I was listening to my local NPR station driving home from my parents’ house the other day. A rerun of the day’s “State of Things” was playing, and as it was the run up to Thanksgiving, they were talking about gratitude. I don’t remember how the panelist got on the subject, but she said something to the effect of this: If you’re helping me because you pity me, go away. But if you want to help me because you see my struggle, you are welcome.
I found that really powerful, like someone vocalised exactly my own thoughts. I’ve read and talked to so many people (not just those of us with chronic illness) who struggle asking for help when we need it. I know I do. I also tend to snap when someone offers me help when I don’t need it. And I think I may have figured out why (or at least part of the reason why). So much of the time, it seems people offer help because they feel sorry for you or they think you can’t do whatever it is you’re struggling with or some other reason that makes you an object of pity. And just because we’re sick doesn’t mean we can’t see that.
Sure, I can’t open a jar, turn a door knob, sit in a car for long periods of time without pain. I can’t run or wear high heels or even some days button a button. But there is still a lot I can do. And just because I can’t do those things—and I don’t necessarily know at a given time whether I’ll be able to do those things (and others) or not—doesn’t make me useless or helpless or any less of a person.
No one wants to feel like they need help all the time. Or, at least I don’t. And on those occasions I do need help, I don’t want to feel like you’re doing your good deed of the day by opening a jar of spaghetti sauce for me. But if you see I need help, lend a hand and move on, I will notice and I will be grateful. And, to boot, I’ll get to keep a little bit of dignity.