Friday, February 17, 2012

“Asking for Help”

         I hate asking for help. I’ve tried to figure out why, but it’s like peeling an onion. Just when I think I understand my motivations on one level, I reveal another layer. Seeking help makes me feel inadequate. I should handle each and every situation life dishes out with confidence. When I can’t, I feel disoriented and depressed. I realized recently that I differentiate between asking for aid and delegating responsibility. In one, I need someone else to take care of me (or my duties) in some way. I want and need to completely drop control. With the other, I still maintain some level of influence.  
So, if I reach the point where I’m saying, “I can’t do this any longer,” it means I’ve hit rock bottom. I’m Wile E. Coyote plummeting over the cliff, holding the little useless “HELP!” sign in the air right before splatting on the rocky desert floor. Another onion layer reveals that a part of me resents having to ask for help. Shouldn’t those around me be aware enough to know the cliff edge looms? Shouldn’t they run some kind of interference before I find myself peddling in the air? Shouldn’t they volunteer to step in and thwart the Road Runner before he misdirects me into my downfall? Yes. I expect the people around me to read my mind, notice my body language, listen to how I say something, not just what I say. My husband, thank goodness, mastered the nuances of Liz Language years ago. However, he can only do so much by way of helping—he has a full-time job, after all.
My mother’s condition worsens in subtle ways, making it difficult to ask for help because I don’t know what I need. Many people with Huntington’s disease suffer from mood disorders. For my mother, anxiety crept into her daily routine. Later, depression made infrequent and unexpected visits. Eventually, these two moods dominated her days unless she took medication. Lately, other changes in Mom’s personality have begun to surface. Each one signals to me that her HD continues to progress. Medications may control or mask symptoms, but the underlying reality is that she’ll never get better. She’ll only grow worse.
In recent weeks, irritability slips into the room unnoticed. If I don’t smile as I help Mom get into or out of her wheelchair, if fatigue or frustration tinges my tone of voice as I try to figure out what she wants, if my temper flares, then Mom responds with a verbal cut edged with cruelty that I’ve never heard from her. If my mood is dark, she becomes paranoiac and worries that I won’t help her.
I’ve resorted to asking her doctors for help. It’s rare that I request an adjustment to her medications, and usually it’s to help her deal with the anxiety and depression. Today, though, I found myself complaining to Mom’s internist that she’s not sleeping. Her insomnia started with one or two wakeful nights a week, but has turned into four or five nights where she sleeps only two or three hours. She usually doesn’t “catch up” on her sleep by napping the next day, so we all run on a deficit. Not good for anyone’s moods. Of course, the doctor didn’t miss a beat. He instructed me on which medication to increase at night before Mom goes to bed. Nothing in his response made me feel inadequate for asking, or guilty for wanting peaceful nights again.

Copyright 2012 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

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