When you’re overboard and can’t swim.
I had lunch yesterday with a friend that is going through a rough time. She just needed to vent. She’s frustrated. Lots of people know she’s had a rough go and she’s tired. Just tired. She needs some help and no one is offering. Every time she breaks down a little she feels incredibly judged with the same question: Why don’t you just ask for help?
I’ve been there. It is a lonely, horrible place. This time last year was about the darkest my life has been. I was in the middle of a divorce. The contract for my work had gone out to bid. I had no idea what was going to happen to my life in the next six months.
Everything felt out of control. Everything was on the line. Everything could be lost.
I didn’t handle it well. I tried really hard to fake it and pretend I was okay. I wasn’t. I couldn’t find okay if I had a GPS tracking device made by NASA. My life was falling apart. I was a ball of rage and fear and destruction. I cried for no reason and sometimes for good, solid reason. Sometimes for hours.
My work, obviously, suffered. Not in huge ways but in small ways that added up to a lot. A deadline missed here. An email unanswered there. No one was going to die from my mistakes but with a contract on the line, everything mattered.
Eventually, as things always do, everything came to a head. It was brought to my attention that I had to get my collective shit together. It had gotten that bad. I was asked, “Why aren’t you asking for help?”
The answer is simple and it’s the same as my friend’s: I can’t.
What you have to understand about people who need help is this: We know we need it. But, there is just no way humanly possible that we can ask for it. It’s too much. The reality was that I had no idea what help I needed and figuring that out required energy I just didn’t have in me any more.
Every day for me was an exercise in consciously making the decision to put my feet on the floor once I got up. Breathing felt like a choice to be made.
While all the “normal” people were choosing what creamer to put in their coffee, I was trying to figure out if I wanted to show up for life.
The worst part of this was the shame I felt in not being able to ask for help. People around me knew I was a mess. I was open about it. Shaming someone for not asking for help when they can’t is like asking a person overboard why they didn’t just swim back to the boat. They can’t and they need you to throw them a life preserver.
It made me angry, which in turn made me volatile, which I am sure made me a pleasure to be around.
Eventually, I just ran out of steam. Even steamless, asking for help was too much. So I compromised. I decided to be honest with people.
If I was going to be a hot mess, the least I could do was be an honest one.
I told people I was in over my head. I told them I needed the life preserver. I needed space. I needed care. I needed love. I needed people to notice I was on the edge and pull me back.
I told them they would need to figure out how to help me. Admitting all of this was the best I could do. What happened was amazing. They figured it out. Everyone has their own way they give and allowing them the space to give to me in a way that was easy for them allowed me to accept what they had.
I didn’t stay in that dark place for much longer after that. Clouds eventually parted. I still have a hard time asking for help. But, I’ve gotten good at explaining that to people.