it for me. I couldn't get in and out of bed without help. I couldn't get dressed. I couldn't even make myself food.
I could also talk about how much I've battled with my mind over feelings of being unattractive, being useless, being replaceable and unnecessary but I probably won't much. Not today. There's still a part of me that worries what others will think about my decision to have this surgery and since it was elective it's hard to rationalize the feelings I've had. I can't really feel sorry for myself if I asked for this, right? If you've ever recovered from major surgery you know there is a pretty standard post-op depression that hits you regardless of whether the surgery was medically necessary or elective. So in that regard I would say I'm nothing if not text book.
Today I have been thinking about the art of asking for help. I'm horrible at it. Down right awful. It doesn't matter if it's emotional, physical or financial help that I need - the chances of me asking for it are slim to absolutely none. I'd like to think that's the case because I'm severely independent. And maybe because I'm amazingly tough and resilient. A badass even. Help schmelp. I got this.
I don't like to ask for help because I don't want to owe anybody anything. And because if I ask for help it means I wasn't good enough or perfect enough to take care of it myself. And frankly, doing it all myself ensures that it will get done the way I'm used to and I don't have to step out of my little perfectionist comfort zone (read: defense mechanism) and be open to anyone else's ideas. Here's is where being an over-achiever really shows it's down side. Because you just simply can't always do it all.
Asking for help, needing someone, unable to do it all on my own - this is my vulnerability nightmare.
Enter me, buck ass naked, dripping wet from my first post-op shower, sliced open from hip to hip and three drainage tubes ends hanging from a makeshift necklace so they don't rip from my body and still bleeding and oozing from places. I can't dry myself. I can't dress myself. And God forbid I drop those clean underpants on the floor before I manage to get them on. Three feet never seemed so grand a distance until you can't bend over to pick something up. Trust me. I spent a couple of minutes staring at them once, calculating the acrobatics it would take to get them off the floor, before I called for help. I was beaten by the underpants. The big, giant, granny panty, cheap Wal-Marty underpants I bought just for this recovery. You win high waisted briefs. You win.
You really can't feel more vulnerable than that. Even so, when you've been married as long as I have you learn to accept help from your spouse a little more easily than from others. He's been a trooper these past couple of weeks and I'm eternally grateful. This has been a messy, difficult and altogether unsexy recovery and he's put up with all of it without complaint.
The bigger problem lies with letting others help. I have had numerous texts and calls and messages asking, "Do you need anything? Can I bring you anything? Can I make a meal?".
Funny enough, I know there's no better feeling than to know you have helped someone. "What can I do to help?" is always the first thing out of my mouth when something happens to someone I care about. More often then not I frantically race to organize a meal train for the family of a friend who just had emergency surgery or raise some money or supplies for an employee who's home burned down or flowers for a friend who just lost her baby. But this isn't for selfless reasons. It's totally selfish in that it calms that "Oh my God, I have to do something to help" feeling that makes me feel so useless. Nothing cures a feeling of uselessness than organizing a meal train. I promise.
Which reminds me that a friend offered to organize a meal train for my family after learning of my upcoming surgery. I declined. How could I accept a meal train for an elective cosmetic surgery? I mean, the nerve of people wanting to help and wanting to feel better for having done so? Guess who spent 9 hours in the kitchen making 18 freezer meals for her family rather than asking for help?
What does it say about me that I don't want others to also be comforted by being helpful just as I have been comforted? I can say it's a pride issue but I'd be lying. It's actually more about fear. I'm afraid to let others in and to need them because in the needing I'm vulnerable to being hurt again by those that I need most. Simple as that. And if I refuse to ask for help when I need it most does it change the meaning behind the help that I give to others? I'm starting to think maybe it does.
This morning I listened to a TED talk from this years conference by musician Amanda Palmer on the subject of The Art of Asking. She spoke of her experience turning her music over to the public for free and asking for help in the way of crowd funding instead of relying on her unsupportive record label. She ended up succeeding with the biggest music crowd funding project to date. When asked how she was able to make people pay for her music she said, "The real answer is I didn't make them. I asked them. And through the very act of asking people I connected with them. And when you connect with people, people want to help you."
If you have read my past blogs you know that I am working very hard to deal with feelings of shame and unworthiness. And you also know I've learned that connection with others and garnering empathy is the first way to defeating shame. The only way to do those things is to be vulnerable. For me, today, that means asking for help. (See - I'm still on topic - just had to go round the outside for a bit to find my way back to it.)
It doesn't matter if you are battling depression, illness or financial troubles. You could be feeling overwhelmed with your work and not sure how to delegate. You may be feeling like a failure as a parent because you just can't do it all. Or you may be struggling to do something as simple as dry yourself off after a shower. It doesn't matter how easy or difficult the task if it feels like you can't do it alone. Relying solely on yourself and never asking for help is most certainly the quickest path to feeling like a failure when you don't succeed. Lena Horne once said, "It's not the load that breaks you down; it's the way you carry it". Maybe that load won't feel so difficult if you let someone else carry the heavy end for a bit.
The point is - ask for help. Let those that love you in so that they can feel useful. It's a form of generosity to allow them to do so and feel good knowing they made a difference. You'll be happy to know I've accepted several meals for my family. And the help I've cherished the most is that of my friends and family who have just offered to visit and spend some time with me during my recovery. What a boon to my spirit. Thank you so much.
Some may say that asking for help is a blow to their pride. I would argue that asking for help actually builds your pride rather than detracts from it. It makes you stronger. You may feel weak at first but, with the help of someone that loves you, in no time you will be strong enough to put your underwear on all by yourself like a big kid. And that's something to be proud of.