This week I suffered a bit of a setback.
After riding my bike to work for months, I started feeling weak. Riding was tougher, and my body just didn’t seem to be handling it very well. Then, last Friday I felt a familiar, if unwelcome, pain in my chest.
I put it off to riding in the cold. sub-40-degree air. The pain lessened, but didn’t really go away. Saturday, I tried again. While I didn’t feel the same pain, the dull ache in the center of my chest was a bad sign. So was the 14 pounds I’d gained in 10 days. And the dry cough. And the backache.
Last time I had these symptoms, it was after a fairly significant heart attack that for all intents and purposes should have killed me.
I headed home, rounded up my daughter, and headed to the closest urgent care facility. I also sent out messages to those folks in town who I knew could help. I didn’t want to, but I had to.
On the way to the urgent care, my daughter and I had a wide-ranging talk. and it came to the discussion of why I don’t like to ask for help. She proffered her belief that it was pride. But that’s not it. Not at all.
Pride would mean that I couldn’t accept help because I was above help, that I didn’t need it, that I could do things on my own. But that’s not where my disdain for asking for help comes from.
I don’t want to ask for help because it means I screwed up somewhere. It’s not that I think I can do it myself. It’s because I’m ashamed or embarrassed that I couldn’t. That somewhere along the line, I made a choice or series of choices that landed me in a position where I have to ask for help. And I hate it.
When I’m asking for help, it is a reminder of my choices. And an echo of the voices that tell me (or my daughter) that I’m a bad parent, or that I’m irresponsible, or that I’m self-centered and selfish. Or just a fool.
I make the best decisions I can given all the information I have. Sometimes, I don’t see all the ramifications. Sometimes I could make a better choice. And sometimes, things just don’t go my way. But I believe in personal responsibility, that I am where I am because of the choices I make, good or bad. No blaming someone else for my misfortune. Maybe it wasn’t one choice, but a domino-effect that cascaded into whatever circumstance happens to come my way. It all falls on me.
Did I choose to have a heart attack? No. But could I have treated my body better? Perhaps. Could I have worked to reduce my stress levels? Absolutely. Could I have made earlier choices that kept me from getting into those stressful circumstances. Probably. You can see how this goes.
What doesn’t help, is when folks who believe they are acting in your best interest choose to use your request for help as an excuse to berate you for the circumstance you are in. No one – No. One. – is harder on me than I am on myself. Telling me I make bad choices or telling my daughter that I am a lousy parent or any of a myriad other characterizations from snapshots of my life – it’s not helpful. It’s painful. Because I’ve already beat myself up way before I even ask for help. I’ve already exhausted my other options, tried to find ways to solve the problem myself.
I don’t need the negative. I’ve already supplied it.
So, over this weekend, I had to ask for help. And I had doctors and friends tell me what I already knew – things need to change. But this time, the doctor was a bit more harsh. If I don’t make changes, he predicted that I wouldn’t see my daughter turn 18. That the damage that has already been done to my heart is not reversible. That all I can do is slow or try to stop any further damage. But it won’t get better.
And the number one cause of the damage? Stress. I can take medications to slow my heart down, to lower my blood pressure, drop my already decent cholesterol even lower. But if I can’t reduce the stress, it won’t make a significant difference. And I already knew that.
So, some folks get upset because I don’t tell them what’s going on directly. That they aren’t the first to know. But they don’t get told because what I need is support, not criticism. I’m not looking to be babied, to be pacified and made to feel everything will be alright. But what I really don’t need is more stress added. Stress I’ve got in spades. They mean well, but desire to tell me how they think I should lead my life – at 50 years old – only serves to make things worse.
My reticence to ask for help isn’t pride. It’s self-preservation and shame.