“Needing Help Makes You Feel So … Helpless,” column, July 3, 2012

If you are anything like me (no, smarty, I don’t mean clumsy) maybe you grew up in a time and place that taught you to be self-reliant and never ask for anything that isn’t offered.
I come from a long line of hard-headed, strong-willed, independent Southerners who’d rather drown in a well than swallow a little pride and ask somebody to throw them a rope.
Refusing to ask for help does not mean you don’t need it. It just means it galls you to ask.
Take my mother, for example.
Once, when I was a teenager, I dared to suggest that if her life were more interesting, she might not need to spend so much time meddling in mine.
And if that wasn’t enough to get me killed, I went on to say she ought to get out more often.
“I get out plenty,” she said, spitting words like darts. “I go to work every day then I go home to fix supper. On Saturday, I go get groceries, after I clean my house and do six loads of wash. On Sunday, I go to church, then I go see my mama. I don’t need to get out more. I need help.”
But would she ask for help? No. She hated feeling needy.
They say when a woman dies she is reborn in her daughter. Like my mother, I’ve always hated feeling needy. But lately, it’s getting worse.
It started two weeks ago when I tripped and fell (never mind how) and broke my foot.
The good news was I didn’t need a cast, just a plug-ugly boot that I could take off to shower or to float in the pool, but had to wear at all other times around the clock, even to bed, for six whole weeks.
And with that, I slid into a pit of self-pity as I became painfully aware of things I couldn’t do.
The boot allows me to walk, but slowly, with a limp and hitch that’s exhausting, and makes me look like a hobbled mare.
I limp and hitch from one room to the next, plop down in a chair and breathe a weary sigh, only to realize I left left my glasses or book or Diet Coke or whatever in the other room, along with my religion.
I can’t walk fast or far, stand for long or carry anything heavy (like my purse) because my foot will throw a fit.
Also, I can’t drive. I’ve been driving since I was 14. Never mind how long. Too long to give it up for six weeks.
Worst of all, I have to ask for help. My husband, to his credit, has gotten pretty good at reading my mind. He tries to help before I have to ask.
Even so, I find it frustrating and humiliating. Needing help makes you feel so … helpless.
But it’s not all bad. It’s kind of fun for someone who’s been a mom most all her life to be babied for a while. And it’s given me a chance to identify in new ways with fiercely independent people like my brother, who was born with multiple handicaps and had to learn to ask for help with dignity and patience.
My first husband was a coach who ran a marathon before he was diagnosed with cancer and told he had six months to live.
With a solid steel will and the grace of God, he stretched six months into four years before he died. When he could no longer run, he walked on the beach. When he couldn’t walk, he read books about Yosemite. When he could no longer climb mountains, he shot photos from the car and made scrapbooks.
He tried to be thankful for what he could still do, instead of grieving for what he had lost. And sometimes, it was enough.
OK, so I can’t walk well, but I can hobble. I can’t drive for six weeks, but I can ride shot-gun. I can’t cook much or clean or do a lot of things I usually do.
But I can sit in my husband’s chair icing my foot, zipping through ads in the Giants’ game while he loads the dishwasher.
My mother would be amazed.


  1. Patricia Welch says

    I just read your article about needing help. It fits me to a tee. I have been off work on disability for 5 months now. I’m an RN on a cardiac/step down unit/chest pain clinic. I have rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, osteo arthritis and fibromyalgia. All of them flared up at the same time. I’m 60 years old and this is the longest I have ever not worked since I was 10 years old. I need help with just about everything, but I didn’t ask for help with anything until this past week because so many things have built up that I was about to go nuts. Asking was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but you know what? Once I asked for help, all my family has been coming over and happily working on my house. It has been surprisingly joyful. I am enjoying the company and I feel less isolated. All it’s costing me is a good attitude and a whole bunch of pots of coffee. I have also come to realize how wonderful a life I have despite any disabilities. I loved your article!

  2. Alice M. Anderson says

    Sharon my dear, I’m so sorry you must go through being 91 years old at your age! The results of your accident sound so much like my present condition. I have just realized that my body is telling me that this could be my condition for more than six weeks. This doesn’t lessen your present misery, I know. Just think, when the time comes you’ll have experienced many of the miseries of old age and you will rejoice as I do when you keep saying, “I’m alive, I’m still here just where I am and really enjoying the life I have. alicemariefromtennessee

  3. Diana Dolecki says

    Glad to know that someone else hates asking for help as much as I do. But it could be worse. According to my grandson, Jacob, his house is infested with bad monkeys that live in the vents and Yetis that run free inside the house. Thankfully, Yetis and bad monkeys are afraid of orange kittens and as luck would have it they just found an orange kitten!
    Here’s hoping you have a speedy recovery free of bad monkeys and Yetis!

  4. claudette arnold says

    I had a recent break also….my required surgery with the other one sprung. then like a dummy in the hospital i tried…you know since i am a woman used to takin care of myself….to get from point a to point b and fell and fractured my tailbone….so i can join the other miserable folks that , yep can’t drive….this is not only a hot summer but a accident waiting to happen summer…good luck to all you other women out there in the same boat…

  5. Sharon,
    Thank you so much for putting MY story in writing! I recently broke my leg (a “mis-step”), spent 2 weeks in a cast, followed by 4 weeks in a 24/7 “plug-ugly” boot. I couldn’t drive (right leg). I was angry, sad, and humbled. Being very independent, it was difficult, but I learned to accept help when it was offered. And to ask when it wasn’t offered. I kept telling myself that it could have been worse, it could have been my right arm!! After a few weeks of physical therapy, I still move at one speed: slow, but getting “faster” every day. Thanks for making me laugh, and cry, as I read my story, too. Thanks for writing it for me. Hang in there. Things WILL get better..


  6. Sharon,

    I’m sorry to hear about your fall and broken foot. Maybe “how” you fell is another column. I hope you’re not in too much pain, and I hope you heal quickly.



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