The Help Conundrum

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Swan's Head with Dripping Beak

Maybe it’s the easiest thing in the world to say ‘oh, if there’s anything you need…’ but what do we mean by that?  Do we mean anything other than that we’re expressing a vague sentiment of fellow-feeling, sympathy, pity, interest, concern …?  I don’t know.  Maybe it’s a bit like that other chestnut that we all spout in daily life: ‘how are you?’  (Or other less formal versions, if you prefer).  Is it a greeting or a question?  Do we really want an answer?  And what kind of answer do we want?  The truth?  Or just some socially acceptable platitude?

I like to think that I would help someone, I like to think that I would be prepared to do something other than just utter the words.  And I know that there have been times when I have specified, I’ve asked ‘can I help you with this?’ or ‘do you need help doing…?’  It’s easier, more practical for all concerned, me and them.

Truth be told though, I’ve been feeling more and more redundant in recent years and even pretty utterly useless at times.  I can’t believe it’s four years since we last had a vehicle and that, obviously, completely changed how I could help people.  And when.  And, nastily, it even made me increasingly reliant on other people.  I don’t like that.  I don’t like being a burden (to my mind, at least).

And there’s not an awful lot you can do about it when your body is conspiring against you.  It’s just taken me a longer time than it should to realise it.  Because … well, why would  I want to?  But forgetting, not realising just how much my body is failing me leads to sticky situations.  For example, a few months back, I went to help an elderly chap pushing a wheelchair because I am an experienced pusher and he was struggling and it wasn’t right that he was having to do it all by himself … then I realised that I don’t have the strength to push anything anymore.  Very embarrassing.

But if I can’t help other people, what is there left for me?  My whole raison d’être is to look after people, to care, to help.  It’s what I’ve done my whole life.  It’s the only way I can justify my existence.

Whatever I have, I share, I give.  It’s my nature, not a boastful statement.  Sometimes I give what I do not have.  I do not have energy nor health.  Not anymore.  And so I have nothing left to give.  There is nothing left.  I cannot help myself anymore.

And that is the most painful and humiliating admission that you can ever make about yourself.  I am utterly useless.

What is there left for me?

Off to the knacker’s yard?

Maybe.

So when people say ‘oh, if there’s anything you need…’, what am I to say?  How should I respond?  The same way that I steadfastly respond  to the ‘how are yous?’ – with a smile and a cheerful response?  Because does anyone really want to know the reality?  Because do I really want to share?  Because do I want to shamefully admit that I need a hand, that I cannot manage alone?  Because is there anyone actually listening?  There’s too much heartache and embarrassment in baring your soul to a wall that doesn’t want to know, after all.

I wish that I could be an island, self-sustaining, but I know that realistically that isn’t possible.  Or even healthy.  But I can’t help but feel that there’s a certain honour in trying.  But for how long?  And at what price?

This post was inspired by a post over at Dead Men Don’t Snore.  What do you make of her practical advice?

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8 thoughts on “The Help Conundrum

  1. Greatly moved. Grateful for your sending out into our darkness a soul-baring message. Frustrated that I forget so quickly about suffering, since mine has been minimal (why, why you, why anyone). Feeling close through words, at least in this moment. A blessing.

  2. There are so, so many hard things about this illness, but outside of the physical symptoms, I think this sort of identity loss is right up there at the top. Hugs.

  3. I think your blog posts are very helpful, and I think that you find other ways to help. You rescued a crazy family of birds and stayed up all night dropper feeding them. I think you could possibly volunteer as a crisis hotline answer-person? Often, that kind of thing can be done from home, without needing to travel to a job.

  4. Both your post and the one which inspired it are very good. I think you are being too hard on yourself. Remember you are a human being not a human doing. I try to offer specific help, but it is hard to know what others really need. Proper dialogue is needed. Then there are helpers who seem to want to take over…I hope i never do that! Sue

I'd love to know what you think, concrit is especially welcomed on fiction pieces. Thank you.

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