Do you struggle to ask for help?

During the Covid lockdown I started doing the shopping for some neighbours who were isolating because they’re immunocompromised. I’d volunteered to be a Helper through my local council, who paired us up – it was just coincidence that we happened to live two doors away from each other. We’d waved and smiled as we went past, but never spoken before.

They were hugely grateful for everything I did. If I couldn’t get something on their list they’d be almost embarrassingly pleased that I’d got everything else. Every week they’d ask if it was ok for me to do it this week and it’s no problem if I couldn’t. Once they rang me to ask if I could possibly post a letter for them as well. There’s a post box in Tesco so it wasn’t a challenge, but they still asked.

The thing was, I was going to Tesco every week for myself anyway and it took hardly any more time to get their shopping at the same time. And my clinic was closed so it wasn’t as though I had anywhere else to be. Grocery shopping was the highlight of my week for a while and as someone who has made a career out of helping people, I was also very happy to be able to do them that small service.

After I’d been doing their shopping for about 6 weeks I was chatting to them and they said the hardest thing they’d found about the whole Covid thing was having to ask for help, because they never have before. They’re both in their 70s (although I’d have put them nearer 60), so that’s a long time to be independent.

That got me thinking. I’ve always been pretty independent myself, and rather than ask for help I’d spend hours trying to work out for myself how to do something – or just avoid doing it altogether. I’d climb on the furniture rather than ask my much taller husband to reach something for me. I’d directly disobey instructions from my managers to work with other people because it meant admitting I didn’t know something. (Incidentally this is not good for your career).

There are advantages to this, particularly if you live on your own. It’s often quicker and easier (and sometimes cheaper) to do something yourself than ask someone else to do it, and you know it’s going to get done the way you want it done. I have learned not to ask my husband to hang laundry, because he has no concept of pegging things out straight and everything ends up a very strange shape. You never know when you might end up having to do something for yourself, so it’s no bad thing to know that you can. I’m a firm believer in everyone knowing how to change a wheel, rewire a plug and unclog the sink. And you get a sense of satisfaction when you do something for the first time and it comes out well. There’s a set of shelves on my wall that I put up using all the proper power tools, much to my husband’s amazement, and I feel good about myself every time I look at them. Not least because I have in the past been known to put shelves up using Blu-Tac. This is all well and good (well, not the Blu-Tac) but like anything that has two sides to it, in other words like everything, it can be taken to extremes.

I’ve fallen off things trying to reach high cupboards. I’ve broken things trying to complete DIY tasks that I didn’t know how to do, or lift things that were really far too heavy for me. I’ve spent a lot of time working out how to do something, badly, that someone else could have shown me how to do – or done themselves – in mere minutes. And I’ve heard a lot of people say ‘Why didn’t you just ask me?’ a lot of times.

It’s even worse when your reluctance to be helped extends to preventing people from helping you when they’re actually offering, or even trying, to do so. This makes you look ungrateful and can be very hurtful for the helper. Not good for your interpersonal relationships.