by Roberta Horton, LCSW, ACSW
It’s not only the physical changes of arthritis that can give you trouble. One of the biggest — and most challenging — changes may be the realization that you need help from others. It’s not easy for most of us to ask for help, for all kinds of reasons. But there are a number of strategies you can use to ask for, and get, the help you need.
The first step is to identify the kind of help you need. Help can come in many forms, and different people will have different needs. Think about how the following kinds of help may apply to your particular situation.
Asking for help when we need it seems so basic, so human. Why, then, do so many people find it hard to do? Asking for help is not as simple as it sounds. It can involve taking personal and financial risks, all of which need to be considered, understood, and worked through. Some obstacles to asking for (and getting) help are listed below. See if any of them apply to you. Understanding your own barriers to asking for help is a good way to start overcoming them.
It means admitting arthritis has changed your life. Asking for help when you didn’t need it in the past is, in a way, “going public” about your arthritis. It means acknowledging that you have an illness and that you need assistance in a way you didn’t before. It makes living with a chronic illness very real — to yourself and others. Psychologically, it’s a big step to take.
You think you shouldn’t have to ask. Shouldn’t people close to you just “get it”? It’s hurtful and may make you feel angry or frustrated that others, whether family members, friends, your doctor, or your coworkers, don’t somehow recognize and reach out to meet your needs more proactively.
It’s a sign of failure. You feel defeated when you think of asking for help. Perhaps you even feel a sense of shame that you’ve fallen short somehow, as if living with the impact of arthritis is your own fault.
You don’t feel you have the right. Others have their own problems, why should they be asked to attend to your needs? You may feel a sense of unease, or even guilt, in having expectations of others, especially those you might not have asked help of in the past. Others, in turn, may not be used to your making these kinds of requests.
You fear being a burden. If you pride yourself on your independence, or on always being the one that others turn to for help, asking for help can have a real impact on your self-esteem. You don’t want to feel like a burden. You may also be afraid that others upon whom you have to depend will come to resent you.
You fear unanticipated consequences. When you ask for help, it’s a good idea to weigh the pros and cons of making the request. Ultimately, however, you do not have a crystal ball; you won’t always be able to have control over the outcome, and the outcome may be something you haven’t even thought of. Your fear of unanticipated consequences may in fact be ungrounded, but anticipating the worst may make you reluctant to move forward.
There might be a stigma. You might feel that others will look at you differently or think about you differently after you ask for help. You don’t want others to feel sorry for you or to feel that you are somehow less than you used to be. You may also worry about how this could affect your personal, social, and work relationships, now and in the future.
Last Reviewed on December 14, 2011
Roberta Horton is Director, Social Work Programs and Staff Development, in the Division of Patient Care & Quality Management at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.
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