Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Asking for Help

It is not in my nature to ask for help. I am a proud person and I believe that I can do most things by myself. I also have an irrational fear that asking for help somehow puts me in a position where I am lower or weaker and someone else can take advantage of me or hurt me. I therefore do it very infrequently.

At the same time, I am amazed and inspired by people who do ask for help, especially when they truly need it. These people impress me. If they do this, it means that they are very secure, very able to step forward and admit that yes, this is too hard for me, and I need someone else. These people have learned how to self-assess and how to admit that someone else's aid would be appreciated. They don't fear censure or any kind of look from another person. These people are, to some extent, my heroes.

I am telling you, no, I am begging you, to ask for help when you need it. It doesn't matter the severity or urgency of the request; just do it, the worst that can happen is that someone will say no! And if that person says no, I am telling you that there is someone else who is willing to listen and who will say yes. There are enough people in this world for there to be good ones who truly want to help if it is at all possible. This is important.

If you need help with a project, with homework, with something difficult that is going on in your life- do not be afraid of asking for help. It does not make you the lesser. I protested having any kind of tutor in math all my life. I saw this as making me stupid; I felt that having a tutor would make me seem like I was an idiot. I would not repeat this behavior now. I understand now the value of asking for and accepting help, regardless of the way it makes me feel.

The stigma that is associated with asking for or receiving help in the Orthodox world is deeply upsetting to me. Many people have told me that the reason they do not ask for psychiatric help is because they are afraid it will ruin their chances to have a decent shidduch. I find it deeply upsetting that people would refrain from this because of marriage. You are important. You come first. What you need comes before whatever it is you are supposed to be doing to make your family happy, to make others happy. Your well-being, your mental health, is necessary before you can even begin to embark upon any kind of successful and fulfilling relationship, such as a marriage.

So please do not be afraid of asking for help. Ask the people who have the skills, time and desire to help you. If you need support, ask for it. There are those who will be glad to give it to you. I find that once people realize they actually do need help with something, their first step is to ask someone who they know will accept them unconditionally, who will not judge them. I know this because I have been in such a position, for some see me as such a person. This is an important first step, finding a person whom you trust. But it is not the only step. There are people who are more skilled than I am, people who have been trained to provide this help, and they are the next step. You don't have to give up the person you trust in order to see them; it is not that you must proceed onward to them; you can have both. But sometimes something is too big for you to go it alone. Sometimes you are so important that I or people like me are worried lest it perhaps happen that we are not there at the right time one day, and that is why you must, must find people who can always be there.

Because you matter to us; you matter to me. If you trust me, then you must go it one further; you must tell others beyond me and make sure they are the kind who truly understand. Please do not be afraid of asking for help; you will receive it. You are a deserving and good person; why should people deny you what you ask? I understand that it is difficult if you have had bad experiences with this in the past and especially difficult within the confines of our talkative Orthodox Jewish community. I am asking you to put this aside, even if it seems impossible. I am telling you to forget the Orthodox Jewish community for a while. Damn them, if you must. But do what is best for you, regardless of what it means for shidduchim, what it means for your family. Health and one's mental health is a serious matter; it is extremely important that people feel comfortable asking for help- and that they receive it, hopefully in a very private, confidential, kind and beautiful way.

Sometimes you do not feel that you are deserving. I understand this; I wake up every morning and think I am living a dream. I do not deserve the good that I have in my life. But I promise you that you do. You deserve better than whatever it is you have at the moment, whatever half-existence prompts you to lie and fake your way through the day, the many masks you wear, the way that you have to pretend to please whomever it may be when you are dying inside. Whoever you are, you are a human being; you have a human being's dignity. You deserve far better than this. You deserve to be acknowledged and to be helped; you deserve people who are willing to listen and who will accept you. And such people do exist.

So we will join together, you and I, in our new initiative- to ask for help when we need it, no matter how hard or difficult it may be at first. Because there are some things that are simply too important for us to risk losing. And you are one of them.


Larry Lennhoff said...

Ok, so how can I help you?

Scraps said...

Chana, thank you so much for posting this. It's such an important message, and one that most people do not hear nearly often enough.

Anonymous said...

Learn from Everybody and Asking for Help, kind of go together.

Anonymous said...

Reading the past two posts, it is funny how a commitment to learning and gaining knowledge can still be outweighed by a reluctance to rely upon others.
I think many peple have this internal disconnect, I know I do.

Anonymous said...

I am perhaps latching on to the wrong part of this post, as obviously I don't know the person you are writing about (I presume it is one friend in particular, not the abstract; in which case I hope you have spoken to that person directly, not just via your blog), but I have a lot of first-hand experience of mental health issues*, so I thought I would comment in the hope I could help.

* actually, if your friend has particular concerns, you can forward them on to me and I can try to allay them, if you think that will help (the healthcare system in the US is somewhat different to that in the UK, although I do have some understanding of it from a friend in America who is also clinically depressed).

First, it is easy to say to someone else that they need help; it is a lot harder to admit it to yourself. We live (rightly or wrongly) in a success-orientated society; to need help is the worse thing that can happen to you. To ask for help is therefore an admission of failure. It also means becoming a burden to other people, or at least feeling like one, and depressives tend to be very driven, hardworking, self-sacrificing people who want to be givers, not takers.

In particular, with mental health issues, it can involve switching your life onto a slower time-scale than other people. I am guessing your friend is also in his/her late teens to early twenties, as I am. Well, for the last four, nearly five, years, the key events in the lives of my friends and peers have been starting further courses of study, starting jobs and careers, starting relationships, marriages, families. The key events in my life have been starting new courses of medication and new types of therapy.

Of course, I am an extreme case; most people with depression are not ill for so long, or in such a debilitating way (I assume from your description that that is what we are talking about primarily). Still, it is wrong to downplay the degree of risk, the fact that there is a strong likelihood of being told to slow down certain aspects of one’s life temporarily – probably work and other commitments rather than ‘fun’ things (inasmuch as there are ‘fun’ things for depressives), yet depressives tend to be very driven, hardworking, self-sacrificing people who find it harder to give up their commitments to others than to help themselves. A person has to be ready to accept this before he or she can look for help, and it is very hard to do so.

Furthermore, treatment for mental illness is inherently scary. No one welcomes having to take a prolonged course of mind-altering drugs, especially ones with scary possible side-effects (as it happens, these are extremely rare, but, depressives tend to focus on the worst-case scenarios). Likewise, despite the stereotype, therapy (at least, good therapy) is an incredibly tiring, emotionally-wearing process of opening one’s self up entirely to a stranger in order to adjust certain problematic character traits or to confront very upsetting issues from one’s past. Again, this is better than the alternative (staying depressed), but it is a decision that has to wait until the sufferer is ready.

just do it, the worst that can happen is that someone will say no!

If you are talking about professional help, then yes, more or less (I have had one or two counsellors and psychiatrists who have done more harm than good with their advice, although they are a small minority, I am glad to say).

Unfortunately, when it comes to other people, this is sadly not the case. Lots of people are scared by mental illness, because they do not understand it (it is very hard to understand without having undergone it) or because they misunderstand it. In some cases, they may be scared of doing the wrong thing or not being around. In other cases, they are simply so involved with their own struggles of work, friends, family and relationships that they can not really comprehend what it means to wake up every morning and feel that life just isn’t worth living, that no one would miss you if you vanished; they can’t understand how it can be an impossible effort just to make a sandwich or walk to the shops.

Whatever the reason, they do not know how to cope, and in this way, they can do more harm than good – doubly so because they can think they are helping the person by telling him or her to get his/her act together, to think positively and so on. I have had friends stop talking to me completely because they could not cope with my problems, from reasons that probably seemed very good to them (scared of saying the wrong thing and making me worse etc.). This feeling of rejection and isolation is very hard to take.

Also, a friendship can become based around the depression, which is not healthy for either participant. It is very dispiriting when however earnestly and helpfully your friends inquire after your welfare, they no longer want to just hang out with you, chat and so on, they never just email or drop in to say “hi” anymore, but always as an act of bikkur cholim - if they even do that (again, either they are scared off, or they forget that depression is an illness rather than a character defect or personal problem; admittedly I do not have many friends, but the only one who regularly inquires after my welfare is not even Jewish, but is also depressed).

Actually, this would be my advice to anyone with a friend who is depressed: encourage him/her to get help, yes, but don’t forget to keep treating him/her like you used to, because they have not changed fundamentally. Don’t treat him/her as a chessed project, but your old friend who is somewhat hidden from you, but is still there, struggling to get out from under the depression.

I find it deeply upsetting that people would refrain from this because of marriage. You are important. You come first.

I believe this is a problem away from the Orthodox community too, and it is not just to do with marriage. People feel able to judge the mentally ill when normally they have no idea what they are going through. Obviously shidduchim and the way gossip moves around a small community like the Orthodox one are extreme examples, but do you honestly think even away from that most people are receptive towards those with a history of mental illness, whether as potential friends, employees, colleagues or partners? You are quite right to state that one’s health has to take priority over all those things, but it is a serious issue and a genuine worry for the mentally ill, especially as depressives already suffer from terribly low self-esteem and are convinced no one would want to befriend/employ/date/marry them anyway.

Sometimes you are so important that I or people like me are worried lest it perhaps happen that we are not there at the right time one day, and that is why you must, must find people who can always be there.

It has to be said that regular professional help is generally only available within office hours and by appointment. For emergencies, you are usually looking at either hospital emergency psychiatric services or voluntary organisations like .

I hope this is not too long or irrelevant, and that I have not missed the point of your post. Feel free to delete it if it is.

Anonymous said...

Whoops, the link at the end of my comment didn't work properly. It should have said .

Anonymous said...

OK, I give up getting the link to work properly. The name of the organisation is Befrienders Worldwide, also known as Samaritans in some countries.