Inspired by Amanda Palmer and The Art of Asking
I am not good at asking for help, and in my family, we call it the ‘I DO IT’ syndrome.
Large families are notorious for assigning nicknames and coining phrases and ours is no different. When my mother once observed her two year old, strong-willed granddaughter trying to singlehandedly wrestle her tricycle up the stairs, of course she offered to help. “I DO IT!” was the emphatic and in no uncertain terms response.
My husband loves this story and finds it particularly enlightening vis a vis our own relationship. Anytime I refuse an offer of help from him, even the smallest gesture of help, he says ‘I DO IT’. Sometimes I give him my iciest glare but most often, I laugh at myself and let him help me wrestle my tricycle up the stairs.
I DO IT served me well in life. Or so I thought. I always went after what I wanted, became an entrepreneur at an early age, and made, what I perceived to be at least, some pretty fearless decisions. Believe it or not, one of the most fearless decisions I ever made was to ask for help.
It was February 9, 2006, I was 48 years old and I had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. Wisely, I had asked my friend to come with me to the clinic where I was to receive some test results. I asked her to come because my spidey sense told me all was not well. I asked her to come because I knew she would be able to handle whatever news we were to be given. When the doctor uttered those crushing words, my friend stepped in and took over my life for the next 2 hours. She took the notes, drove me to a safe haven, and made all the calls.
You would think that positive experience of asking for help would have stayed with me but no—if you’ve been a lifelong I DO IT, old patterns die hard. A week later, I was still telling myself I could get through this, that I didn’t need to bother my best friend and sister who lived 700 miles away. She had her own life, her own family, her own troubles. It would be too much to ask her to come to me.
What an idiot I was.
I spent a whole week mired in fear and sadness, sadness and fear, before finally realizing that asking for help is not a shameful act. It is an act of the utmost vulnerability—the emotional equivalent of dreaming yourself stark naked on a stage in front of thousands.
So I stripped myself bare, picked up the phone and told my sister I needed her. She came as soon as she could get a plane ticket and for the next week, I turned my life over to her. She researched everything and made me a binder of all the things she thought I needed to read. She looked at photos on the internet of what a woman post-mastectomy looks like and she didn’t cry. She only told me it wasn’t so awful and there were all kinds of options.
She made endless cups of tea and consoled my partner in life. It was during her stay Ric asked if he could take a portrait of the two of us. He set up the camera in his studio and captured what to me, is one of the most raw and real portraits he has ever made.
Sometimes when I look at that photograph, I don’t recognize myself—there is no guard, no defense, no wall. What I see is one human being softly asking, “Is anyone there? Do you see me?” and another responding, “I am here, and I have you”.
And that, is the power of asking.