When You Suck At Accepting Help

I’ve long said that the six most annoying words anyone can say to a caregiver are, “You need to take care of yourself.” Why? Because, no sh*t. You don’t think we know that? You don’t think we are acutely aware that we can’t go down because there are people depending on us, and, well, because we don’t have time. Don’t tell us the obvious. Tell us how to make time for self-care. I could go on. But today, I want to add another six words that are not only annoying; they’re triggering. And they are, “You need to let people help.”

Some background: My husband is sick and he has many medical appointments – sometimes five in one week. And there are visiting nurses to schedule and prescriptions to fill and PIC lines to flush. And then there is life and work and kids and picking up the slack of all of the things he used to do – which was pretty much everything. And you know what else there is to do? Go to therapy to dig into why I am bad at accepting help.

I knew I wasn’t totally comfortable with help. I’m private. I’m independent. Being capable makes me feel good. But apparently I totally suck at it. At least that’s the message I’m getting.

“People want to help.”

“Are you asking for help?”

“You need to accept help.”

“Why aren’t you getting more help?”

More help?! You see, I’m getting tons of help. If there is an upside to this illness (and I believe there is an upside to everything), it’s that I have in some cases reaffirmed, and in other cases discovered, how many amazing people care about me. Like tons and tons and that’s overwhelming – in a good way. Family, friends, neighbors, people I don’t even know that well in the community, have been so amazingly generous. Not only have they been helping with tasks and chores and moral support, they’ve been helping me grow my gratitude practice. Because I am so, so, so grateful.

They’ve also taken me way out of my comfort zone. In the last few months this proud and stubborn woman has accepted, what I thought, was lots of help. I’ve accepted cash, and gift cards, and freezers full of food. I’ve accepted manual labor and asked for rides for my kids – I’ve even asked for people to drive out of their way. I really thought I was growing as a person.

I know I have a long way to go; when people ask, “What can I do?” I ignore the question. But when people do something, I am truly grateful, and hopefully gracious. I know that it makes others feel good to help, and I don’t mean to take that opportunity from anyone, but the fact of the matter is, I don’t know how to answer.

  • You could shop and cook for us I guess. But really it was time this 50-year old woman became familiar with a grocery store and learned how to cook chicken. I mean, life skills, right?
  • You could clean the house for us. But why would I ask you to do something we haven’t done in 24 years of marriage?
  • You could drive my kids home from school. But don’t you think it’s a little pathetic that kids these days can’t walk a mile and a half?
  • You could take my husband to his appointments. But haven’t you heard doctor’s visits are the new date night?
  • You could take my daughter to soccer. But drive time is the only time she actually talks to me and I can’t give that up.

The only thing I really need and can’t seem to make time for is therapy or Doesn’t Accept Help Anonymous meetings. Because when you find yourself Googling, “When you suck at receiving help,” because you’ve heard yet again, “You need to let people help,” and you thought you were, you must need help with getting help.

So, can you help?

You might also like:

Asking for Help: Overcoming Common Barriers and Obstacles


7 comments on “When You Suck At Accepting Help”

  1. Haralee Reply

    I like the idea of a list of how people can help. On the spot you have a ‘go to’! Like when family asks what to get your kid for their birthday or a what to pick up at a Costco run. A list is a great idea as is a nicely cooked chicken dinner.

  2. Corinne Rodrigues Reply

    I have a huge problem with asking for and accepting help, even though I’m ready to give my all for someone else! It’s something I’m working on. Your post made me smile.

  3. Sara Reply

    I completely agree that I get tired of hearing “what are you doing for YOU?” I wish I could relate to what it would be like to have “too much help”. There is a couple 3 doors down who’ve been genuinely helpful, making meals for us about 4 times per year and occasionally giving Dad a ride here or there. However, all other “help” has been the kind in which people ask why I’m doing something ‘this’ way or why I’m not doing something ‘that’ way.
    Mom had made a mess in her pullups one day so I was 10 min late picking up Dad from mass. There were 3 ladies surrounding him when I drove up to the post where he stands under a covered area to wait. They all glared at me when I got out of the car to get Dad’s walker. One exclaimed “We thought you were in an accident!” I said nothing. Another asked, in a tone of panic, “Does the church have your phone number?” “they do”, I answered. After I put his walker in, I drove off feeling more deflated than I already was.
    My only sibling comes over to beg for money and talk about how hard his life is, while his wife complains to Dad or Mom about how I haven’t pulled the weeds in the flower bed or how messy the house is, and how she needs $800 for a flight to go see her “dying” daughter from a previous marriage.

    • admin Reply

      Sorry to hear you are so unsupported Sara. Do me a favor: before you go to bed at night, look yourself in the mirror and say, “Thank you.” Sounds like you are doing a pretty amazing job. And the only person whose opinion matters is the one staring back at you in the mirror.

  4. Lisa Ricard Claro Reply

    I am not a caregiver but am on the other side of the fence, and I’m guilty of the “What can I do?” question and “Please take care of yourself” comment. *hangs head* Is it still better to ask or to be more proactive, i.e., “Hey, I make a mean lasagne. Which day this week would a prepared meal like that make your life easier?” Is that better than the generic, “What can I do?”

    • admin Reply

      I believe it is Lisa. Working daughters often suffer from decision fatigue so even simple questions can feel like a big deal. Thanks!

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