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Asking For Help

Asking For Help

Since my last blog and the events that followed there are a few blogs I want to write…but this is the one that needs to come first.

I have been reminded over the last couple of weeks of the importance of asking for help when you need it.  I am talking about drawing on the resources around you – the people who love you.

John Donne said “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent: a part of the main”.

This is true at any stage of your life, with anything you are trying to achieve, or trying to deal with.  You won’t get very far, very fast without others.

I think it’s quite lovely that we are designed in such a way that even the most stubbornly independent of us (not pointing any fingers) is forced to rely on others.  We are not islands.  We are so incredibly interconnected and interwoven with the people and community that surround us.  And this doesn’t change when you lose a parent, or someone else that you love.

This blog is particularly for you if you aren’t a fan of letting others see your pain, if you don’t like being seen as vulnerable, and if crying in front of others is pretty much the last thing you want to be doing.

I am not very good at showing when I am struggling.  In general I don’t like to share that or have others see it.  Actually I can write about it and talk about it but as for putting it on display?  Having someone see it in my face?  Yeeeeeah, not so much.  And dealing with the death of my father was no exception.  Indeed it was a perfect example.

I’m not going to write about why it is important to rely on the people who love you.  You already know that they can distract you if you need it.  You already know that they have tools and ideas and resources that you don’t, that might help you.  You already know that sometimes just having someone sit with you can make you feel a little better.  You already know that the people who love you want to help if they can, and that letting them do that can make your bond with them so much stronger.  You already know that you can’t do this all alone and that you don’t need to.  Don’t you? 🙂

Any time you are struggling in life you need the help of people around you, but there are a couple of things to keep in mind when your mum or dad has died as this makes the situation a bit different from normal.

Don’t just expect that people know you need help!

Only the people who know you incredibly well (and even those ones will be fooled sometimes too) will spot pain that you don’t show.  People around you will look to you and your behaviour for signs of how you are doing after a death.  Don’t just assume that because your mum or dad died they know how you are feeling, that you are grieving, and that you might not be doing so well as you appear.

I went back to work three weeks after my dad died.  I worked in mental health and we routinely, because of the work we did and the types of things we were exposed to, had what was called monthly ‘supervision’.  Basically that was a session with a psychologist, based around our work, to make sure we were handling everything ok and weren’t ready to start making suicide calls of our own after receiving so many from our clients.

My boss tried to get approval to get extra supervision sessions for me on a personal basis because of what I was going through.  His boss turned him down.  The reasoning?  That I ‘seemed fine’.  I couldn’t believe it when he told me.  I was so angry.  Dad had died so suddenly, and other family members were dropping like flies.  What kind of an idiot would think I was fine?!  And I remember so clearly my boss’s response.  He said “it might help if you didn’t walk around with the biggest smile in the office”.

If you act fine, most of the people around you will believe you are fine.  A lot of them would prefer to believe that anyway given that what you are going through can be anywhere from a little uncomfortable to absolutely terrifying for them, and often they aren’t quite sure what to do with you.

I assumed that the mere knowledge of what was happening in my life made my vulnerability clear to others – probably part of the reason I fought so hard to hide it – but I was wrong.

If you are struggling then it’s time to utter those three little words that are more difficult than any other – ‘I need help’.

I’m not talking about them needing to call you an ambulance and rushing you to hospital to get you immediately medicated.  But if you want to sit and watch mindless TV for three hours and you’d rather have someone sitting beside you, then say so.  If you need a break, then say so.  If you need a hug, then say so.  Your friends, family, and colleagues aren’t mind-readers and if you act like you are ok or you just want to be alone then they may well believe it.

This next part might seem odd for me to say after just telling you to reach out for help and comfort to the people around you, but this bit is so crucial when you have lost your mum or your dad.

Don’t expect everyone to be there for you

I’m going to explain this in a lot more detail in my next blog, as so often I see people alienate or even completely write off friends or family who don’t respond the way they want them to when they have lost someone so close to them.

We often have this idea that everyone we love should be there and want to be there for us.  But you didn’t just stub your toe.  You aren’t going through a slightly tricky patch with your short-term boyfriend or girlfriend.  You have had someone close to you die.  You have had a parent die.  In general, people don’t like to think about death.  They don’t like to think about their own death, their parents’ deaths, their children’s deaths.  They don’t want to be reminded that these things could happen.

Working in a smallish office and having so many family members die over a few months time I was able to see, up close and personal, how people feel about death.  I became a walking reminder of mortality – theirs and the people they love.  And that pushes buttons.  Some people struggle really hard with that and they might not even know that they do.

I’ll go into this more next time as it’s a big topic and I think it is so important to understand this and be ok with it.  But the thing to remember now is simply that the people who love you do want to be there for you.  It’s just that not all of them can.  Just be aware of that and it will make dealing with those around you that little bit easier.


Natala Drew February 4, 2011 at 2:17 am

Kristie, this post, like your others was deeply moving and so very profound for not only those who have lost a loved one but also for those who are dealing with any kind of significant loss. Both my parents are living as you know, but what you describe here reinforced to me that dealing with a Bipolar Disorder shouldn’t be a journey by myself. I am terrible at asking for help and it is one thing I am working on. I just need to say those words ‘I need help’. Harder than it sounds though. Thank you for your words Kristie x

Kristie West February 7, 2011 at 5:42 pm

Hi Natala, it is often harder than it sounds to say that out loud….which is kind of silly when you think about it.
One thing I have learned is that if you really need help from people around you but try to deal with it all yourself instead then life will do something else to kick your legs out from under you, and you are forced to let people know what is going on for you, whether you like it or not. Probably easier to just save the trouble and ask for help in the first place!
I TRY and remember that these days and speak up before that happens. 🙂 xx

krissy February 23, 2011 at 2:12 am

I have a really close friend whoes mother died about 10 years ago when he was about 20. His father also died when he was a small child so losing his mom was especially difficult. On top of that, he had three siblings who were teenagers at the time and all of them were looking towards him for support. I don’t know how he made it through that time in his life and I know he is still traumatized by everything that happened, but being a man, he doesn’t want to talk about it or ask for help. Still, I know him well so I can see the changes that occur in him when something triggers a memory of his mother. Sometimes it gets so bad for him that he’ll have to leave the room and go somewhere else if the memories of her get to overwhelming. For example, he can’t even watch movies or television shows that have scenes of people of hospital beds because those memories are too painful for him. I’ve tried to talk to him about her but everytime I bring up anything having to do with her he changes the subject and he rarley brings up the subject on his own. I only know bits and pieces about her from the rare moments when he does talk about her on his own. I know he needs help but he refuses to let anyone in. I’m not really sure how to deal with him sometimes because I know that he still suffers a lot.

Kristie West February 25, 2011 at 12:18 am

Hi Krissy,

it’s such a tough situation when you want to help someone so badly and know they need it…but they aren’t asking for it and won’t accept it. It’s so tempting sometimes to try and push help on them, but if your friend is anything like a lot of mine (or me for that matter) that’ll just backfire on you. You know him well enough to know his limits.

People can get really protective of their grief and it reaches a point when they are actually hanging on to it and don’t want to let it go and it sounds like this might the situation with your friend. That might sound daft but often we feel like our grief is the last thing we have left of the person we loved so much and we think that to let the pain go means to let them go. I’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirt (and the matching trousers, skirt, shoes, and handbag), so I know what that feels like and also that it isn’t true at all and doesn’t have to be that way.

I’ve got lots of ideas of what you can do – probably too many to write here (and they’ll be in blogs to come) so by all means email me directly and we can chat and I’ll give you some suggestions on how you can help your friend.


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