Seven years of boarding school have turned me into an independent monster. Add a healthy dash of stubbornness to my self-sufficiency and you’ll often find me ‘powering through’ to the point of ridiculousness. Needless to say, I’m not very good at asking for help.
Cut to midnight, a week ago. A cup of freshly boiled lemon and ginger tea all over my foot. 3 hours in A&E. Bed. Rest. Keep it elevated.
My little accident has left me completely dependant on others. I am, for all intents and purposes, confined to the sofa/bed/other comfortable surfaces until my foot is completely healed.
Sitting still doesn’t come naturally to me. Quickly and inevitably, my natural stubbornness kicked in. For the first day I was injured, I hobbled around my flat, clearing the table, tidying up and fetching and carrying with what I thought was a remarkable show of mental strength. I soon realised that my display was coming off less like bravery and more like bravado.
After a couple of painful incidents and (reiterated) strict instructions from a nurse to ‘SIT DOWN AND KEEP STILL’*, I thought I had better listen. So I sat. I propped up my burnt foot on a cushion, lined up a whole season of New Girl (Netflix and pills**) and settled in for the ride.
Since giving into the inevitable, I’ve had to ask for help with everything from taking a bath to getting a glass of water. I’ve tentatively asked friends if they would come and visit me and they’ve surprised and delighted me by saying yes. The more I asked, the more offers I’ve received. It turns out that people like making your life a little easier.
I don’t know why I was surprised; I’m a serial helper. I love doing things for other people almost as much as I hate asking them to do things for me. Not once have I resented someone who asked for my help when they genuinely needed it. Nothing creates warm fuzzies like making a positive difference to someone’s day.
On the other hand, being a serial helper has a darker side. When I’m helping other people, I’m in control of the situation. There’s no space for me to feel indebted to them, no danger of me being left high and dry.
My inability to ask for help has been a sticking point in my relationship. I punctuate any requests with endless apologies (something which drives my boyfriend mad). I believed that depending too much on him would lead to the death of the relationship. Ironically, it was my refusal to rely on him for anything that threatened to drive a wedge between us.
Something funny has happened since my injury. At first, I struggled; feeling guilty about my constant demands, I would hesitantly chime up when I needed something, an apology ripe on my lips. Then, suddenly, something clicked. Asking for help didn’t make me difficult or spoilt. I wasn’t becoming a burden or being unreasonable. I was simply a person in need of assistance.
The subtext of my resolute independence was distrust. My loved ones didn’t feel grateful for my refusal to rely on them, they felt kept at a distance. Why, when I love helping others so much, did I presume they would resent me if I gave them the opportunity to return the favour?
In order to admit my physical weakness, I had to acknowledge my mental vulnerability. It’s a lesson I’ll try to hold onto once I’m up and about again.
PS: Tip for invalids: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. It’s on Netflix, it’s got a sassy female lead, incredible costumes and some serious sexual tension. It’s THE BEST.
*She didn’t actually yell (<3 u Kim). All the doctors and nurses I’ve seen have been nothing but amazing to me. Long live the NHS.
**Ibuprofen. Who do you think I am?