Bill of Responsibilities

The Beatle’s song, “Help” has been playing in my subconscious for weeks now.  Originally released in 1965, I first remember hearing it on Ed Sullivan.  One of my playmates in the neighborhood got the album (Rubber Soul) and we would play all those songs, over and over, memorizing the words and imitating the Fab Four.  It never occurred to me that these lyrics would lay low all these years only to surface at this point in my life when their meaning has taken on new significance.

In case you have forgotten John Lennon’s lyrics:

Help, I need somebody
Help, not just anybody
Help, you know I need someone, help

When I was younger, so much younger than today
I never needed anybody’s help in any way
But now these days are gone, I’m not so self-assured
Now I find I’ve changed my mind and opened up the doors

Help me if you can, I’m feeling down
And I do appreciate you being round
Help me get my feet back on the ground
Won’t you please, please help me

And now my life has changed in oh so many ways
My independence seems to vanish in the haze
But every now and then I feel so insecure
I know that I just need you like I’ve never done before

Help me if you can, I’m feeling down
And I do appreciate you being round
Help me get my feet back on the ground
Won’t you please, please help me

I am needing more and more help these days because I have arthritis.  I am temporarily using a cane until I can get hip replacement surgery.  Canes are a universal sign of vulnerability.  What I have noticed since using one is that there are many people who will open doors for me.  Many people who offer to carry bags to my car, and kind souls who will offer me a seat.  I have also noticed that these acts of kindness seem to come from older adults.

My intention here is not to go into a rant about manners and how the youth of today don’t seem to have any.  It is more about John Lennon’s observation that I do need help.  I need to ask for it.  And I need to express my appreciation.

adaptive_equipSince I work exclusively with elders in my practice, I get to see a full range of functioning.  For those with mobility issues like me, the focus of many of my sessions is on adapting to the changes needed to manage everyday life. These sessions include skills-building around pain management, as well as talking about medications, their side effects and interactions with other substances.  I have purchased thick cushions for my chairs to make it easier for me to get up and down, and have found several of my patients using them too.

Many of these conversations also reflect feelings of helplessness and exhaustion that are by-products of the amount of effort needed to get in and out of bed, or into the shower, or in and out of the car.  Well-meaning instructions to exercise more, stay optimistic, and remember what the goals are often fall on deaf ears.  Deaf not due to hearing loss, but to overwhelm.

What I have come to learn through my own experience as well as from my patients is that attitude is everything.  Central to that attitude is being willing to ask for help, regardless of the outcome.  Help will not always be provided and it may not be provided in the way I want it.  But that shouldn’t stop me for asking for help.

i can do it myselfMy nature is to want to do everything myself.  In some ways, this is a reflection of those childhood stages of development where I learned to tie my own shoes, drive a car, and taken on responsibilities.  I became capable because of my independence.  I don’t want anybody thinking that I can’t do things or that I am weak or vulnerable.  I want people to see me as strong and capable.  I like being the person to help other people!

Because I no longer can perform at the levels I used to, I am now gaining experience in asking for help.  It is risky for me.  My inner critic is having a field day giving me advice about how silly and stupid I am to have let my physical self get so compromised and how I should have planned better for getting somewhere on time, and swearing every time I move and it hurts.

drill_sgtAsking for help is a risky strategy.  There is the possibility that help may not be available.  There is the possibility that help will be denied.  There may be a history of asking for help in the past that now has become a self-fulfilling prophecy that no one cares and no one is ever going to be there for me.  There may be cultural and linguistic issues that interfere with being understood.  There may be internal scripts replete with Drill Sargents shouting insults as a means of motivating but succeeding only in shaming.  In my case, I concluded long ago that it was better just to keep quiet and just do things myself.   I confess I have had a difficult time challenging that assumption.  But circumstances have forced me to change my ways.

In doing this, I have found many rewards in asking for help.  More often than not, the possibility that the person I ask has answers I am looking for.  In some cases, they become an advocate and/or ally who is available when I am feeling down.  And many have provided unexpected but pleasant distractions to my habitual ways of engaging with the world.

When I put my inner critic on mute and just attend to my needs, I find more often than not that people are kind, helpful, and caring.  There is empathy from those who have similar limitations, and often shared solutions to problems or resources.  There is camaraderie and knowing glances that frequently result in brief conversations with people I never would have chatted with.  There is a feeling that I am not alone and evidence that I can get through this experience, reassured that others have successfully done it.

So, thank you John Lennon.  Thanks for letting me know that I can ask for help.

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