Sometimes life can be overwhelming. Sometimes that shelf is too high for you to reach. Sometimes things require more strength than you can muster. Sometimes what is required is not something you know how to do. Sometimes you realize that acting on your own could make things worse. Sometimes you find yourself in a scary situation. When that’s the case for me, I ask for help. And that’s okay.
Asking for help does not mean that you’re weak. It does not mean that you’re a victim. It does not mean that you’re being manipulative. It simply means that you need help.
A true sign of weakness, in my opinion, is refusing to ask for or accept help when it’s obviously needed. If you’re going down for the third time, it’s foolish to drown because you’re simply too proud to ask for help. It’s so much more self-destructive to suffer in silence than it is to swallow your pride and reach out for assistance.
If no one ever needed help, then societies wouldn’t have been invented. Think of asking for help as the ultimate form of taking care of yourself. You should be proud of your ability to recognize that need and act upon it.
And helpers are amazing. There was a reason that Mr. Rogers said to look for them when you see something scary. Helpers are generous and kind and compassionate and caring. A true helper isn’t going to judge you for your need. They’re not going to think less of you. They are going to realize that someday they just might need help, too. And that, too, is okay.
The coolest thing about being a human is that your asking for help today does not preclude you from lending a helping hand tomorrow. So don’t let anyone make you feel like a victim. We all have good days and bad days. There’s no shame in that. The strength is in recognizing that fact.
Sometimes in life I feel like giving up. Sometimes the thing I want most in the world (at that moment) does not come to pass, and in fact my worst nightmare is visited upon me. Sometimes I feel as though there is simply no more fight left in me and I can’t even summon the energy to explain, let alone to blog.
There are days when all I want to do is lie in bed like a beached starfish and cry and sleep and stare at the ceiling without a thought in my head. Every effort seems to take 1,000 times more energy than normal, and it feels like the very air that surrounds me is as thick as chocolate pudding.
The dishes pile up, the dirty laundry doesn’t quite make it to the basket, and it’s all I can do to flush the toilet. And then there’s the guilt I feel for letting down everyone around me. And the sadness and isolation I feel for being so profoundly misunderstood.
If none of these things resonate with you, congratulations. You have never experienced depression. You have no idea how lucky you are.
But I’m writing this for the rest of you, the ones who get it. I want to implore you to be gentle with yourself, as if you’re recovering from major surgery. It’s okay to sleep more or do less, for a time. Screw the effing dishes.
I do, however, urge you to seek help if this is not just a passing phase. Because sometimes the passage of time is on our side, but not always. Yes, the sun comes out tomorrow, and/or you get some rest and/or remember to eat something, and things look brighter. Or your situation improves. Other times, time feels like the enemy, and can seem like an endless wall of pain and isolation that stretches before you and is insurmountable, inevitable, and monochrome. That’s a time to reach out for help.
I get it. I really do. You are not alone.
Be gentle with yourself. Get help. Don’t make any major decisions that you can’t come back from, because then you’ll truly be out of options.
For today, just breathe, okay? Breathe, rest, and let the rest of the world take care of itself. You have my permission. (Not that you need it.)
Sending you love and light from a place not far from where you are, my fellow depressives. By the time you read this, I’ve probably come out the other side, back to the land of functioning adults, just as I always do, and have learned as I age that I always will. Until the next wave of depression hits. And so on.
I’ve made it this far. So can you. I’m promising you, there’s a crest to the wave, and what you can see from up there is beautiful and miraculous and oh, so worth it. You just have to hold on. And to do that you may sometimes need help. And that’s okay.
“Um…okay?” my husband replied, with a confused smile on his face.
It cracked me up. I knew he’d react like that. Palpate is not in the average person’s general-use vocabulary. But I really needed him to palpate me, and I knew he could be counted upon to do so, even if he wasn’t sure what that would entail. Because that’s just who he is.
I had been walking around for about a month with a sore, tender spot on my ribs. It was far enough toward the back, and high enough up, that I couldn’t really touch it myself to check for swelling or damage. I was able to look in the mirror to confirm there was no bruising, but that was about it. It hurt, not enough for a visit to the emergency room, but enough to where it had been bugging me. Hence the need for palpation.
In the end, we still couldn’t really figure out what the deal was with my ribs. But palpation did occur. At least now I know there are no broken bones. I guess I’m getting old.
But this interaction got me to thinking about willingness. There are certain people in my life, the true gems, who are consistently willing. Willing to help. Willing to try new things. Willing to spend time. Willing to make an effort, even if they don’t succeed. They are priceless.
I also know plenty of people who throw up roadblocks every chance they get. They are a hindrance. They take every opportunity to tell you why you can’t achieve your goal. They see problems rather than opportunities. They look for ways to do the bare minimum. They cannot be counted upon. These are the people whom it’s best to avoid.
I think the quality of being willing is one of the best ones to look for in a human being. That quality, or the lack thereof, tells you all about that person’s loyalty, attitude, enthusiasm, kindness, dependability, and compassion.
I once knew a woman who refused to learn to drive. And this was not a town where public transportation was abundant. Uber didn’t exist yet, and taxis were few and far between. But even if they had been available, she wouldn’t have taken advantage of that service. No. She wanted her adult children to chauffeur her everywhere she went. And they did.
It would be one thing if she were physically or mentally incapable of driving. But she was fine. Just fine. She had what I began to call Wounded Bird Syndrome. See? I have a broken wing. You must do all the flying for me.
Her passive aggressive manipulations were honed to a sharp point. Her kids were at her beck and call. They never said, “Mom, we’ll take you to the grocery store once a week, at this time.” No. If she had a hankering for cupcakes, she’d expect them to drop everything.
She reminded me of a client that I had when I did Food Stamp eligibility in Florida. She was diabetic. But she couldn’t stand to give herself insulin shots. So her husband couldn’t hold down a job, because he had to stay by her side to give her the shots.
I mean, come on, now. I’m sure that being a diabetic is a misery, but woman up and learn how to give yourself insulin so your loved ones can function.
Yes, in both these scenarios the people in question were enabled to a shocking degree. But charity begins at home. Solve your own problems.
Yes, it often sucks, being a grown up. But you have to learn how to do your own heavy lifting. It’s okay to ask for help sometimes. It’s definitely okay to ask for help when you are genuinely physically or mentally in need of it. But when your dependence is self-imposed, and it encroaches on the lives of others to the point of being debilitating, what you are doing is cruel.
I admire people who value their own agency. I appreciate those who are capable and independent, and those who do the best they can with the cards they are dealt. False weakness is deplorable.
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What follows are the highlights of an online conversation I had with Tracfone Wireless. For reference, “You” is me, and anything italicized is my inner dialogue. (Because I’d never be quite so rude as to say these things out loud.) Items in bold are a synopsis of things I left out so as not to torture you as much as I was being tortured. Some information has been changed to protect my privacy.
This conversation took well over an hour, and at the end it’s a pure miracle I had any hair left in my head at all, such was my level of frustration.
: Thank you for visiting Tracfone today. How may I help you?
Wendy : Thank you for visiting TracFone Wireless.
Redundant, but okay…
Wendy : Hi Barbara. How may I assist you?
You : Hi Wendy. I have been trying to port my phone number from Tracfone to Verizon for two weeks. They said it should only take two days. Can you tell me what the hold up is?
Wendy : I’m sorry to hear that. Please allow me a moment to look into this.
You : Thank you.
Wendy : You are welcome.
Wendy : I did not find any record about a port out request. Have you contacted the new service provider to investigate the status of your request?
You : Yes. They claim they’ve placed the request twice.
Wendy : I will need to contact our Portability department for assistance. One moment, please.
Wendy : We will have to transfer you to a portability specialist to further assist you with your port request.
Ram : Thank you for choosing TracFone Wireless as your service provider.
Ram : Thank you for visiting TracFone Wireless.
Again, redundant. But again, okay.
Ram : Hi Barbara. Allow me a moment to review your previous chat conversation.
You : Hi Ram. Thank you.
Ram : You’re welcome. One moment, please.
Ram : Are we working on the phone number that ends with 1234.
You : yes
Ram : Alright. Do you have the phone with you?
You : I have both the 1234 phone and the one I want to port it to. Both are with me.
Ram : Okay. Phone is already active.
You : Yes. They gave me a temporary number.
Ram : What is the last four number of the IMEI of the new phone?
You : xxxx
Ram : Thank you. What is your security PIN?
You : yyyy
Ram : That is not what we have here.
You : zzzz maybe? You are talking about for my Verizon phone?
Ram : No. Your security PIN from us.
You : wwww?
Ram : Yes.
You : 🙂
Ram : We don’t have records on the new IMEI number.
You : Do you have a record of any portability request?
Ram : Yes.
(You’ll see below that that’s in direct contradiction to what he’ll say later.)
You : Hmmm. Are the last 4 digits aaaa?
Ram : No.
You : When you asked for my IMEI number originally, were you asking for my TRACFONE IMEI, or the one it should be ported to?
You : My current tracfone IMEI is xxxxxxxxxxxxxx
You : I want it ported to qqqqqqqqqqqq.
Ram : Yes.
Ram : I have that.
You : The Main phone on the verizon account ends in tttt, but we do NOT want my number ported to that phone. He wants to keep his number.
Ram : The new phone is this a tracfone as well.
You : The new phone is not a tracfone. Tracfones are incompatible with Verizon, apparently, so I had to buy a new one.
Ram : I see.
Ram : Let me check this one.
Ram : Do you still have this old phone?
I already told you that.
You : yes
Ram : The one that ends with 4321? Where did you get the new phone?
You : From Verizon. And yes, I do have the one ending in 4321 still.
You : I’d like to NOT have it anymore… but I’m waiting for you guys to port.
Ram : Yes.
Ram : That is the reason I was not able to access the new phone.
You : Ah. So what do I have to do?
Ram : Are you leaving us?
WHAT DO YOU THINK I’VE BEEN SAYING THIS ENTIRE FREAKIN’ TIME????
You : Yes
Ram : You are porting out from us.
IS THAT NOT WHAT PORTING OUT MEANS?
You : Yes.
Ram : If that is the case you need to call your new provider what you want.
You : They made their first request to you TWO WEEKS AGO. They repeated their request a week ago.
Ram : We did not received them.
You : I am not sure what the problem is. I just want my phone number ported from my Tracfone to my Verizon phone. I can’t believe how hard this is. Is there any number they can call directly and speak to a human being at Tracfone? Because otherwise they’ll just repeat their fruitless request a third time.
Ram : I am telling you, we did not received a request.
Ram : If that is the case, then yes.
You : So tell me a way they can call directly to someone who can fix this. Please.
Ram : All they need to do is send a port out request.
You : And they have told me they have, twice. So I don’t know where the disconnect is. But if their human could talk to your human, maybe it could be resolved.
Ram : I apologize for any inconvenience you have experienced due to this issue.
You : I know this is not your fault, Ram. I’m not blaming you. But please understand my frustration. Two weeks. Two different stories. And no one talking to anyone directly.
Ram : I don’t see any request from your old provider.
We’ve established that.
Ram : We are working on the phone number that ends with 1234?
For God’s SAKE!!!!!
You : Yes. That’s my old tracfone number. And they would be my NEW provider, not my old one. But if their requests are going to the wrong place, I need a direct number they can call.
You : My verizon temporary number is xxx-xxx-xxxx. That’s the phone I want my 1234 number ported to.
Ram : We can’t open your that temporary number, that is not with us.
I know that.
Ram : Just informed them that I mentioned that we did not received a request.
Ram : Not once.
You : Who did you inform?
Ram : You.
You : Yes, you did. What I am saying is that on THEIR end, THEY think they’ve put in the request twice. Apparently it’s not getting to you. Therefore THEY need a direct phone number to call at Tracfone, so that THEY can call YOU GUYS and get this straightened out. Because clearly they are sending their requests to the wrong place.
Ram : Okay. This is our portability hotline number 18003272077.
Was that so freakin’ hard?
You : Thank you Ram.
Ram : You’re welcome.
Ram : Is there anything else that I can assist you with?
You : That’s quite enough. Thanks.
Ram : You’re welcome.
Ram : Thank you for chatting with TracFone Wireless.
Give me strength.
After that, I spoke again with Verizon.
Then I had a pint of ice cream in one sitting.
The situation wasn’t resolved for another three days, and required 3 more phone conversations.
I used to love to sit on my porch swing when I owned a house in Jacksonville, Florida. I could look out on the park across the street and take in a game of softball or lacrosse, or watch people come and go from the public library. I especially enjoyed seeing the various neighborhood dogs as they walked their humans. For such a big city, my neighborhood had a rather bucolic vibe.
One day I was drinking lemonade and lazily swinging back and forth, trying to kick up enough of a breeze to beat the stifling humidity, when this woman came down the sidewalk looking so shell-shocked that I had to ask her if she was okay. She looked at me for a second, and then pointed over her shoulder and said, “A guy… he just hung himself from a tree.” And then she walked away.
Wait. What??? I immediately jumped up. I remember hearing the porch swing chains clank. (It’s funny what you remember at times like those.)
And sure enough, when I looked down the street, about a dozen police cars were descending on a house about a block away. They had to cut his body down. I was never able to pass that tree again without thinking about it.
I didn’t know the guy. That house was a rental, and no one ever seemed to stay very long. But I kind of felt as though we had let each other down.
Clearly, someone within hollering distance of me had been in deep despair. Obviously, he wanted help or he wouldn’t have chosen to hang himself in his front yard across the street from a public library. I wish I had known.
If you need help, you have to ask for it. That was his responsibility. Mine was to keep my eyes open and my heart open to being a force for good. You speak. I listen. It takes two.
I wish he had spoken up. I don’t know what I could have done. I don’t pretend to be anyone’s savior. But maybe he could have sat with me on my porch swing. We could have talked about inconsequential things. Maybe that tiny bit of routine could have made just enough of a difference. Maybe I could have told him about the sliding-scale mental health clinic within walking distance. We’ll never know, now.
I’m not saying what happened was my fault. But it still makes me sad to think I was relaxing on my swing and sipping lemonade while he was throwing a noose over a tree branch less than a hundred yards from me. What a tragedy. What a waste.
I am at the end of my rope. I’m on the ragged edge. I’m losing it.
I’m buying a house. I’m packing, I’m moving. I’m making changes and updating and getting rid of stuff. I’m doing paperwork. I’m documenting. I’m panicking that I won’t get everything done on time, or I’ll forget something important. And I’m doing this all by myself.
Well, that’s not entirely true. My realtor and my loan officer have been great. But there is no one whom I can wake up in the middle of the night when I’m having an anxiety attack, unless you count my long-suffering dog, Quagmire. There’s no one to lighten the load. There’s no one who will shoulder the burden, even for just an hour or two, to give me the tiniest of breaks. I can’t say, “Honey, could you please make that particular decision? I’ve had it.” I’m fresh out of honey.
I’m going to have to hire people to help me move and clean and modify and repair, because lord knows no one is stepping up to volunteer. And I don’t have much money. I wish just one thing about all this would go smoothly. Just one.
I wish I were Amish, or something. Because it really does take a freakin’ village, and it feels like there’s no civilization for miles.
But I take a great deal of comfort from the quote below. This is growth. It may look like chaos, but it’s growth. I’ll just be glad when it’s over.
Every single day, my e-mail inbox is filled with requests that I review some product that I’ve purchased. Or someone wants my feedback on the service they recently provided me. (The only company I know that doesn’t do this is AT&T, because they already know that they give piss-poor customer service, and they couldn’t care less.)
I get it. It’s annoying. And I have to admit that like you, I often ignore these requests.
But by doing so, we are all shooting ourselves in the foot. Think about it. We all know that the larger the organization, the less they really care what you think of the goods or services they provide. They can afford a certain level of customer angst, because there are always more customers for them. Especially if they have the market pretty much cornered.
We as consumers benefit more when there are a large number of small businesses competing, rather than one big indifferent one. Competition brings prices down. Competition means much better customer service, because your business actually means something to these mom and pop companies. They desperately need your feedback. The only way most small companies can build up their reputations is through customer reviews. And who provides them? Us.
So help out that little company that’s selling stuff on Amazon. Give honest feedback on eBay. Give credit where credit is due. It may seem insignificant, but it helps us all.
Having said that, I’m one of those people who desperately needs your review. If you’ve read my book, A Bridgetender’s View: Notes on Gratitude, please leave a review on Amazon.com. This helps me in many ways. Enough reviews will get Amazon’s attention, and they’ll promote the book more. And you might encourage someone else to buy the book. That’ll help keep my dogs in kibble.
The other day I was on my way to volunteer to serve lunch at a soup kitchen with some friends. I’ve done this before, and found it to be a gratifying experience. I was really looking forward to doing it again.
But while waiting for my friends, a homeless woman came by, looked at me, and started screaming, “Fat pig!!! Gross!!!” She then lifted up a metal trash can that probably weighed more than she did, and heaved it in my direction.
First of all, how fascinating that she could take one look at me and know exactly what buttons to push to hurt my feelings. Would that she could employ her intuitive nature for good. But I tried not to take it personally. It was clearly a mental health issue rather than an attack focused on me.
After she was done with me, she started screaming at a beggar, calling him the n word and declaring that nobody would give him any money. Then she walked down the middle of a very busy street, causing cars to swerve. Then she swung her jacket at a passerby, barely missing his head. After that, she overturned a full trashcan and spread the refuse all over the meal site.
Although I felt sorry for her, I was also rather rattled. Needless to say her behavior was a bit unpredictable. I began to wonder if this volunteering was a good idea after all.
That really brought me up short. Was I there to have fun? No. Was I only willing to help if it was convenient to me? Er… Well… Hmmm…
But soon my friends rallied around, and the soup kitchen staff went out of their way to make me feel safe. And everyone who came for food (including, ironically, the woman in question, who seemed rather contrite after having a chat with the local police), were very friendly and appreciative of our efforts.
In spite of that kerfuffle at the beginning, I have no regrets for having volunteered on that day. After a little moral struggle, I realized that I was not there for me. I was there for them. Once I reminded myself of that fact, my choices became clear.
There is an interesting human spectrum that tells you a great deal about people. I call it the generosity spectrum. But it also has a great deal to do with trust, confidence, kindness, and a sense of karma.
At one extreme, you have people who are so wide open that they put themselves at risk. These are the people who will not only pick up every hitchhiker they see, but will invite them to come crash on their couch for a couple of months. Need a shirt? Here’s the one off my back. Yeah, I know it’s snowing, but you said you needed a shirt.
At the other extreme, you get the bitter old men who will not let the neighborhood kids retrieve their balls from their yards. They see everyone as a threat, and guard their property jealously. They are definitely not people who will support you in times of crisis. In fact, they will resent that you even ask.
I don’t think either extreme is particularly healthy, to be honest, but I must admit that I try to surround myself with people toward the more generous end of the spectrum. The reason I do that is that I’ve noticed that those people who look at the world from a place of abundance tend to have more positive things happening in their lives. As unscientific as it is, abundance tends to breed abundance.
Sadly, I’ve had quite a few encounters with the opposite extreme of late.
I’m working on an anthology that will include several of my blog entries on the subject of, ironically, gratitude. Being my first book, this is an extremely low budget operation. I saw some artwork that I would have loved to have used on the front cover, and I approached the artist. I told him that I thought his work was amazing, told him what I had in mind, and asked if he’d allow me to use a print of his painting, give him due credit and increased exposure, and give him a percentage of the profits should any arise. He responded that he was sick and tired of people trying to steal his work. Message received.
I also saw an amazing film at the Seattle International Film Festival and had the opportunity to talk to the director afterwards. I then wrote a very positive review for this blog, encouraging everyone to go see it, and sent the director the link, thinking he’d be flattered. Instead he told me to take the review down, saying he didn’t give me permission to use his words, and that it had been a private conversation. (Mind you, this took place in a crowded room, with a total stranger, at a film festival where he was present to promote his work.) Um… yeah. That was the first time I’d ever had to take down a blog entry.
But perhaps the most painful encounters I’ve had with people more toward the “lack” end of the generosity spectrum have come from friends and family. I wasn’t expecting this at all. It has caused me to reevaluate the way I view some of them.
Recently tragedy struck my family. I’m extremely close to my niece and nephew, especially now that my sister has passed away. So when my niece needed help, I naturally stepped up.
Her husband broke his neck. He was the sole breadwinner of the family, and they have three children, ages 1, 3, and 6. Needless to say, this is bad. No family should have to choose between feeding their children and paying the rent, especially when they’re already dealing with the stress of extreme pain and slow recovery.
This catastrophe has consumed me for well over a week. I have averaged about 3 hours of sleep a day, and my whole world revolves around this situation. So I created a GoFundMe campaign to try to raise money to take some of the pressure off them. Then I asked friends and family to share the campaign on social media.
Mind you, I didn’t ask anyone to contribute money. Not everyone has the money to contribute. I totally get that. I live it. I simply asked them to spread the word. By doing so, they would be showing support at a time when I am feeling particularly helpless, and that is worth more to me than gold. They would also be giving their friends and family the chance to pay it forward if they have been through similar past tragedies and are in a position to do so, and that is a great opportunity for healing.
A lot of people stepped up and shared. This means so much to me that it brings tears to my eyes. But others showed that they are coming from a place of lack rather than abundance by reacting in a variety of negative ways.
I’m told I’m being pushy, or inappropriate, or embarrassing. I’m told that I have a lot of nerve, when there are so many people in the world who are worse off, and when there is so much drama happening all over the place. I’m being ignored by people who never ignore me. I’m being told that they get requests like this all the time, and if they shared mine, they’d have to share everyone’s, and we can’t have that, can we?
Oh, where to begin. Point by point, I suppose. First of all, I don’t think there’s any shame in asking for help when it’s desperately needed. Sorry if that makes you uncomfortable. Yes, there are billions of people who are worse off. How do you determine the cut off? Who is “allowed” to be scared, worried, stressed out, and in need of support, and who is not? I know that tragedies abound, but this is a situation where I can actually make a difference, and when an opportunity like that presents itself, I’m going to jump on it.
I would never, EVER ignore a plea for help. That’s just rude. And granted, my social network is probably smaller than a lot of peoples, so I don’t get requests of this type as often as they probably do, but I promise you, when someone comes to me, at the end of their rope, their lives changed for the worst, and asks me to simply share a Facebook post, I’m going to share it every single time. Every. Single. Time. Because the people on my Facebook feed are grown ass adults who can decide whether or not to contribute or pass on a post, so they’ll “get over” my intrusion. Or they won’t. Oh well.
And, too, coming from the more generous end of the spectrum, I truly believe that even if you can’t contribute financially to someone you love, you can, and should, always be able to contribute emotionally. It’s not easy to ask for help. But it’s made so much worse when you are rejected after you ask. It’s times like this that show what you’re truly made of. I’d hate to be made of selfish things. It don’t think it’s a good look.