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When You Need Help: Tips on How To Ask

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Are you the kind of person who dislikes asking for help? Some people find it harder to do than others. But when you have a spinal cord injury (especially at first) you may need to ask for a lot of help.

Some of the things you were able to do before your injury you may not be able to do independently anymore. It’s ok to ask people for help as you adjust to your new lifestyle. But if you still find it difficult to do, try some of these suggestions.

How Do I Ask For Help?

When asking for help, organization is important. First, make a list of things that you will not be able to do for the first few months after your injury. These may be things you eventually learn to do on your own, once you have fully recovered and adjusted. Some things you may need help with are shopping, doing the laundry, or mowing the lawn. When writing this list, also think about how often you need these things done.

Next, make a list of all the people who have offered you help. Think about their life and how much time they may be available. For example, one friend may work all week but be free on the weekend. Your aunt, who is retired from working, may be available on weekdays during the day. You also want to consider how comfortable you are with the person and how intimate some of the jobs are. Write all these notes down.

Now make another list. In this list, match each task to the person who seems the most available and the most qualified for the task. Once that is done, you must pick up your phone and call them. During your conversation, don’t be vague. Make sure you ask them directly, and you include specific times and dates. Don’t ask, “If you feel like it some time, can you take me grocery shopping?” Instead ask, “Can you take me to the grocery store every Monday afternoon?”

Why Is Asking For Help So Hard?

To move past your fears, it is helpful to understand why asking for help can be so hard. When you know what it is that bothers you about asking for help; you can think through it and become more comfortable. Here are some common reasons people have trouble asking for help:

  • Fear of being told, “No.” When we ask for help, it takes a lot of courage. When someone tells us, “No,” even if they have a good reason, we can feel rejected. Try to remember that there are lots of reasons people may have to say no. It really has more to do with them than it does with you. Even if the reason is that they aren’t comfortable helping with a certain task, that is still about their discomfort, not your need. And if you get a rejection, all it means is that your situation hasn’t changed. You may have to ask someone else, but nothing worse has occurred.
  • Fear of being seen as incapable. No one wants to be viewed as weak or incompetent. Sometimes we stubbornly persist in trying to do things ourselves that we really shouldn’t be doing. When it’s time to ask for help, one way to make yourself feel a little better is by matching your task to someone who is an “expert” at it. For example, if you need help cooking, asking a friend who can barely make eggs may make you feel even more depressed. Relying on someone who does a task worse than you used to be able to do it yourself can make you feel like you now seem completely incapable. However, if your mom is a wonderful cook, requesting her help with cooking may make you feel more like you are asking for “expert” assistance, rather than seeming like you can’t do it at all.
  • Fear of being a burden. Most people don’t like to feel like they are being a burden to others. This feeling can be especially strong when we are sick or injured because we need so much help. We make the assumption that the person helping us has “better things to do,” or that they are already too busy to add us to their schedule. To combat this fear, think about how you would feel if the situation was reversed. Might you feel honored that your friend trusted you enough to ask for your help? Might you be glad to have an opportunity to show your appreciation for your friendship in a tangible manner? If the person you ask for help is too busy, they will probably just tell you so. Otherwise, you can assume that they are happy to help.


Author:  Annie Beth Donahue is a professional writer with a health and disability focus.