No, I don’t have it. Someone I care about does. And it brings me to all the old feelings of helplessness and also fear of being drowned by this person’s fears and needs.
That’s not admirable to say. That part of me is afraid of being needed too much when her life is at stake. And it’s a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer. Day by day she can literally feel it growing and spreading. And it’s taking too freaking long for anything to be done!
Part of me willingly reaches out to her and jokes with her and sends her cards and buys crazy, funky, flamboyant earrings she can wear if/when her hair falls out from the chemo she’ll need.
Part of me is terrified of falling into the abyss that was my life as a child when the adults around me pulled me into their world and wanted me to take care of them and I couldn’t.
How many of you were in situations like that? Overwhelmed by demands of adults? Overwhelmed by having to take care of them and/or your siblings because if you didn’t no one would?
Often kids like us grow up and go one of two ways. We either devote our lives to others, never feeling as if we deserve to have anyone take care of us or we avoid like crazy doing things for others because we had too much of it as kids and sometimes we alternate between the two states, not knowing how to set boundaries when we do help others.
I’ve pondered this a lot because I didn’t want to be someone who isolates herself and refuses to help others. I also didn’t want to be someone who had no life of her own because she was always taking care of everyone else—admirable as that might be. I’ve tried to find a balance. In the end, I came to these conclusions:
1) Whatever I CHOOSE to do, needs to be done in a spirit of love—otherwise I hurt myself and those I think I am helping.
2) I need to make sure I take care of myself.
3) I need to find a way to help that is in tune with who I am and what I passionately care about.
4) I need to know what my limits are and respect them.
5) I need to realize that just as I help others, it’s okay to let others help me and in fact, if I cannot let others help me, I will resent helping anyone myself.
That last one is a tough one. It’s something that friends and I have been discussing online. If we grew up unable to depend on the adults in our lives, we may have also grown up believing we had to be strong and able to handle anything and everything on our own. We may not want to acknowledge need because that’s too scary because what if no one can or will help us?
There have been times in my life when I let others help me. I had to and it took a conscious effort of will. I had to work, too, on letting myself believe I deserved help and the whole time I was terrified that sooner or later—probably sooner—it was going to be yanked away. Even now, my instinct is to always try to do things myself, first, and only if I can’t to ask for help.
It comes down to trust, of course. I used to say it’s like facing a bridge over a gorge and every step I take on that bridge—asking/for/accepting help—carries the fear that any moment the bridge is going to be yanked away and I’m going to fall. Better not to go on that bridge even if it means climbing down one side of the gorge and up the other—a far harder and longer journey, but at least no one could yank the bridge away or worse, refuse to let me on it in the first place!
The other risk, the other way it goes is that we may expect unreasonable levels of help from others. We may not understand where the boundaries should be because the adults in our lives, our role models, didn’t when we were growing up. We may have friends who don't understand either and we see how demanding they can become and either think we should be able to demand the same level of time and attention or we're terrified of becoming like them. And that’s my other fear about accepting help—that I will become a black hole asking for too much from others, which would be a poor repayment for their kindness. It’s one more reason I’m reluctant most of the time to ask—because I don’t want to be like that and know that I sometimes have been.
What are your attitudes toward giving or accepting help? How do you balance the two?
I will continue to reach out to help my friend and remind myself that I am no longer that scared, overwhelmed kid. I will remind myself that now I am an adult able to make choices and that the adult me knows I don’t have to cure my friend’s breast cancer, only be there for her as she fights it herself. I will remind myself that it’s okay to ask for help, sometimes, if I need it. I will also remind myself that there are and need to be boundaries if/when I do ask for help. In all of this, I know I’ll make mistakes and when I do, I will remind myself that’s part of how we learn.
Please keep my friend in your thoughts and prayers.
Know that I wish for all of you that you have good friends or loved ones to care and help when you need help and that you are able to help them. Sending safe and gentle (((((((hugs)))))))),