Thursday, May 24, 2007

Asking for Help

I want to thank Marja and Syd for responding to yesterday's post. Perhaps there were others who read about Bipolar Chica on my blog but I'm not sure who they are. When I returned from my photography field trip to the J. Paul Getty Museum, the first thing I did was check my email messages. Then I went to Conversations in My Mind, and I was delighted to read that my "new friends" had left such uplifting comments.

I think that one of the most important lessons I've learned from this illness is how to ask for help. I'll never forget how difficult it was for me to show my vulnerability. My son was in elementary school. I'd begun taking yet another medication that had awful side effects. I was at UCLA (my alma mater) signing up for a summer program for my son. All I had to do was to fill out a simple form.

I asked the guy at the summer program office for the form and began filling it out. I ruined the first copy because my hand tremors were so bad that I couldn't write legibly within the narrow lines. I asked for a second form and the guy seemed annoyed. I tried a second time and it was equally illegible.

Although this happened a decade ago, I still can remember the horror of standing at the desk, starring at my handwriting, and feeling unbelievably miserable. I still can hear my interior dialogue. "Susan, you're a published author," I said to myself. "You've seen your own books in bookstores. You know how competent and capable you are. There's no reason to freak out here. If you were in a wheel chair and needed someone to open a door for you, wouldn't you ask for help? If you can't fill out this form, you need to ask for help."

With trepidation, I got back in line (unfortunately this guy was the only person who was handing out forms). This was the first day to apply and the office was busy. But I knew these classes quickly filled and I needed to take care of this. When he saw me for the third time, he seemed angry, his face was flushed, and his lips were pursed.

I looked him in the eye and said, "I'm taking prescription medication that makes my hands tremor. I'm unable to fill out this application for my son's summer class. If I don't sign up today, I know I won't be able to get the computer class he's interested in taking. But I didn't know I was going to have such a difficult time filling out this form and I don't have the energy to go home, call a friend, and return. (Parking is a problem and I had no more energy.) I'm hoping you can help me fill out this application."

I stopped talking, took a deep breath, and waited for his reply. I was nonplussed to find that the expression on his face had changed from anger to concern (well, maybe that's a slight exaggeration). But the fact is that he said he'd be happy to help. He found another staff member who could hand out the forms to the others moms who were waiting in line. It only took about five minutes for him to help me. I gave him my credit card, signed the receipt, (the only writing task that was easy), and I walked to my car.

Once I was safely inside, I started crying. A few minutes later, after I composed myself and began driving home, I wondered why this had been such an emotional experience. On the one hand, I realized that I felt bad that I was unable to do such a simple task. On the other hand, I was relieved that I had been willing to do what I needed to in order to take care of my son's needs.

Months later, I realized I also felt sad because it was the first time in my life, as an adult, when I was forced to ask for help for a task that was so simple. But I also realized that I had overcome my "shame" and done what I needed to do--with a surprisingly positive result.

These days, when I see someone in a wheel chair who's approaching a door that they might find difficult to open, or I see someone who may be in need of help, I volunteer to help before they have to ask.

Yesterday at the Getty Museum, I was photographing a sculpture when I overheard a woman and her mother asking a guard if he knew of a restaurant nearby. We all could see how backed-up the freeway was from where we were standing. The guard made some recommendations, which would have caused these women to sit in traffic for an hour. Once he walked away, I approached them, told them I was a native Los Angeleno (a rare breed), and I had some great restaurant recommendations that were nearby and available by taking surface streets.

The women were extraordinarily grateful. I felt good that I could help. Once again, I realized that despite all the difficulties of this illness, I am a different person than I might have been without it. In many ways, I am more sensitive to others and more willing to help those in need.

1 comment:

marja said...

I can so relate to all you say here, Susan. It IS difficult to ask for help. We don't realize how proud we truly are until we're put in a position of having to ask for help. I guess it's also that we don't want to put others out on our account.

I also know that, were my friends in need of help, I would feel very bad if they didn't ask me.

And I too have learned to be more aware of others' needs. I've learned to have compassion because of all I've gone through. Some good CAN come out of the bad, can't it? (That's one of my favorite topics - one we're going to discuss at my support group tomorrow.)