“Ask for help. Not because you are weak. But because you want to remain strong.” ~Les Brown
I sat in the doctor’s office, waiting—linen gown hanging off me, half exposed—while going through the checklist in my mind of what I needed help with. I felt my breathing go shallow as I mentally sorted through the aches and pains I couldn’t seem to control.
Fierce independence and learning to not rely on others are two of the side effects of my particular trauma wounds, stemming from early childhood neglect and abandonment. During times of heightened stress, my default state is one of significant distrust.
Letting people in and asking for help has never been my strong suit.
Not only did it prove painful at times, asking for help has also proven to be unsafe. I’ve been given poor and damaging advice from people I assumed knew more than me. I’ve emotionally attached to people who disappeared when I least expected it. I’ve been lied to, betrayed, and left behind when my help was no longer useful.
I’ve been injured both physically and emotionally when relying on others to care for me and have been let down more times than I can possibly recall.
I have plenty of reasons to convince myself that no one can help me. That I’m in this life all alone. Some days I feel just that.
Other days, I sit in my doctor’s office ready to make myself vulnerable one more time looking for support that I’ve been unable to give myself. Hoping, fingers crossed, that maybe this time I’ll be seen, heard, and cared for.
When the doctor walked in, I was writing a note on the depression screening form justifying why I feel sad some days. I know it’s normal to feel sad doing the work I do as a mental health therapist. Working with people’s sad can be sad. I wanted to be upfront.
And also, I’ve been focusing on healing the trauma in my body that injured my nervous system starting in infancy. Actively inviting my body to retrieve its pain to set it free and regulate my system to a state that is considered normal. Except I don’t know what normal feels like.
Her very first questions to me: “Are you getting back what you put into your work? Is it worth it?”
I blink, unsure if I heard her correctly.
“Are you asking me if the work I’m doing is more depleting than rewarding? Am I receiving as much as I’m giving?” I ask.
“Yes,” she responds assuredly.
She sees me. She actually sees me. I ask myself this very question every day.
This one question cracks me wide open. I know I can trust her.
I hear words pouring out of my mouth explaining the work I’ve been doing with myself. My intention to heal my nervous system and my body, how hard it’s been to feel all the emotional pain that’s come up and the subsequent physical pain that comes and goes to remind me just how deep all this stuff runs.
I shared with her my most recent discovery—my earliest known physical trauma at nine months old, when my mother gagged me to make me throw up to “protect” me.
When her behavior was discovered, she was admitted to a hospital for psychiatric services for over a month. My brother and I were placed in the care of anyone who was available to watch us.
At the most important time for healthy attachment and trust to form, I was taught that survival meant staying clear of those who are assigned to protect you. They can hurt you. And the world was not a safe place.
This was the first of many experiences in my life that would drill in the same belief. My body spent years trying to protect me by tensing up, shaking, or wanting to flee when I sensed any kind of danger—being trapped, pressured, controlled, or trusting authority figures was high on my list of subconscious nos.
To me, there was no logic to the way my body reacted to what seemed the smallest threat, so I shamed myself for it.
I couldn’t understand why driving on the highway put me in an instant state of hypervigilance. Why I would wake up in the middle of the night unable to breathe. Why the bright lights and enormous amount of stimuli in the grocery store made me freeze the moment I walked in. Why perceived conflict made me want to curl up into myself or attack and bail.
All I knew was I was not “normal,” and I felt like I had no control over it.
I recall the first infomercial that serendipitously came across the screen during a sleepless night while I was traveling in my early twenties. At the time I always slept with the television on to drown out the noise of my thoughts in the silence of night. A woman talked about her struggle with anxiety and the way it internally took over her life. I immediately tuned in.
She was talking about me. She was talking about so many of us. I couldn’t believe someone understood what I desperately tried to hide and despised about myself.
It was the first of many books, programs, methodologies, and practices I would try. It was the first time I felt seen and sought help.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want help. I just didn’t trust it, nor was I comfortable with being vulnerable enough to ask for it. Particularly because I had proof that when I did rely on people, they could turn on me, or even worse, leave.
And then there was the cultural push to just “suck it up” or accept that “it is what it is.” Key words to encourage us to abandon ourselves.
Sucking it up is exhausting, and it doesn’t help. It doesn’t change what’s hard, and from what I can tell, years of sucking it up never made me stronger. Just more certain I was stuck in this mess of myself alone.
Even though I help people for a living, and fully understand that I am the help I encourage people to seek, I forgot that I, too, was able to ask for help.
This meant I had to have the courage to let my guard down. To let go of the feeling of burden I was afraid to put on another. To remember that every single one of us has our hardships, and we actually want to be needed and helpful to another when we have the space.
It’s why we are here as humans. To give love and receive it. When I give someone the opportunity to love or support me, it gives them the chance to feel the fullness of my gratitude. To receive love back from me in return and feel needed and wanted as well. It is also the most solid reminder for both of us that we are never actually alone.
We need each other.
It is a practice for me to remember this. It’s also a practice to remind myself that I have been cared for far more often than I’ve been hurt. That those who have harmed me or left me had their own burdens to bear that I was not meant to be a part of. And that every time I do ask for help, like in my doctor’s office, and receive it wholeheartedly, I am able to keep myself filled and balanced to be able to help the people I care about even more.
I exhaled when my doctor acknowledged me. I knew it was safe to let her in, yet I still swallowed tears while I did so. Her validation of my challenge felt comforting; her support, the extra oxygen I needed. Knowing the value of support has never made it easy for me to ask, but it has made it easier.
As humans we are regularly encouraged to give, yet it is equally important to learn to receive. We need both to keep ourselves balanced and in flow so we can be the love we want to feel. To give is a powerful feeling, while receiving can make us feel a little vulnerable. That’s okay. The more courage we use to ask for help, the more strength we have to give out in return.
If you are feeling resistance to seeking help, ask yourself where your fear lies. Is it a current concern or is it one from the past? Does vulnerability make you uneasy or bring up insecurities you have around being judged or feeling like a burden? Or do you feel it’s hard for you to let your guard down and trust another?
When resistance lingers, choose people who’ve been loyal and consistently supportive in the past. If you don’t have any relationships like that, or if involving your personal relationships feels too uncomfortable, consider professional support. There are affordable and even free resources available, if money is an issue.
The key is to remember that you, too, deserve a place to be you and invite in the help that everyone needs at times. To release your burdens so you can stand back up and move forward with more ease and a lighter load. So you have the strength to be a support for others and also for yourself.
When feeling weighed down, ask for help—whatever that looks or feels like for you. The past may have taught you what you don’t want, but you have the power to choose what you do want in the present. There are people out there who you can rely on and who want to be there for you. They are simply waiting for you to ask.
So go ahead and let someone in. No one needs to or is expected to navigate this wild life alone. Not even you.