Let me begin this piece by saying that I pride myself on being fiercely independent. I’m happy to act as a pillar of strength and support to others, to be the leader that others look to when there’s a problem. However, I’m really not good at asking for help and I’m certainly not great at showing vulnerability to many people. That being said, a recent incident highlighted to me just how important a support network can be and why being able to turn to others actually shows greater inner strength than going it alone.
Early last year, a very close friend of mine described a horrifying medical emergency in which he discovered his mother unconscious. What amazed me was how casually he spoke of the incident (at a dinner party of all things). Even more so, I was surprised to find out that it had happened a few months prior and he’d never said a word. For a while, I couldn’t understand why he hadn’t mentioned anything when it had happened. And then, I found myself in a situation where I acted in exactly the same way. I internalised everything, processed it and only once I’d dealt with the situation, did I even bother to casually mention it to anyone. And even then, it was only to explain why I was cancelling on pre-arranged plans with people.
From the way I’m describing this incident, it sounds like I was totally fine. And if I’m honest, I was. The doctors were amazing and everything was under control in a few short hours. And yet, despite all the people around us, I felt completely alone. Where most people would turn to a partner to crumble into, I had none. Where some would turn to friends, I didn’t feel I had the right people to talk to. Where some would turn to family, I found myself in a situation where we were all too busy trying to hold it together that we couldn’t be much help to one another until things calmed down.
What was interesting in this instance was that my actions were influenced by this foolish belief that nobody could help. I lamented not having somebody whose arms I could crawl into and at the same time found my mind trying to convince itself that unlike other people, I didn’t need somebody else as I was strong enough to get through things on my own (this also links to another trigger of mine but I’ll leave that for another entry). The one or two instances where I actively decided to tell people, I subconsciously knew that I’d chosen the people most likely to give me a cold and calculated response instead of one inviting conversation. Similarly, those who offered generosity, I naturally dismissed as being unnecessary as everything was now fine. What scared me into reflection in this instance was that I could see my own behaviour being mirrored in someone I deeply cared about who similarly found themselves without a support network.
For those of you who couldn’t tell, yes, this is very much a pattern of mine. In fact, I recall years ago describing to a friend a very toxic relationship I’d been in that took a huge emotional toll on me. She looked at me in shock. Firstly, because the picture perfect scenario I’d once painted of my happy relationship was now being revealed to be dark, unstable, unbalanced and filled with emotionally draining events. Secondly, I was only speaking to her about this years after the fact. In that instance, things had gotten bad enough that I had reached out to family and a psychologist for help. Together, these people were probably the only reason I didn’t spiral into a dark place myself.
I guess what I’m trying to get to is that the only thing truly stopping you from accepting the love and support of others is your own self-belief. Instead of believing that you’ll be a burden, that you don’t need to rely on anyone else, that there’s nobody able to help, give people a go. At the very least, knowing you’re not alone can lend you incredible strength when you feel you have none left.
And yes, I realise that the example I’ve given shows just how unwilling I was to follow my own advice but I think that’s why I’m writing this piece. This way, there’s a written reminder so that hopefully the next time I find myself putting on the hero front and holding everything together for everyone else, I’ll manage to stop myself, swallow my pride and actually reach out for support. It doesn’t matter who you reach out to, whether you ask for anything or simply need an outlet, anyone from a family member to a psychologist can be invaluable. Even if you don’t physically need anything, just the knowledge that people are there to support you can be incredibly powerful and can help the healing process for all those involved move that much faster.