Today’s post about how to reach out for help is going to be a short one. It’s been a rough day; my brain could not get a grip on my time or emotions. It feels like I’ve been trying to run on ice, and I’ve pulled all my mental muscles.
“Why don’t you let me handle the post today?” says a voice at my side.
I look over, and there is Critter. My imaginary raccoon has crawled up onto the bed beside me. She looks at the computer on my lap, puts a paw on my arm to stop me typing, and looks at me with concern.
“I’m fine, Critter,” I say. “I just need to bang this out.” But as I say it, a voice inside me groans.
Critter can hear it. Her eyebrows roll from a look of supplication to suspicion.
“Sure you are,” she mocks. “that’s why you lost it this morning on the girls, failed to get them out the door to daycare, and wasted half your day weeping through fifteen minutes-worth of paperwork.”
I don’t even have the energy to argue. Although she is being kind of a bitch.
I just rub my eyes.
I put my hands back on my keyboard and stare at the screen, thinking hard. What was I trying to say?
Critter waves a paw in front of my face.
“You’re doing it again,” she says.
“Buzz off, Rodent.” I mutter, and keep staring at the screen.
Critter crawls right up onto my keyboard.
“Hey!” I shout, as her butt types a long string of q’s.
Critter straightens up and puts both hands on my face.
“Go to bed!” she commands.
My heart starts pounding.
“I can’t,” is all I can say. My mind races, words tumbling over each other with the dizzy speed and heat of those gigantic gas dryers at the laundromat. My thoughts come out shrunken, with just a faint whiff of burnt.
Critter squishes my face until my mouth puckers between her paws.
“You’re glazing over,” she says. “Don’t do that. Come back.”
I heave my eyes back into focus, and plead with her.
“I can’t, Critter! Don’t make me think. I just can’t. Let me finish this…” I trail off.
Critter sighs loudly and drops her hands to her sides. She sits there on my keyboard and looks at me with her head tilted for a moment or two. I just stare back.
Then, she straightens up.
“Listen,” she says. “You are not accomplishing anything here. You have reached the point of diminishing returns. Actually, I think you hit it last night, but you just kept on going. Like a drunk driving home with a stop sign dragging underneath the car. You didn’t even notice.”
I chuckle. Critter smiles.
“You need to pull over, now,” she says. Then, she strokes my forehead. “It doesn’t have to be the all-Laurie show, you know.”
“But, it’s my blog…” I say. “And my freelance business. And my kids. And my laundry. And my meals…”
“And your brain,” Critter interrupts. “Which is currently making loud noises and belching smoke. Can’t you see it?”
I take a slow, deep breath. Well, I can’t see the smoke… but I can feel it, the chafe of unlubricated synapses grinding against each other and chewing one another into dust.
“That’s not how it works,” Critter blurts.
“I don’t care,” I groan.
“Hey,” she says, “before you start calling me nasty names, can’t you please just admit that you need help?”
My thoughts get high-centered on this concept.
Critter is not the first one to suggest this in the last couple of days. I hear echoes of myself saying the same damn thing to my friends who are struggling. But I can’t wrap my brain around what that would look like for me.
“I don’t understand what you mean,” I say to Critter, frowning. “How am I supposed to ask for help? I already have a counsellor. I lean hard on my husband, spend precious money on daycare, have hired coaches for business and writing… I don’t know what else I’m supposed to do. It’s not like someone can come and do my work for me.”
Critter furrows her face and considers.
“How are you supposed to ask for help?” she says. “I don’t know. This isn’t a thing for raccoons. When we’re tired, we just stay curled up in the den. When we’re ready, we come out. It’s not an epic drama.”
I think about this for a moment.
“You bring up a good point,” I say. “Part of the reason it is so hard to ask for help is that people have a ton of expectations of each other.”
“Yeah, you do.” Critter agrees. “You people always make things over-complicated. We think it’s hilarious that you consider yourselves such an intelligent species.”
“Well, we can’t all live on garbage,” I say, frowning.
“Too bad,” Critter answers.
“Anyhow,” I continue, “the hardest part of asking for help is negotiating those expectations. It’s humiliating to have to say to someone, ‘I’m weak, please have mercy on me.’ And it kind of screws up your relationship. The other person either decides that they have no time for you and your fat handfuls of disappointment, or they feel sorry for you, and put themselves in this awkward position where they are afraid to expect anything of you.”
I express a heavy sigh. This conundrum has always made me ache.
Critter looks at me kindly.
“And the worst part for you, is deciding that you can’t expect anything from yourself,” she says.
This makes my eyes well up. They are so puffy from sleep deprivation that the tears won’t spill. Those swollen grey pouches can hold a lot of water.
I blink hard to empty them, and wipe at the raw corners of my eyes with my sleeve.
“I just hate being a let-down,” I whisper.
Critter stands up against my chest and nestles her head into the crook of my neck. I reach up and stroke her back, pausing on the barely perceptible sounds of my hand swishing across her coarse fur, and her heartbeat fluttering against my collarbone.
“Are you going to forgive yourself?” Critter whispers into my ear.
Holy crap, I think. I don’t know.
Although I still haven’t figured out how I’m going to ask for help, I recognise that I need to do so. And more importantly, I realise that what’s holding me back is not so much a lack of creativity, but a refusal to give myself permission.
I don’t know the secret to asking for help gracefully. It’s definitely an art. It requires a fine balance between advocating for your own needs, and acknowledging the other party’s.
In the end, asking for help comes down to a critical choice in your relationship; do you address your struggle and make room for your partner to do the same? Or do you hold back and watch in silent horror as you let them down?
Tonight, if you feel like you’re losing control, but don’t know what to do, I hope you will open your mind to the possibility that speaking up about your struggle might give your strained relationships a chance to heal. And I hope it makes room for new ideas to come that help you manage your needs and obligations.
May we all have the courage to face our weakness, do what needs doing, and accept ourselves as we are.
Like raccoons do.