Wellness is a Team Sport, Part 1: “I Hate to Ask”

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When I started to become disabled with multiple sclerosis (MS), I rapidly learned that I needed help. If I wanted to go places, do things, earn a living, and enjoy life, other people would have to get involved. Over time, I’ve also needed more support from assistive devices—ankle braces, canes, a mobility scooter. With help, I’m having a great life. Without it, I’d be isolated, poverty-stricken, and miserable.

When you have a long-term condition like diabetes or MS, help usually becomes more important. We might need practical aid—someone to take us shopping, watch the children so we can exercise, help us move or clean house. We might need good advice; we might need emotional support, somebody to talk to. We might need help paying for drugs, learning a better way to check blood glucose levels, or finding a better place to live.

But getting help isn’t easy, is it? First, you have to make up your mind that you want it and are willing to accept it. Then you have to find it—and we all know that some help is more trouble than it’s worth. Finally, we have to know how to ask and how to thank people and feel OK about the whole thing. These barriers keep many of us from seeking help at all, and our health and our quality of life suffer.

Why is it so hard to accept help? For one thing, American culture discourages needing help. You’re supposed to be independent; you’re supposed to go it alone. You’re supposed to be John Wayne or Bruce Willis or somebody who never needs to ask for anything. In this belief, needing help means you are weak. It means you are a failure in some way. If we just had our act together, we could manage our lives all by ourselves.

There are other barriers. Sometimes we worry that accepting help will put us in other people’s debt. Maybe we don’t want to impose on them, or we don’t know how we’ll repay them. Maybe we don’t want to admit we really have a problem. As one woman told me, “If I have to ask for help, that means diabetes has won.”

All of these ideas are myths. The fact is that most people want to help. It makes them feel good about themselves. People helping each other is how life works. Needing help doesn’t mean you’re weak; it means you’re smart. We’ve been sold a myth of independence and freedom mainly designed to encourage us to buy more. Real freedom depends on having others on whom we can rely. You’ve helped others in your time; give the world a chance to pay you back.

Once you’ve decided that it’s OK to ask for help, you have to find it. Fortunately, help is usually available—from family, friends, neighbors, support groups, your church, voluntary organizations (like Lions Club or the American Diabetes Association [ADA]), social agencies (see my article “Getting a Hand from Social Agencies”) and health-care professionals. A lot of times you can find help in the yellow pages under “Social and Human Services.” The Internet makes it easier; sites like Craig’s List are treasuries of resources in many cities.

In evaluating potential help, you have to consider questions such as:

  • Can they really help? A lot of people offer things they can’t deliver.
  • What is the price? Not just money, but emotionally and in terms of privacy.

It’s a mistake to look for all your help in one place. A lot of us do this, especially with a spouse. As a result, we burn out the helper and miss out on other sources that might be better. It’s best to have a team—a friend might be a good listener but not be the person to advocate for you at the doctor’s office. A relative may really want to cook for you but not be able to cook for a diabetes meal plan. Perhaps you can find some other way for her to help.

Next entry, I will cover specifics about where to find particular kinds of help, the best ways to ask, and how to pay people back. In the meantime, you can check out my article “With a Little Help from Our Friends” and see more at my site Don’t forget to leave comments with your questions or ideas.

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