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I’ve spoken again and again about the importance of asking for help when you need it. I think it’s time to cover *how* to ask for help. Some of this may have been touched on briefly in other topics, but please bear with me. I think it’s important to have it all together in one place!

Do I need help?
This is one of the most important questions when it comes to asking for help, and it’s one that gives people problems at both extremes… some people refuse to ask for help, assuming that they should be able to cope with everything on their own (or assuming, wrongly, that no-one would help them if they *did* ask). Others go the opposite extreme, asking for help in situations that they could easily manage alone, either because they don’t know they can do it (never having tried without help before) or because the mere fact that they’re given the help makes them feel better, by knowing that others care for them.

So ask yourself some questions:
Can I manage this alone?
Will trying to manage this alone hurt or upset me?
Might it be worth trying this alone first, with the knowledge that I can always ask for help if that doesn’t work?
If I don’t feel comfortable asking for help on this, can I cope with asking for someone to be there/nearby in case I need them?

Who do I need help from?
Is this something that only one person can deal with? If so, is it the same person that you ask to deal with a lot of other things? The wonderful thing about a support network is that it’s a network. You have more than one person you can ask for help from. The even better thing is that if one person is busy or unavailable or simply can’t help then there are others who probably can!

If you don’t have a support network, then try forming one. If there’s something you could probably handle alone, but would really appreciate some help on, then try asking someone you wouldn’t normally ask for help. At worst they’ll refuse, and you’ll still be able to do it alone or ask someone else. At best you’ll find someone who’ll support you when you need it most.

Am I asking for help, or just dropping hints?
Something I run up against time and time again is that I’ll ask and ask for help and no-one will give it. And then, when I’ve calmed down and the worst of the dark moods have passed, I’ll suddenly realise that I wasn’t actually asking for help at all. I was dropping hints into the vast space of social networking and hoping that someone would pick them up and put them together and do exactly what I needed them to do.

Be specific.
A general call of “I’m feeling down and need something to cheer me up” is very unlikely to work.
A narrower call of “I’m feeling down and really need someone to meet up with me for chats and coffee sometime this week” works better.
A specific call of “Hey, Christine, how about we meet up for coffee? I’m feeling down and could use a chat.” Works best of all!

Do I help others when I can?
People are social animals, and it’s built into us to consider the chance of getting a return for our actions. No matter how kind and selfless a person is, there will be a point where they wonder if it’s a case of give-and-take or just give-give-give. It’s a hard thing to make yourself think about, but sometime it’s worth considering what you do in return for others.

Now, it stands to reasone that if you need help to change a lightbulb or get your shopping done you won’t be able to help others with those same things, but there are a lot of different ways of helping. There’s listening when someone needs to vent, being there when they’re lonely, spell-checking a document, doing some art for them, sending them a postcard when you think they may be down. There’s reminding them that they’re awesome. There’s sending on a recipe ‘cos it made you think of them.
And like all my points, there’s a flip side to this. Sometimes it’s worth looking at what youdo in return for others… ‘cos sometimes you don’t notice how much you do for them until you stop and think. So if you’re worrying about asking for help, then think about how you’ve helped others and touched their lives for the better. I can see no reason why they’d want to do any less!

Am I thankful for the help I’m given? Do the people who gave it know I’m thankful?
Another point that can be so easy to forget, but can mean so much. Yes, there’s the fact that if people do things for you again and again without thanks they may begin to wonder if it’s worth it, but there’s also the fact that many people who do things for you don’t know how much it means to you. Make sure they find out. Nothing can brighten a day faster than finding out that something you did because it was no bother at all to you actually made the world of difference to someone you care about!

Am I asking for help, or demanding it?
I like to think I’m very aware of how others are feeling, and would go out of my way to help anyone who’s suffering from… well anything really. There have been times, however, when people have specifically asked me for help and it’s just put my fur up. There’s a certain type of request for help that gets to me in particular: The entitled “I’m sick so you have to help me” that seems to completely ignore the fact that I may be having troubles of my own, or even just not want to. That’s just a specific bugbear of mine though… there are lots of other ways that people try to get help instead of just asking straight. And most of them don’t even realise they’re doing it!

So here are some things to think about, with regard to HOW you ask for help:

-Am I giving the full details at the beginning?
Sometimes it’s tempting to ask for a small piece of help, and then gradually increase what you’re asking for as the person is helping. “Can you drive me to the bottle bank with these empties? I don’t have a car.” can become “Oh, and if you don’t mind a trip to the tip with this old cooker… and some garden waste… actually, it might be more than one trip… If you don’t mind, of course!”
Be *very* wary of this. Even with the best will in the world it’ll be hard for a friend to take this without feeling taken advantage of! And while they may be too polite to say it, and you may get all your waste disposed of, they’ll be considerably less quick to come to your aid next time if they think you’re going to demand more than you asked for at the start.

-Am I using my illness as a reason why I can’t do it myself, or as a lever on their guilt?
Sometimes it’s hard for people to understand why you need help with something that they could do so easily on their own. In those situations it’s perfectly reasonable to explain to them how your illness affects your life, and how it makes seemingly simple things incredibly hard.
It’s easy to worry that you might not get the help you want, and it can seem like a good idea to make large of the fact that you’re not well right from the start. This isn’t as reasonable at all and even if you do it with the best of intentions, and even if you’re partly doing it to justify to yourself that you do need help (and you do need help), it can come across as “You have to help me ‘cos I’m speshul!!” Again, this is likely to make people feel resentful and they may begin to wonder if you think you have more problems than them, or if you think you deserve more than them. I know this isn’t true. You know this isn’t true. Even *they* may know this isn’t true… but knowing and feeling are too different things and the human brain has a way of jumping to conclusions without asking. If someone feels resentful then it’s very hard for them to help, even if they know what they’re feeling isn’t fair.

-Am I phrasing the request in a way that suggests I expect them to help whether they want to or not?
There’s a mile of difference between a request, a demand, and an expectation.
Asking someone to do something can get a yes, no, or maybe answer.
Demanding someone do something can get a yes, no, or F**K YOU answer.
Expecting someone to do something can often be the worst of all. For example, I’ve known people who simply assumed that because we were friends I would do ridiculous things (like, say, breaking off other friendships because they didn’t approve). While I would have considered it rude if they asked me to do something like that, and unnacceptable if they demanded it… the simple expectation that they wouldn’t even need to ask and it would be automatic (followed by anger afterwards if I didn’t) was a complete dealbreaker for me. Expecting someone to do something as some kind of innate right you have over them can give the impression that their opinions and rights don’t matter to you in the slightest.
And here’s the worst part: Simple mis-phrasing of a request can make it come across as either a demand or an expectation. So look over what you’re asking and try to make sure that it’s comming across right. If in doubt, ask a friend for a second opinion. If you ask someone for help and they reply with the F**K you option, consider the idea that they might just have misunderstood.

And, finally, the harshest question of all, and the one that most needs facing:

Am I asking for help, or asking someone to do it for me?
‘Cos this is where it all comes down to you. And this is the question only you can answer. Are you owning your own problems, or are you pushing them away, and hoping that someone else will deal with them? Does asking for help mean you can stop thinking about them? Pretend for a little longer that they aren’t really problems? Or at least, that they’re somebody else’s problems and that it’s somebody else’s responsibility to deal with them?

If it is just you trying to avoid your problems, then please, PLEASE think again. People will still help you. There will still be people out there who will give everything to make sure you can live a life without your problems. There are people who will love you and try and take all your problems on themselves… but it won’t help you.
You can never grow by avoiding your problems. You can never get better by asking other people to take them away. You can only ever get better if *you* make them go away. If you face them, and beat them, and cast them aside. You can have help when you do it, and you always will, but it has to be *help* not them doing it for you. The core has to be you.