Self-reliance is a characteristic that is admired in our culture. People that figure things out and get things done are respected, admired, and emulated. I have always taken pride in the fact that I am self-reliant. I wear the badge with honor. No matter the problem or obstacle comes my way, I will figure it out. No matter how much time, labor, or dedication it takes. You can bet I probably will not ask for help. If anyone thinks the load may be a bit much for me to carry and offers to help, they will probably get some version of No, I am fine. It’s fine. I can handle it. Thanks for asking.
I am not a unicorn. Most people, but especially caregivers, will not ask or even take help when offered. I love helping others. I get so much from being able to do something that makes it easier for someone else. It brings me joy. I am happier when my burdens are light, and yet I resist. I am complex, and I am working on this. Several conversations over the past week have highlighted this flaw of mine. Wait, didn’t I say it was a trait to be respected and admired? I am wishy-washy that way. While I admire my ability to rise from challenges, I recognize that this isn’t always the best or healthiest way.
When my children were toddlers, our family experienced one obstacle after another. It became clear when Emily turned one that she had a disability. We knew we needed to make changes to support her. I gave up working outside the home to manage the needs of her and Justin. I spent my days going to appointments, therapies, and on the phone dealing with insurance companies. Our once thriving plumbing business was struggling. Caring for Emily demanded a majority of our time and energy. Our business revenue plummeted. The bills and demands increased, as our finances and energy decreased. We were at a low point, but Todd and I knew that as long as we figured out how to keep a roof over our head, the kids dressed, and food on the table, we would be okay.
I did what I always do. I pulled myself up by my bootstraps and got busy figuring out how to make less enough. I stretched our meals and money as far as possible while maintaining a smile. I collected newspapers from neighbors and clipped coupons for hours. In those days, you could use double coupons and get many things for free. I would stock up on free items, but they were not always what we NEEDED. I had a backstock of 409 that would make any pandemic prepper proud. Todd would roll his eyes every time I unloaded more free 409 bottles from my grocery trip. They were free, but not what we needed. I began to ask other couponing friends if they had too much of something and would want to trade. I would exchange my surplus of 409 for toothpaste, shampoo, and cereal. I got resourceful. Look at me, I am self-reliant.
As the holidays approached, we began receiving boxes with food on our doorstep. They included essentials: meat, peanut butter, eggs, bread, and milk. This was in the pre-Ring days. We do not know who provided us with these beautiful boxes. I suspect a friend in my coupon circle saw we could use some support. They wanted us to have more in our cupboards than 409. Someone at our church also added us to a list of families that could use some assistance during the holidays. Right before Thanksgiving, we received a box with a turkey coupon, dressing mix, cranberry sauce, potatoes, yams, gravy mix, and a grocery card to fill in the missing pieces. Another anonymous act we received from caring souls.
The kindness of others made it easier for us during that season. It took some stress off of me. It gave me and Todd room to breathe. Having the resources to make a good meal and pay the utilities that month was comforting. I am so grateful for the kindness others showed us. Yet, we would have never asked for the help, or stated we had a need. Wouldn’t it have been easier to ask for help? If asked, tell the person what we need?
The impact of the support was incredible, and yet, I am not sure I would ask if I were in the situation again. I know I am growing and learning, but the habit of independence runs deeps. It will take time to unlearn my resistance to asking and accepting help from others. If you describe yourself as self-reliant (you know who you are), maybe you can join me taking the first step towards allowing others to help. The next time we are asked how we are doing, let’s make a choice to tell the truth.