Thursday, March 24, 2011

Letting Go of Perfection and Asking for Help

Lately, I've started several blog posts, only to abandon them when a couple days have passed and I've been unable to edit them--usually due to attempts at keeping the puppy out of trouble.  My need for perfection is standing in the way of blogging, so I'm giving myself permission to post sometimes without spending time editing and polishing my work. As my first therapist used to say, "Laurie, you can be perfect later." Amen.

That said, here's what's on my mind tonight.  After reading SARK's eLetter about asking for help and talking with my cousin, who's still on crutches after skipping a step on the same day as I did, I can't help thinking back to the last time I was on crutches and how hard it was for me to ask for help then.

This was in the spring of 2006.  I'd taken my very first spinning class and, not knowing much about the way the bikes worked, thoughtlessly took my foot out from the cage on the pedal and ended up having it whip around and do considerable damage to the front of my right shin.  An ambulance ride to the ER and many stitches later, I returned home on crutches with the fear that if I put weight on my leg, the stitches would not stay in place (to put it delicately).  I learned quickly that crutches leave you without any way to hold on to things as you travel from place to place, and they are not fun to use while climbing or descending stairs (I spent a lot of time bumping up and down on my butt!).  At the time, I was happily unemployed, but I felt the need to prove my worth by doing far more with each day than I had while working. I honestly don't know what felt so urgent to me, or why I was so stubborn and prideful (my mother would say that's my natural state...), but my determination to deal with the situation on my own and avoid being a burden in any way not only made things much, much harder for me, but caused a great deal of consternation for my caring, considerate, thoughtful husband, Sean.  He tried to help me in every way possible, and he never made me feel bad about the situation, even though it meant more work for him, regardless of my rejection of his help.  My reaction to his offers of assistance was downright surly, and left him very confused.  Within a week, he'd stopped offering to help, and I felt bereft and angry at myself.  My internal critics jeered, "Well, now you're stuck doing it yourself. You can't go back now and ask for help after you convinced him you're fine on your own..."

I remember thinking (when I was alone and no longer under the spell of the green-eyed monster who seemed to control my tongue) that rejecting Sean's help felt a lot like my experiences as a child: I wanted to be able to do things on my own, even if I failed. Not being able to do a task felt better, at least, than the failure of having to ask someone else to do it for me. I believed this even though I also believed--at the same time--that my injury was God's way of forcing me to slow down my pace after I'd ignored fifty less dramatic messages from Him.  Why didn't I take advantage of the experience to slow down?  Why did it matter so much to prove that I could still make dinner from scratch, even if I had to scoot around the kitchen in an office chair to do it?

It seems I spent most of my days feeling terribly alone, crying in frustration at what I couldn't accomplish, and cursing my body for being unable to do what I needed it to do.  Nevertheless, I turned away offers of help from Sean, my neighbors, and my friends.  I wish I had a pithy After School Special ending to this story, but I don't: eventually my body healed and I went back to my usual schedule, convincing myself that the experience had taught me to move at a slower pace. In many ways, I did learn that lesson: I became aware that it was possible for the world to go on even if I wasn't controlling every minute particle of my environment.  However, I didn't learn the most important lesson of all: asking for help, especially when you need it.

Even though I know that giving a friend the chance to help you can sometimes do more for your friendship than anything you might give or do for your friend, I still find it terribly hard to let others help me.  My therapist has guided me into asking for assistance more, and I've learned some new things from those experiences: not only do people appreciate the chance to help, sometimes they even find it fun!  For instance, every year before our big holiday party, I invite my female neighbors and close friends over to help me make food for the party.  We have the best time!  I feel guilty about it every year, but those who come truly seem to enjoy it and look forward to our time together.

I have a long way to go towards feeling comfortable asking for "more and more" as SARK encourages in her eLetter, but I have hope that I'm moving in the right direction. Hopefully you're doing that too...or maybe you've already learned how to accept help!  If so, I'd love to hear about your experiences and advice on how to get there.  If you're working on it, let me know what you have learned and what you hope to do in the future. 

Let's work on leaning into the support others offer us, just like we did when practicing "trust falls" at camp, where we yelled out, "Falling!" to let the others know we were about to lean back, trusting them to keep us from hitting the ground.  I have faith that, if we let ourselves fall into their offers of help, our friends will catch us.



  1. Beautiful post, friend. I don't edit emails or blogs, myself, for I find it freeing. We spend our whole day catering to perfection and others expectations of it, so when I blog I give myself permission to "let it go." I'm very proud of you! I enjoy your illustration here very much! Keep on bloggin! Oh, and once in awhile, when a friend calls offering help take her up on it ;0)(wink). Love, Rebeccs :0) Be well soon, friend!

  2. Great job getting in touch with those feelings. Even as a child you hated having anyone teach you (like how to tie your shoes. You seemed to think that you should know how by yourself. You didn't want to progress to the next grade level because you didn't know it yet! It's interesting that we all have life challenges to work on. Some don't bother. I'm proud of you that you struggle for understanding and growth. Love, Mom

  3. This has been a life-long struggle for me as well. I grew up in a family that prided itself (maybe a little too much) on "not needing nothin' from nobody". Looking back, I can see many times where we struggled in various ways, when I'm sure there were family members, neighbors, church members, etc., who would have gladly helped out and come to our aid, but my Dad would not let them. He was just too proud to ask for help. He seemed to have this misguided notion that asking for help not only showed your weakness - nearby making him less of a man, and also that it would leave him indebted to that person and would somehow "owe" them, and that was not something he ever wanted to do. I'm not sure why he felt this way, perhaps it was the way he was raised as well, my grandparents died when I was 3 and 4, so I don't remember them enough to know what their life was like. I do know that Dad was born just after the great Depression and so living in those times and through the second World War probably shaped a lot of who he became - the pick yourself up by your bootstraps - sort of person that he is.

    Anyways, I digress! God (or Heavenly Father, as I've been taught to call him), has given me many opportunities to ask for help in the past few years. When I originally read this blog a year ago (yikes!), I was quickly approaching year #2 of unemployment. I don't think I have to go into any sort of detail to explain what a challenge that was. Yet, it actually worked out pretty well. When I lost my job, my parents were going through some pretty serious martial issues, and 3 months afterwards, they separated (and ultimately divorced) and Mom came to live with me. This was a HUGE blessing in a number of ways - 1)She had a little bit of income as she qualified for Social Security and so with her "accountant" abilities she was able to stretch a dollar way beyond the point that I would have thought it would have ripped in half! HA ha! 2) It gave us the opportunity to grow closer together. Mom and I have always been close, but since I left home and "set out on my own" we hadn't been as close as we once were. Living in a 700 square-foot 1 bedroom apartment gave us lots of chances to get to know each other - perhaps even a little more than we wanted to - ha ha! It was a great time of healing for both of us. I learned that their marriage had never completely been the fairy tale that I thought it was.

    So all I can say at the end of this is....


    1. continuing...

      This unemployment journey set in motion a myriad of other things that have turned out to be blessing for me and for Mom. During my unemployment, I was grateful receipenent (spelling?) of a state grant to be trained in a new vocation that would hopefully lead back to employement once again. After some soul-searching, I decided to go back and revisit an old "interest" that I had when I had first entered college that was squelched by my Dad at the time. I was interested in medicine, but my Dad made it clear that 4 years of college and 4 years of medical school were not in the family budget. So, now I had a chance to explore this field once again, but of course on a much smaller scale. It had to be something I could complete in less than 1 year After some research, I decided to enroll in a Pharmacy Tech program at a local community college. I did very well in the program, graduated 2nd from the top in the class and ended up finding employment 2 months later (last July) at the corporate center for Walgreens just 5 miles from my house! I love my job and I can honestly say that I look forward to going to work everyday and it gives me a huge feeling of satisfaction knowing that I am doing something that is either helping people get well, or at least helping them have the best quality of life that they can during their remaining time of this earth. I have been with them 9 months now, and I just got a promotion last month and am now a Senior Tech, helping out the Technicians who work from home as well as the Pharmacists. I love it! I've even made the decision to start persuing the long journey to becoming a pharmacist myself. I have some pre-requisite courses I need to complete, but then the company offers tuition reimbursement for those who are interested in becoming pharmacists - through a college that is only about 20 miles away. I think in the next few years I will be entering that program. Do you think being over 40 is too old to go back to school?

    2. continuing...
      These past few months I have had another opportunity to ask for help. I was diagnosed with asthma about 3 years ago. Its something I have kind of suspected I had since I was younger, but was never formally diagnosed. It seems that I don't fit into the "traditional" signs/symptoms of asthma - which made it harder to diagnose. So it basically came down to a doctor saying "we're going to ignore the numbers and call this asthma and start treating it!" Most of the time I do really well, but the stress of a new job (with no sick time), the holidays, and helping Mom plan her wedding, my immune system got depleted and became really sick with bronchitis. Since I didn't have any sick time, I was still forced to work even on the days when I was not feeling good. So I would use my nebulizer in the morning, take my inhalers with me (and generally use them a couple of times during the day) and then use my nebulizer at night when I got home. One never realizes how hard it is to function when you are not getting enough oxygen. There were many days when it took all the energy I had just to get to work and back. But it never seemed to fail, there would always been someone calling and asking to bring dinner, or just showing up at my doorstep when I got home. They will probably never know how much those meals meant to me. Even though they weren't generally gourmet, just the thought of not having to cook was a blessing in and of itself. Remember one day in particular I was having a tough time breathing, I got a phone call during my lunch break from a friend at church. She appologized for botherng me, but said she just had this strong feeling that she needed to call me, but didn't know why. I of course burst into tears. I didn't even need to say anything, she knew I was having a hard time. Before I could get a word in edgewise she had already made plans to come and get me at work. "Just tell me what time and give the address", she said. I started to protest - she refused to listen and said not to argue, she wasn't doing anything that night and would be there when I got off. Indeed she was, along with her husband, and a cheeseburger, fries and a drink. She drove me home in my car, while I ate (it tasted like filet mignon by that time) and her husband followed in theirs so she would have a ride back home. Later that night she again called to check on me, and make sure I was doing okay. For several days afterwards, she sent me a text to check on me and make sure I had food, etc. I will never be able to thank her enough for what she did. My only hope is to someday be able to return the favor, if not to her, then to someone else.

  4. Beautiful comments, Julie! Thanks for sharing your journey! I'm so thrilled that things have worked out so well for you and your mom. You're both people dear to my heart and I wish you the very best. You deserve it!!! I'm so glad you didn't follow your dad's example. My dad is the same way, and it's hard to shake that off. But I've come to believe (though I'm still learning to put it into practice) that when we give someone the chance to help us, we're doing a mitzvah (good deed) for them, and for us. :) So proud of you for following your dreams. You'd make an excellent pharmacist and I can only imagine how much good you've already done in your current career! :D