A Pained Life: Accepting Help is Not a Weakness

By Carol Levy, Columnist

A few days ago I was walking with my friend, Jean. She had her cane in one hand and a wheeled bag in the other. As we approached the stairs going down to the walkway I asked, "Can I take the bag?"

"Oh, no. I'm fine," Jean said.

No, she wasn't. It was an additional burden to manage the bag, as well as the cane. How silly of her, I thought. It would be so much simpler if she'd let me help her.

It did not immediately occur to me that I had done the exact same thing only a few days earlier, when someone offered to help me.

I have neck and back problems. As a result, I should not be lifting anything heavy, which definitely includes the two 42-pound bags of cat litter I had bought.

I put on my neck brace. Grunting and groaning under my breath in case, heaven forbid, someone should come by and acknowledge my struggle, I pulled the bags out of the car.

Then I took the wheeled little platform I have for moving something heavy or unwieldy, put one bag on it, got on my knees and pushed it to the door. I went back to the car, got out the second bag and repeated my performance. Next I lifted them to get them up and over the door jam. Breathing heavily and already in pain, I readied myself to start rolling them end-over-end, like a Slinky, but going up stairs instead of down, to my third floor apartment.

I rarely see my neighbors but suddenly, out of nowhere, a man appeared. Without a word he picked up one of the bags and hefted it up onto his shoulder.

"Oh no," I said. "That's okay. I'm fine. I can get it upstairs. Thanks anyway."

Luck and kindness were with me, since logic and intelligence were not. He just looked at me and continued to carry it up the stairs to my front door. He then got the other bag and carried that up to my door.

After lifting or carrying something heavy, which sometimes can be merely five pounds or so, I am exhausted. Often I end up having to lie down, sometimes for hours, to get over it. But accept help? Say "Yes, thank you." when someone offers? Oh no. That is a fate worse than death.

What is it about accepting help? Is it an admission of weakness, of giving up control? Is saying, “Yes, I need help” a ceding of independence?

For me, and for my friend Jean, once we talked about it, we realized, at least for us, that is exactly what it is. We prefer to struggle, hurt and harm ourselves rather than accept help. Rather than swallow our false pride.

It is said pride goes before the fall.

We both were silly, preferring to take the chance of a literal fall. We blinded ourselves, unable to see the offering of a hand, and the acceptance of it as a gift -- a gift to the person who offers help when we acknowledge their kindness by saying, “Yes. Thank you.”

It can also be a gift to ourselves, if we see the “Yes. Thank you” not as a weakness or giving up control, but as a strength.

It takes courage to say, “Thank you. I can use your help.”

Carol Jay Levy has lived with trigeminal neuralgia, a chronic facial pain disorder, for over 30 years. She is the author of “A Pained Life, A Chronic Pain Journey.”  Carol is the moderator of the Facebook support group “Women in Pain Awareness.” Her blog “The Pained Life” can be found here.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.