I curled up into a foetal position in bed, where I had been reading a chapter in Business for Aspies: 42 Best Practices for Using Asperger Syndrome Traits at Work Successfully by Ashley Stanford. On a side note, why do subtitles always need to be so incredibly long and cumbersome? Anyway. Here I was, curled up, tears running down my face. Not because something had reminded me of work, which you would expect from a book with that long cumbersome title.
No. The author had written about asking for help.
Her example was a young single mother with a full time job who was having a particular bad day. Overload. The thing she ended up getting stuck on was having to clean two plates to be able to give her daughter her dinner. And. She. Just. Couldn’t. Her brain simply stopped. Meltdown.
The only thing she could think of to do in a meltdown was to grab her “need help” list. First item, call parents. Say “Dishes”. Mother says string of words. No verbal recognition. Move on to second item, go to neighbour. Say “Dishes”. Neighbour can read between the lines. Comes home with her. Does dishes. Serves dinner.
And I cried. And I got so upset that I had to leave my safe space, my bedroom, and get dressed and come downstairs. Because my bedroom no longer felt safe. Because that’s where I realised.
I don’t have a “need help” list.
This is what goes on in my mind when I hit my brick wall.
- I should be able to do this myself.
- I will look like an idiot for needing help with this thing that I should be able to do myself.
- If I call my parents, they’ll worry about me. Because I’m 36 and I should be able to do this myself.
- My parents are over 60 and they live 30km away and I can’t ask them to come all the way here to help me with something I should be able to do myself.
- My youngest brother lives 30km away and he has his own young family and I know he often feels overloaded dealing with his own stuff. I should be helping him, not asking him to help me.
- My younger brother lives 70km away and doesn’t have a car. I can’t honestly ask him to help me with something this small and that I should be able to do myself.
- My best friend lives in London. I’m not even going to calculate how far away that is. And she’s busy with work and getting her law degree and doesn’t spend much time online these days, so I can’t whine to her about how difficult this thing is that I should be able to do myself.
- My ex works close to where I live. I can ask him, but he enjoys it when I need help because that makes me dependent on him and that might mean I want to get back together. And I’m afraid he will make jokes about sleeping with him as a thank you, and I never know if it’s just a joke or am I actually expected to sleep with him.
- I have another friend close to where I live. I can ask him, but his wife hates me because she thinks I flirt too much even when I’m not aware of doing it. And I’m afraid he will make jokes about sleeping with him as a thank you, and I never know if it’s just a joke or am I actually expected to sleep with him.
- Another good friend lives 60km away and doesn’t have a car. He would help me with this thing. But he never answers his phone or email. And besides, I can’t honestly ask him to travel all this way to help me with something this small and that I should be able to do myself.
- I don’t know anyone else close by.
- People will know I’m not the strong person they always say I am if I ask for help.
- I should be able to do this myself.
The stuff about being seen as not strong, or as a helpless idiot, are on that list because it wouldn’t be accurate to deny that they’re a part of the problem. But they are far less important than the fact that I simply don’t know WHO to ask. I know there are people willing to help me, but the practical obstacles to them actually getting here and helping me are HUGE.
And I don’t feel I’m worth all that effort. Other people’s problems always seem bigger than mine. What’s not being able to do my dishes compared to not being able to spend enough time with your children, or not having the money to jump on the train at a moment’s notice, or feeling exhausted from doing a full time job and getting a degree at the same time? I simply can’t feel that sense of entitlement. Other people’s problems should have priority to them.
But when I do manage to overcome all those objections in my own head and reach out and tell people I’m not coping, the results aren’t always favourable either.
An example of that happened recently.
I’d started a new job at the same time as I started the diagnosis process for autism. I soon got overwhelmed. Not only was the diagnosis draining my resources, but the job was something I’d never done before and I soon realised I didn’t have the knowledge to perform it accurately. After two and a half months, I crashed. I told my employer I had a burnout and asked for sick leave. I also asked him to get me in touch with work health services (this is a legal requirement in the Netherlands so wouldn’t be an additional burden for my employer) to help me get back to work as quickly as possible. I made an appointment with my GP and I called the clinic where I was doing my diagnosis to say I was having a crisis.
My employer asked me if I was OK with signing an agreement that I was not suitable for the job (which would qualify me for unemployment), and when I agreed he didn’t log my sick leave and didn’t get work health services involved.
My GP said that because of the diagnostic process, she thought I’d be better off asking the clinic for help because they had more experience with that sort of thing.
And the clinic said they couldn’t help me until I was officially diagnosed.
I was in crisis. I was losing my job and completely unable to function. I was desperate and asking over and over if there was anything anyone could do to help me get through this and start working again. And they all said I was on my own.
It’s just an example, but this sort of thing happens too often for me to be able to write it off as a fluke. Or as just bad luck. Or as people being stupid and inattentive.
No. This has to be me. This has to be the way in which I ask for help. It has to be the words I’m not using, the emotions I’m not showing, the way in which I am wired SO DIFFERENTLY from others that even professionals don’t recognise my despair.
Does that mean it’s my own fault for not getting the help I need? NO. MOST EMPHATICALLY NO. I can’t help being this way. Other people can’t help having their own preconceptions about what “asking for help” is supposed to look like. It’s nobody’s fault that I don’t match those preconceptions.
Does that suck? YES. MOST EMPHATICALLY YES. But I don’t have the power to change the world in one fell swoop. I will have to start small. Small changes. Creating awareness.
Does that mean I need to tailor my needs to fit what people expect? To make my needs fit a predictable pattern? NO. MOST EMPHATICALLY NO. But I will have to take responsibility for my own needs. Those needs are mine. I need them met. I will just have to get more creative in getting them met by others.
And the crying? That hasn’t changed. I need to forgive myself for crying about the fact that I have absolutely no idea how to make a list of people I can call when I need help. It’s OK to feel sad about that. Maybe I will never have a list. But I need to stop feeling like a failure for not even knowing who to call.