I am writing this blog post after two of the sickest weeks I’ve experienced in my life. It came out of nowhere and wouldn’t let up. It may sound silly that a little sickness could wreck a household for more than 2 weeks, but it has. As with most people, when I need the most help I am not very articulate and not very good at brainstorming exactly what it is I need. This experience has taught me that people can’t see into my life and know to help out. They need to be called upon and clued in to how bad the situation is in order to be of service.
Over two weeks ago I found myself coming down with a funny headache. Within an hour it felt like my body was on fire and every inch of skin ached. I felt irrational, terrified and on the verge of something awful. It turned into a ferocious stomach flu that lasted for a week. Each night I would be up every half hour sick, delirious and on the verge of fainting. Days were spent hunched over and exhausted from the dangerous level of dehydration. Today almost 20 days later I am still experiencing the side effects of that much digestive trauma. Even food poisoning in Mexico was nothing compared to this stomach flu. But what made this sickness all the more exciting is right around day 8, when I could finally keep small amounts of food down, my husband started in with a sore throat.
When my husband gets sick it is like living in a nightmare as his strong constitution waves up and his body goes to war. He gets fevers to burn the sickness off, but he feels chilled. So the thermometer says 102.6 degrees, but he is shivering beneath all the blankets and sweating through the sheets. In a four-year-old child this would seem reasonable, but in an adult man it always feels a few hours away from death. Even with high doses of fever reducer and all the Chinese Medicine I can get him to take, it takes hours for the fever to fall. In the meantime he drenches through clothing, numerous sets of sheets and all our towels.
So on day 8 when I was barely standing and still being squeezed by dehydration cramping and exhaustion, I was up all night changing sheets in the dark, sponging down a clammy body and counting hours between doses of Advil. Two nights of not sleeping set back both of our recoveries and left us in a house with no food and no one strong enough to cook, grocery shop or fetch medicine.
We are so thankful to both sets of parents who grocery shopped, cooked meals, traveled to see us during our sickness, supervised me when I was too weak to be home alone and called and emailed daily to check in on our recoveries. We are so thankful to friends who called, emailed and offered support in little ways during the sickness. But the biggest take away from this experience is how much more help we needed and how alone and desperate we felt.
This blog post is what we learned about how to ask for help and how we plan to give help in the future.
5 Tips for the Person Asking
- Tell people everything that is going on at home. Friends and family can’t support you if they don’t know what is going on and how bad it really is. Be as honest as possible about ailments, issues or events so that your support group understands there is a need to step up and help.
- Make specific requests and state what basic need that friend is supporting for you by fulfilling that action. Whatever your request, provide as much helpful information so your friend can complete the task. Asking someone to grocery shop for you is too demanding, but emailing a friend a list of ten crucial items is a reasonable, manageable and specific request. If that friend knows the full magnitude of the situation they will figure out a way to be of service.
- Have confidence that asking for help is a gift, most people like to feel needed and helpful. Flip the tables and imagine yourself being asked to complete this task by a friend. Would you shy away or be thrilled to be able to help? Being helpful reveals that you are in the inner circle of intimates. It also reveals that your friends think you are reliable. Asking for help builds relationships and strengthens bonds.
- Be true to yourself and to your recovery. Recovery is a dangerous, vulnerable process. One wrong move could set you back three or four days. Weigh the consequences of you not asking for help, does it actually end up inconveniencing more people in the long run.
- Understand your loved ones are human. It is in moments of need when we discover the width and reach of our support networks. If you reach out in a crisis and those you depend upon are really incapable of helping, it doesn’t mean they don’t love you. It simply means they are human. This is opportunity to negotiate and see if there is any other way they can be helpful or show their support.
5 Tips for Those Being Asked To Help
- Never assume that what is happening on the surface is the whole issue: Our society isn’t big on asking for help. When someone shows their vulnerability and actually makes a request, remember that the information they are giving you is probably about a third of the actual issue. It is impossible and pointless to convey the other low level stressors that make any crisis more complicated. So those being asked for assistance never have the full understanding of how difficult life is at the moment.
- If you need to say “No” do it over the phone, not email, and be prepared with ideas to offer something else. Life happens, don’t beat yourself up about it. But be gentle and personal with your refusal. Don’t make it about you, but be ready with other simple ways you can help out so that your friend feels supported. Support is fluid and changeable, but hearing “no” at the wrong time can have lasting effects.
- One phone call is worth fifteen emails. If you are worried you shouldn’t, email as frequently as possible. In this day of caller ID and voicemail there is no reason not to call and show your concern, but we still fall back on this old excuse. If you only have five minutes say so up front if they answer, but then remind them they are a high priority for you right now. The person in need will feel more loved because you squeezed them in during your busy day.
- Food is love. There is no crisis that exists that wouldn’t benefit from food. Cookies, a few random groceries left on the porch, a cooked meal, an invite for dinner, a request for a grocery list when heading to town, etc. Cooking and grocery shopping are the last things anyone is capable of thinking about in a crisis or when they are sick. It doesn’t have to be homemade, it just needs to offer joy or nutrition.
- Your time and company might be exactly what is needed or not wanted at all. Ask, don’t assume! Everyone handles illness, emotions and a crisis in different ways. Some people want tons of attention and company, others want to be left alone. Don’t assume if you have known someone for ages that you know how they will react to a situation. We are beings constantly in flux and as a situation unfolds our needs change again and again and again.
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