Asking for help is a counter-cultural activity right from the start. It requires awareness of my own needs and limitations. The dominant US, culture is steeped in the myth of the rugged individualist, independent and self-sufficient. That cowboy doesn’t need help. I do. In ways, being quadriplegic is easier than being paraplegic. When I had limited use of my arms, I felt like I should at least try to do things. I remember attempting to pick up a box with one hand and arm, sliding it up the side of my leg. No more of that! Now, there is little I can do without help. (Mask mandates make it so I can’t drive my mouth-controlled wheelchair in public indoor spaces, increasing my dependence.) These days, I need help with almost everything.
Asking for it gracefully is my goal. Sometimes, I’m aware that something’s wrong, but I don’t know how to fix it. (I’m thinking specifically about the way my body sits in the wheelchair. There is a Goldilocks right position – not too far back nor too far forward. I know when it’s wrong, but don’t always know how it’s wrong.) It’s up to me to take my best guess and ask for an adjustment. Taking care of me requires a willingness to experiment. Ideally, I know what I need and can use kind words to ask for it. “Please” and “thank you” make a good start.
I no longer get angry about needing help, but I am still embarrassed by it. This tells me that I have made progress accepting what is, but I have more work to do. My embarrassment is a sign that I am telling stories about what it means to need help. Needing help is not a character defect! I want to drop the stories and live in the present moment. The less baggage I bring to each moment, the freer I – and those around me – become.
Asking for help takes courage. Not only am I revealing my weakness, I am also going against the cultural grain. Paradoxically, revealing my fragility makes me stronger.