Aunt May from Spiderman comic

(image from Wikipedia)

Kind Promise: I will ask for and accept help gracefully.

When it comes to help, I am “high maintenance.” Because of my physical disability, there are not many things I can do without help. Despite what you might think from our “I-wanna-be-a-superhero” culture, we all get by with help from our friends. (Batman has Alfred, after all, and Spiderman has Aunt May.)

For the last week, I’ve been watching myself ask for and accept help. Graceful is not the word I would use to describe what happens.

I’ve noticed that I realize I need help:

  • before a task and I ask in advance
  • when I am failing at a task and am frustrated
  • after I’ve failed at a task and am ashamed

Asking for Help Brings up Many Emotions

We get a message, somewhere along the way, that being a grown-up means independence – accomplishing things entirely on our own. It’s a fallacy, of course. There are no truly “individual events.” Those Olympic sports stars we are cheering are supported by coaches and doctors, families and cleaning staff – a whole tribe of helpers.

And yet, I find myself frustrated and ashamed.

I used to be able to do something and now I can’t. I used to be able to squeeze toothpaste on my toothbrush, but sometimes – these days – I can’t. What I feel, immediately, is sadness. I am grieving lost ability. Then I feel angry about being sad. It feels safer to be angry than sad. Anger will come and go; sadness feels like it might stay forever.

Shame arises for me when the task is more basic. Recently, my rehab doctor was encouraging me to adjust my attitude about toileting. (I need help for that too.) She advised me that my caregivers will respond to my attitude and I should be practical and unembarrassed to ask for what I need. “Only babies need help going to the toilet,” is my mental subtext, and the shame sets in.

Dealing with Strong Emotions

“Get over it!” my monster-mind snarls. I spent a large number of years avoiding emotions and that did not go well. In my new spirit of self-compassion, I am taking some time to identify the emotions and understand their source. My underlying fear is that, if I lose my ability to take action and need help with even the most basic things, I will end up useless and unloved. This fear is familiar – I think it has been with me almost since birth. I will refer to it hereinafter as The Big Fear.

Fear is an emotion. Emotions come and go. Despite their seeming Bigness and Foreverness, they will fade away in a few breaths if I acknowledge them gently and let them go.  They are not The Truth.

Remembering The Truth

What is? That life is a sacred adventure and I am privileged to live it. The aim of life is not accomplishment, but participation in the Divine Dance. The rhythm that fuels that dance is love. To reverse the apostle Paul’s thinking: even if I can’t brush my teeth or climb onto the toilet, if I have love, I am everything.

Experimental Mental Response to The Big Fear: my job is to love, not to complete tasks.

We’ll see how this goes…