For many of us, self-reliance is a badge of honor. As someone who lives with a chronic illness, I know it certainly is for me. I cling to my independence fiercely, often refusing to let my partner order dinner in when I’m too sick to cook or pushing myself to go to the office on days when my pain is debilitating. Last week, when my doctors encouraged me to go to the local emergency department for treatment, I reported to triage alone, insistent that there was no need for my family and friends to wait with me.
Get Better at Accepting Help
Whenever I talk to caregivers or those living with illness, it’s uncanny how many of us report similar stories. It seems that when illness affects our lives — whether it’s our own illness or the illness of a loved one — maintaining our independence can feel like the only way to stay true to ourselves.
But if you’ve been on the other side, you know how difficult it is to see someone going through a tough time and not know how to help. That’s why I’m trying to get better at accepting caregiving support. If, like me, you need to reconsider how you handle offers of help, here are a few tips:
- Accept the facts. People are going to offer to help. It’s not because they think you’re a mess; it’s because they care about you, and they want to lighten your load a little. You don’t have to feel awkward when you receive an offer of help, or rush to reassure the person asking. Try seeing it as a reminder that you’re loved. You can use offers of help as an opportunity to take a deep breath and be present with the person who has offered to support you.
- Be ready. Most offers of help are general. Often, people in our communities don’t know what exactly they can do to help, so they make open-ended offers. While well-intentioned, these offers tend to put us on the spot and we often draw a blank. Make it easier to accept help by thinking ahead about the help you might need. What tasks don’t actually require your supervision? Prepare a list of errands or other tasks that you could easily pass off to someone else the next time they ask what they can do to help. There are also online resources that can assist with delegating tasks.
- Be concrete. When talking to friends and family about how they can help out, try not to speak in hypotheticals. This can leave people unsure what is being asked of them, and require you to have more conversations about what you need. If you have a friend who loves to cook and he offers to bring dinner for your family, pick a day. If you need someone to run an errand, describe what it is and how long it will take. It may seem counterintuitive, but the less you leave open for interpretation, the easier it is for someone to help you.
- Let go of a little control. Accepting help means releasing the responsibility for something you might feel you have to hold on to. Try to let go a little, though. Your loved ones want you to lean on them when things get tough. Giving them a way to show they care is important, and you’ll get the most out of the help if you can let go of not just the work but the worries, too.
- Be gracious. Your genuine relief is all the thanks that your friends and family want when they offer to help you. You don’t have to make a fuss or send a thank you gift; a simple, heartfelt thank you is plenty of acknowledgement.
And if you find yourself feeling that you should do more to earn the help you’re offered, or you struggle with accepting caregiving support, try to remember this: if the situation were reversed, you’d do whatever you could to help the people you love navigate their tough days. Your community feels the same way about you, so take that deep breath, and say yes to the support you need.