This is the sixth of ten things I’d like to go back and tell my newly diagnosed self about living with RA.
Let’s face it, life can be challenging. Balancing work and home and kids and faith and finding even a little time for yourself can seem like an overwhelming whirlwind. Adding in the complications of a chronic disease pushes those balance scales even further off kilter.
So why is it so hard to ask for help?
I’ve always been a bit of a control freak. (Okay, a major control freak.) You know, one of those people who thinks if they want it done right and want it done right now, they’d better do it themselves. Let’s face it, it’s really not helpful if someone empties your dishwasher and then you then have to spend three days trying to find where they put everything. Or it’s not really helping if it takes more time and energy to show someone else how to do something than it does just to do it yourself.
Along those lines, one of the hardest things I’ve done was when I headed up a technical documentation department and I turned over an important manual to a new writer I had hired. When I read the first draft, I wanted to light my hair on fire and run screaming from the building. Really. Then I calmed down and realized that while it wasn’t the manual I would have written it did what was needed.
That was a good lesson for other parts of my life.
My husband is pretty good about helping around the house and he does try to do things the way I like them. Generally he does well, but his laundry-folding skills, while well-intentioned, are somewhat lacking. But I let go and actually find myself snickering when I open the cabinet with the towels. Who said bath towels have to be folded in a rectangular manner anyway?
I left full-time work about 1.5 years ago because I realized I couldn’t hold down a demanding job and take care of myself. The first year after I “retired”, my health became my full-time job. I had almost 100 medical appointments with doctors, labs, hospitals, imaging centers, and physical therapists. Even though I no longer had to find that work/life balance, I needed more help than ever.
I think part of the reason it’s hard to ask for help is that you have to figure out what you need help with (or can “let go” enough to let someone do for you) and the other part is finding someone who is willing to help. You may have a great friend, but if she may not be a friend for long if you ask her to give up every Saturday to vacuum your living room. But perhaps you have three or four friends who would help once or twice a month. Be creative in soliciting help and reassigning duties to family members. Even small children can help set the table and clear the dishes. Every little bit helps. And if you can afford it (or someone asks you what you want for your birthday), investing in professional services – like a good housecleaning occasionally – can make a huge difference.
When we think of asking for help, often we think of physical tasks we are no longer able to do as well as we would like or perhaps even do at all. One thing to remember is that help comes in many forms. I met a woman at my doctor’s office whose family had helped her financially with her medical copayment and she was so happy that her disability had been approved and she could now pay them back. Perhaps it’s emotional help – someone in the RA community that “gets” what you’re going through. Often, sharing relieves stress and lets us recharge our physical energy so we can do those tasks. There are many ways we can help each other.
And don’t forget to help yourself. Sometimes you have to step back and realize that “can’t do it” really means “can’t do it all.” By giving up some things – especially those that drain lots of time and energy – you can realign your priorities for those things that are really important.
As a final thought, I’ve found that admitting I needed or wanted help was actually harder than actually asking someone for it. I urge you not to make that same mistake.