There are definitely times in life when you need help from others. It can sometimes be difficult to acknowledge that you need help because it puts us into a vulnerable position. We may wonder what people will think of us. We may feel unworthy of help. We may feel too proud to ask for it. There are many reasons why people may shy away from asking someone else for help in any capacity.
I have definitely had my share of experiences with both giving and receiving help over the years. My son Max, who has autism, has put me in the position, more frequently than not, to ask for help. When he was a young tot, he had a habit of running away from me, no matter where we were. I remember a time I had lost sight of him in a store and began to panic. I quickly entrusted the help of strangers to help find him. It was through the kindness of these strangers that I found him entranced by the automatic doors, stepping strategically to open and close them. I have also had to enlist the help of professionals including a posse of assorted therapists and teachers. And then there are also the volunteers, unpaid helpers, who decide that they want to be a part of helping my son.
Again, there are as many motivations for helping others as there are flavors of cheesecake at the Cheesecake Factory. I have had good and bad experiences with volunteers based upon these assorted flavors of human motivation. I once posted a flier for children volunteers to act as a peer activity partner for my son. In other words, I was looking for friends for Max so we could have play dates. This was an especially difficult task for me to openly ask for kids to please come over to play with my Max. Some parents made this a wonderful experience to treasure and some made it a humiliating one.
I had one exceptional parent-son duo who would come to visit us weekly. Her son wanted to be there and was excited about both helping and playing with Max. The mother was led by her son who saw the flier at the library and asked if he could do this. Both parent and child were genuine in their desire to be a part of my son’s learning how to play with other children. I would like to contrast this experience with a mother who had seen my flier and had brought her entire family over to meet Max. This mother was clearly in charge of her brood walking behind her like ducklings. Nobody would utter a word unless she did first. When I questioned why her children were interested in coming to play with Max, the children did not answer, but the mother spoke for them. She began to launch into a list of her most wonderful and impressive attributes of how she has been volunteering for years. I got to hear about the “poor little crippled” boy she had been “helping” at her children’s school. I also got to hear a speech of how she wanted her kids to learn how to help those less fortunate. I looked at her kids and they seemed not at all interested in my Max. As a matter of fact, neither did the mother who had not looked nor spoken to him the entire time. She has been too busy talking about herself. And at the mention of the phrase, “those less fortunate” I began to feel a little queasy.
Clearly in this woman’s mind, my son fell into the ranks of “those less fortunate” and she was going to make clear that I knew it. I would be made fully aware that she was up on a pedestal bending down to help. Equals or peers we were not. She would not allow it. This woman sat there and asked questions about Max without ever trying to engage him herself. The children and father sat idly by as I was asked if Max was dangerous, whether he still wet himself, or had idiot savant skills. Needless to say, I sent this horrid woman and her family away. I remember crying that evening, feeling the sting of humiliation.
It would be a long time before I ventured to ask for help again.
It was then that I pondered what it is that makes it so much easier to accept and welcome help from some people but for others; you just want to run away and scream?
I think the answer lies in whether we suspect that the person who is helping us is genuine or not. If we get hints all along the way that the help is given for the purpose of promoting ego or self importance, we feel cheated. I know that for the first mother and son who came to volunteer with Max, that they both would be there despite anybody knowing about it. The second mother would have told the entire world how she was such a good Samaritan to help my “disabled” child, otherwise it probably wouldn’t seem worth her while to be there at all. We feel good about accepting help from those who, we feel at a gut level, truly want to be there for us.
It is very interesting to re-examine my perspectives now that I have a neurological disorder myself and find myself needing help once again, not for my son but for me. I do think I have an easier time asking for help for my son than I do for myself. It is hard for me to do. Yet the fact is, I do need help. I need help from medical professionals, doctors, nurses, techs, and everybody in between. I need help from my family. I need help from my friends. There are even times when I might need help from a stranger.
When you have a disease such as Multiple Sclerosis, it makes sense to find support on-line such as this blog or newsletter. There is great power in knowledge and information. There is also power in community. It is amazing what people can do when they come together for the common purpose of helping one another. I have found great comfort and solace in the words of virtual strangers. And as I get to know these people, it is usually sooner than later that I might call some of these former strangers, friends.
Following my diagnosis of MS, I sought out some on-line support groups. And here I found my previous experiences with receiving help, magnified. There are a multitude of people who simply want to share their experience in hopes that it may benefit someone else walking a similar path. And then there are those, not unlike the mother who perched from a level of condescension, who wish to simply hear themselves talk. They will give you prescribed lists of what you should and shouldn’t do, complete with medicines and dosages, and how to perform miracles. Sometimes this “wisdom” comes from folk who feel they have had this disease for decades and feel overly confident in their “been there, done that” mantra. The thing is, is that everyone is unique in how they will present with their MS including how they are diagnosed, what symptoms they experience, and what their prognosis may be. I don’t care how long someone has had their MS, how many books and articles they have read, or even degrees beside their name. The point is that nobody but YOU has the answers as to what choices you make for yourself regarding your Multiple Sclerosis. There are some folk who will claim to have your answers for you in the name of helping you. But the person who is genuine in their desire to help will make attempts to be objective while at the same time relaying their personal experience. Genuine support is not some sort of one-upmanship of pain or knowledge, but one of walking with you as you find your own answers.
Regardless of what you are dealing with, whether it be your child’s special needs or your own chronic illness, it is good to know that there is much support out there. The very best support, in my opinion, is not based upon any set of special credentials. The best help comes from those who, instead of being perched above you, are lending their hand as an equal. Sometimes the people who help us the most are the ones to courageously say, “I don’t know” but “let’s find out together.” The very best help, in my humble opinion, comes from the bond of true friendship.
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