“Pain is not a sign of weakness, but bearing it alone is a choice to grow weak.” ~Lori Deschene
When given the chance, I would much rather bear pain on my own, thank-you-very-much. It's incredibly difficult for me to be vulnerable and ask for help. To share my pain with someone else.
I think partly it's from my upbringing—living in the U.S. self-sufficiency is valued. We so often praise the individual who has done extraordinary things and see it as a sign of strength that they accomplished all of it on their own.
I can understand that; it's led to a lot of independence and innovation. However, I'm also noticing a shift in understanding, of how no one is an island, we are all interconnected, and everything we do affects others.
It's easy to want to hole up and hunker down when the going gets tough, to “grin and bear it” and keep others in the dark. Being human means I've had my share of pain, but I'm also coming to value sharing my pain with others.
I've come to believe we are not meant to bear pain on our own.
A few years ago while adjusting the volume on my cellphone, I tripped down the stairs. (Note to self, pay more attention when walking down the stairs.)
My ankle swelled up to the size of a grapefruit, and I had ugly purple and black bruises to boot. I tore some ligaments and had a suspected fracture. Needless to say I would not be running any marathons in the immediate future.
It was painful not only on a physical level, but also an emotional one. In my experience, being basically bed-ridden brought up all the issues I normally didn't have to face—one of those being humility.
I couldn't walk, I couldn't do laundry because that required going down stairs, I couldn’t grocery shop, I couldn't do anything but lie in my bed with my ankle propped on what seemed to be a thousand pillows.
As someone who prides herself on being independent, this was excruciating. The very last thing I ever wanted to do was ask for help, and there I was, needing it in a very big way.
I'm not an expert on this topic (if such an expert exists!) so the only thing I can do is share with you my own experience.
Humility is not thinking I am inferior or superior to anyone else; it means understanding who I am and what I am capable of.
When I sprained my ankle I wasn't capable of very much, which leads me into three tips for asking for help, because ultimately, bearing pain alone is a choice to grow weak. We need help.
1. Admit what you're incapable of.
While immobilized, I realized I was literally incapable of doing things I used to take for granted. That humility took me off the “should” train (i.e. I “should” be able to wash my dishes) and put me on the track of asking for help.
2. Swallow your pride.
This is closely aligned with step one but it's not exactly the same. It's fine and dandy to admit I couldn't wash my own dishes, but I was still tempted to try anyway. Swallowing my pride meant not only was I unable to wash my dishes, but also admitting someone else could.
3. Ask for help.
The previous two steps finally culminated in asking for help. I called my dear friend, crying, because I had a sink full of dishes and couldn't stand long enough to clean them. She was happy to come over and wash them for me.
I think quite often in U.S. society there's an emphasis on doing. It's often advised that we get out there and help others, that we be of service, that we put aside our own troubles. But not much is talked about being the receiver.
A friend of mine reminded me there are two parts to service: giving and receiving. That means somebody has to be on the receiving end. Somebody has to ask for help. Somebody has to say, “I can't do this alone.”
I know this post focused on physical pain, but it applies to mental, emotional, and spiritual pain as well.
I dream of a world where we all ask for help when we need it.
A world where we understand it's weakness not strength that binds us. A world where we see true strength and humility is about knowing when to ask for help. A world where we understand we were never meant to suffer through pain on our own.
Because of my own change and transformation, I know another world is possible.
Photo by BaileyRayWeaver