Asking for help

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.

© Yong Hian Lim -

© Yong Hian Lim –

This is what goes on in my mind when I hit my brick wall.

  1. I should be able to do this myself.
  2. I will look like an idiot for needing help with this thing that I should be able to do myself.
  3. If I call my parents, they’ll worry about me. Because I’m 36 and I should be able to do this myself.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. I don’t know anyone else close by.
  12. People will know I’m not the strong person they always say I am if I ask for help.
  13. 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.

© Eladora -

© Eladora –

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.

32 thoughts on “Asking for help

  1. Today I took three busses and walked more than a mile to get home, normally a 3km walking distance, because I was afraid to look stupid asking if the bus was going my direction. Other people ask, so it seems acceptable and still I can’t get to it myself (my excuse this time is that I was already in an overload phase before and not able to think clearly).

    Point 1 and 2 on your list are exactly my thoughts too.

  2. I’m not sure I can find the words for what I want to say in response to this post: such strong writing that speaks on a level beyond mere words, so that I simply felt anger and sadness at the way the world is, but should not be…

    And I don’t feel I’m worth all that effort. […] I simply can’t feel that sense of entitlement.

    THIS. So much THIS. It makes it very hard for me to accept help even when it’s offered. I’m not worth it; I don’t deserve it. Had a conversation last night about this with somebody who was offering to help me. I did everything but outright refuse to be helped, trying to give them any reason I could think of why they shouldn’t help me, that they had much more important things to worry about than me.

    And the crying. No longer feeling secure in your safe space. I know how that feels, how lost and insecure that can make you feel. I hope so much that you can forgive yourself, that you can stop feeling like a failure. Because. You. Are. Not. A. Failure. You are an intelligent, compassionate woman who sometimes gets overwhelmed by life’s obstacles. You are my friend.

    • It’s so paradoxical isn’t it? Screaming “what do I need to do to get TAKEN SERIOUSLY around here!!!” and then when someone listens and offers to help I’ll be all “no please don’t worry about me I’m fine”. For heaven’s sake. There’s also a very real fear in me of becoming dependent on others and then not being able to depend on them when I need it the most. So I rely on myself. This was also heavily encouraged by my parents and it’s not altogether a bad thing to be self-reliant. Except when it doesn’t work.

      It was shocking how fast I needed to get out of my bedroom after that realisation that I don’t have an emergency list of people I feel comfortable calling. I mean it went read paragraph -> start crying -> curl up like a baby -> put book away -> uncurl -> get dressed. In less than 5 minutes I think.

      It feels so comforting to know that there are people like me, people like you, who struggle with all of this too and who are willing to talk about it openly like you do. Thank you for being a friend.

  3. Asking for help is so hard. I totally, completely, 100% agree with you. And I am a horrible person for not knowing how to do things people can do every day. And my problems always seem smaller than everyone else’s. and worth much less time expenditure. And also that employer sounds like a horrible mean person and I am sorry you had to go through all that mess and that everyone involved seemed so unhelpful.

    And I am not really sure if you were asking for help or possible solutions and such here, but if you were, I sort of described what I have learned to do. So if you weren’t looking for ideas or what other people do or such (be ause I know sometimes that isn’t the point) then I am sorry about assuming about advice and ideas and solutions.

    I know sometimes for me just having someone break down what I have to do in simple small steps is enough a lot of the time. Or telling me things to help me calm down first and then simple small steps. And that works too because most people are far far away and can’t physically come help. So I know sometimes it is difficult to do things and to leave even if there is directions. But sometimes steps can help. And calling and talking to someone and breaking things down into small steps (or email or text or whatever is preferred) probably isn’t too big of a deal for them, especially since a lot of the things that I have absolutely no idea how to do other people seem to be able to break into tiny steps for me pretty easily. So maybe that could help? I am not really sure. It took a long time to get to this realization. (And a lot of friends telling me that really they didn’t mind) and it is still tricky and still sometimes doesn’t work. (And it doesn’t even really answer the question of who to call but maybe it helps make it more ok to call some k the people you hadon your list like family?)

    Anyway, asking for help is super hard and confusing and you definitely should not feel like a failure for getting lost in the process. Because you absolutely are not a failure but actually are awesome autisticook. And because asking for help is one of the trickiest things ever.

    • Yes! I like advice. It’s how I think. This is the problem, analyse the problem, come up with solutions. Not every solution that works for you will work for me, but coming up with different viewpoints is NEVER a bad thing. Not to me anyway. I’ve learned to ask other people before giving my advice, as you have obviously learned as well, but I loved reading your perspective. So please keep on giving advice whenever you want to.

      That being said, I can see this approach working. It’s actually what I’ve been trying to do in tackling my bills and household chores. Taking it one small step at a time. Don’t think about the next step until I’m completed the previous one. It makes things feel more manageable.

      I hadn’t applied that thought to the actual process of asking for help. Asking for small steps. Not feeling like I’m imposing for asking a HUGE ENORMOUS THING. I can see this working! 😀

  4. The most heartbreaking of all in this scenario we face is that none of this would be an issue if our legs were broken, or we had lost our eyesight. No one would question our need for a little compassion and some help here and there. And not a single person would cite us as weak for asking for help. Not one.

    But when we are struck silent or still by the thoughts in our own minds, desperate for either a small accommodation or in dire need of saving, no one sees our pain. They simply do not see it.

    I am so sorry you felt so uncomfortable in a space that should feel so safe. I am sorry that you felt alone. I know what that feels like. It is by far, the worst feeling. But you truly are never alone. There are so many of us, your sisters, who understand the thoughts you think, the feelings you feel, the words that won’t come.

    Be well.

    • Thank you so much for your empathy and sisterhood! The stupid thing is that even when I had surgery in January to remove a very large birthmark from my knee and couldn’t walk without pain for weeks, I still had that entire list of “can’t ask for help” running through my head. Even though it was perfectly valid to ask for help when you can’t move. But I couldn’t do it.

  5. You’re great, I love reading your posts because I spend the time nodding in agreement and saying to myself: “yes, exactly.” I never ask for help, maybe not never, but as close to never as you can imagine. First, I just don’t engage people in that way – I’ve always ‘fixed’ myself. And I don’t like being seen as incapable. And I don’t like looking like I can’t do things that everyone else seems to do with ease. And I don’t think my needs are as important as other peoples’ needs. And… well, I think you get it. Take care and I’m ((hugging)) you whether you like it or not 😉

  6. Wow. I have been trying to compose notes to formulate a response for a while now. This is just so true, so recognizable it hurts. It hurts to read that others suffer with this too. At the same time it is nice to read I am not the only one. It makes me angry so many of us struggle with this and there’s not a clear solution.
    There’s so many problems with asking for help:
    Not realising I need help, being too used to having to struggle through everything myself. I don’t even notice I am struggling until it becomes too much. (my parents were barely parents, so I have had to deal with everything alone for most of my life. Plus, well, undiagnosed autism: everything was a struggle)
    Not knowing who to ask. And if I do know, as you say, not feeling worth all that effort. As you say, other people have all kinds of things and issues, they live far off, are busy, and I don’t want to bother them.
    Not knowing how to convey what the problem is and/or that this really is a problem, especially against the (expected or real) questions or remarks like ‘well, can’t you just….’ or ‘I always just …’
    It feels like sometimes I can’t ask for help, because I don’t know how to phrase it. By the time I managed to struggle enough with it to be able to explain what the problem is, I can sort of fix it myself. Or at least I think I do and then have to struggle some more until I actually do ask someone.
    Also, as Alana mentioned, have someone help break it down in steps helps, but that still requires you to be able to convey to another person what the problem is. My home coach helps with that now, but again, if and when I manage to tell her that there’s a problem and what. Usually, when I notice something is going wrong at all, I just ‘whine’ about it to her until she says ‘maybe I could help?’ and I think ‘oh, stupid! I could have asked her!’ Work in progress still.

    So you, everything you write is so familiar. Thank you.

  7. BTW The job thing also sounds very familiar. I was in the same situation 2 years ago. I felt I was screaming for help, and noone seemed to be able to really help me. Fortunately, I got the diagnosis around that time, so at least I could go to MEE, but that didn’t stop my life from falling apart around me.
    And I still feel the whole situation was mishandled, like yours, with my boss also not logging sick leave, not getting work health services involved, asking me to sign a similar agreement “yeah, we tried everything but it was just not working out”. Therefor I ended up in the wrong type of wellfare (although I am grateful not to live in the US, and get wellfare at all) with a lot of pressure to find a job already, when I was still on the floor in pieces.

    Unfortunately I don’t think we are an exception, autistic or otherwise. Many people with mental issues lose their jobs this way and end up in the ‘Bijstand’ like me. Not the place to be when you feel like this.

    • I’m scared to death of ending up in “bijstand”. Not because it’s such a bad thing, but because I wouldn’t be able to keep my house. My house is the only place in the world that’s completely mine, my safe haven, the place where I can be myself. It’s my primary support. Everything else is irrelevant.

  8. It is hard to ask for help. When we are in the middle of a crisis we often don’t really know what help we need and who to ask. Afterwards we get frustrated at ourselves for being so clueless because hindsight has helped us see what we should have done.
    Sometimes all I can do is take a deep breath and remind myself that the world isn’t going to end (that is the hardest part because at the time it feels like the world will end) and then try to step back enough to gain perspective so I can figure out what to do or who to call.

    • I’ve tried that. I’ve really tried. And unfortunately, even hindsight doesn’t work for me all that well. I still don’t know how I should have dealt with not being able to walk due to knee surgery. I just stayed in bed. I survived. It’s what I do. I don’t know how to do it differently.

  9. I’m really bad at asking for help mainly because asking for help usually doesn’t even enter my mind, unless I’ve encountered the situation before and someone else specifically told me I could.

    Case in point: I’m pretty short. 5’4″ish. So I can’t reach anything on the top shelf in my kitchen.

    I was climbing onto the countertops after stuff until I was in my early 20s, when my sister asked, “Why don’t you use a chair? I’m scared you’ll fall over and crack your head open.”


    I was climbing onto rather rickety chairs until this year when my (much taller) partner asked, “Why didn’t you ask me to grab it? I can reach. Besides, I’m scared the chair will break.”


    (I have hundreds of similar examples)

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