What the Help!!

I'm thinking about help:  needing it and asking for it.

I’m thinking about help: needing it and asking for it.

Here in suburbia, it’s not always the land of picket fences, two car garages and expansive green lawns.  People need help. And I mean all kinds of people.  For us, the requests from our daughter’s elementary school have been coming in at a fairly rapid clip.  Licorice sales, nights of childcare, read-a-thon, jog-a-thon and every other imaginable a-thon.  When I was growing up, hell, the shit was fully funded.  Not now.  And it’s not just schools, it’s every other social service organization that’s been forced to cut its budget.  But you know what?  Your friend, the one who’s getting divorced with three kids?  She needs help, too.  Lots of it.  Only she’s not asking.

Why does it seem like the ones who need it the most are the least likely to ask for help? Could be a whole host of reasons, such as fear of judgment by others, of losing the perception of being “strong” or “independent,” or maybe they just don’t want to feel like they would somehow owe you.  In a recent study done by the Fetzer Institute on the neuroscience of love, compassion and forgiveness, it was found that as we experience fear, our capacity for trust diminishes.  When we need to trust other people in times of need, that pesky little amygdala  is activated, causing us to hesitate, to hedge our bets.  It might be safer to not ask for help, because we might lose our standing as the one who always gets it done.  We might be perceived as having a crack in our armor.  In our society, there’s not much worse than that.

A dear friend of mine once told me that the only real friends you have are the ones you can call to help you move.  Having moved more times than a vagabond, I can honestly say this is true.  Maybe it’s not a move.  Maybe you found out your husband is cheating on you.  Maybe you screamed at your kids.  Maybe you want to leave your job.   Any time you need help with something that seems huge and overwhelming, you want someone who:

  • shows up.  Does what they say they will do.  Plain and simple.
  • will not string you along, as in, “I might be available, I’m not sure, I’ll let you know.”
  • will not be disappointed that you may, in fact, fuck up sometimes.  So maybe not, like, your dad.
  • is not uncomfortable with someone asking for help, for example, someone who would NEVER ask for help.
  • is honest and will hold a mirror up to your imperfections.  And you let them.
  • won’t try and out-misery your misery.  That’s the worst.  It’s hard enough to ask, right?
  • is not a blabbermouth.  You know who.
  • is not the person who gives and gives and gives and never lets you give back.  Then you feel like a user.
  • just gets it.  That’s all.

Here’s the thing too.  People want to help!  In a study published last year at the University of Oregon, people’s “feel-good” areas of the brain lit up when they engaged in charitable giving.  Structures such as the ventral striatum and parts of the frontal cortex became more active, just as much as if they themselves had received a check.  But, as any charitable organization knows, it all rides on the ask.  How do you ask for help, anyway?

It doesn’t matter if you are asking for a thousand dollars or a ride home for your daughter.  Tough to do, either way.  The danger, however, is that your stalling will cause your problem to snowball into a full blown avalanche.  It’s hard not to be freakish and panicky when you ask someone to watch your kids the next day because it’s, well, the next fucking day.  What would have been a lot easier to do a week ago is now incredibly difficult.  Keeping  it simple.  Women, it seems, are particularly guilty of this.  We give too much background information, seeking pity, when what we truly need is some damn help!

Everyone needs a little help sometimes.

Everyone needs a little help sometimes.

When I think about the things that bring me the most satisfaction and joy, it’s the ways I connect to my friends and my family.  And that often means helping them in small, seemingly meaningless ways.  But I know how it feels to have someone really have my back and do something for me that, although small, felt absolutely essential at the time.  My mom putting a cold compress on my forehead when I had a fever.  My husband forwarding me a useful article.  My friend bringing me a cold 7-Up  when I was hot and dehydrated.  You know how it feels to receive the sweet embrace of a loving gesture.  A gesture so filled with meaning that “thank you” seems a meek and hopelessly inadequate phrase.  But say it anyway.  It’s enough.

Compassion is more than fundamentally human, it may even be a life extender.  Michael Poulin of the University of Buffalo is doing research now that says that compassion decreases your stress hormones, which lead your chemistry to go haywire and result in inflammation and all kinds of bad mojo churning in your body.  What’s important is offering help to someone you care about, so comforting your colleague who loses her job is more important than volunteering at  a shelter or someone else where you are not emotionally invested.

So, the next time you need some help, don’t be afraid to ask for it.  Think of it this way:  you are giving your friend or neighbor the opportunity to extend their lives and reduce their stress!  How great a friend are you!  I mean, you would do the same for them.

When’s the last time you asked for help?

Nailed it, Lennon.

Nailed it, Lennon.

Many thanks as always to Barbara Paulsen of Mt. Hood Mama photos.  I asked for her help.  I knew she would.

Conversation #5: Shine a Light on Danelle

“How far that little candle throws his beams!  So shines a good deed in a weary world.”-  William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

Have you ever met someone who, while you are standing there talking to them, becomes a source of light?  It’s kinda bizarre when it happens.  But that is precisely the experience of being around my friend Danelle.  It’s time for me to shine the proverbial light on her and let you get to know her too.

Danelle is a gift which yoga has given me.  She is an instructor at my studio, but practiced next to me long before I knew she taught as well.  I always saw her in class, smiling, but it took me an introverted long time to actually talk to her.  I remember thinking she was just way too positive and enlightened a  force to be down with a sailor-mouth like myself.  But that is the thing about her.  You are comfortable the minute you talk to her.  She is easy in an elegant, breath of fresh air, open and sing-song kind of way.  When you are in class, sweating your ass off, struggling, wishing for the end, that’s when Danelle steps in.  With her words and with her energetic presence, you are somehow reassured.  You know you can make it.  It’s a remarkable quality.

As well as being a yoga instructor, Danelle also runs a massage practice out of her cozy home.  Before I received a massage from her, I worried about telling her some things I didn’t like during a massage.  Like talking too much.  Or being cold.  Or pain.  But of course, she is incredibly honest and makes you feel so comfortable that things you might worry about are not an issue.  Not because it didn’t hurt a couple times.  It did.  But because her unspoken message to you is that you are her first concern and you will be given the TLC and difficult work that you are not able or willing to give yourself.  She knows things.  I am not sure how, but she does.  If she wasn’t such a goddamn charming combination of vulnerable and commanding, it would be annoying.

As someone who can quite easily go to self doubt and the “dark side,” I find Danelle’s dogged insistence on the positive to be refreshing.  You know those annoyingly upbeat people who you want to shake?  She is not one of them.  Danelle has had pain and heartache, but has a matched dose of realism.  She calls herself “woo-woo” and others have called her “dreamy” because of her upbeat and spiritual sensibility, but she is decidedly pragmatic.  She can be tearful and willing to bare her soul, but she also is able to put the hammer down when it comes to what she believes in.  For example, when talking about her adorable 4 year old son, she says her goal as a parent is that  “he will never, ever, ever (like 20 more evers…) feel that he is not good enough.”    And I feel the resolve in her words.   Spoken by a person who has known how it feels to be abandoned, but also knows she is not going to fucking let that happen to any child of hers.  Ever.

One of my favorite words is Sanskrit is satya or truth.  Danelle embodies truth.  She has an active meditation practice (I am jealous.  I am someone who has always wanted to have one) that relies heavily on mantras.  She is cognizant of how thoughts and vibrations can “create a situation” and is extremely self aware on how to stop this from happening.  During a disagreement with her husband, she might remind herself of the beach or something else she loves to change the energy. At times where she is frustrated or off center, she returns to places of happiness rather than adding fuel to the fire.  This is incredibly difficult to do, but she manages to pull it off.  She says the more you do it, the easier it gets.  And somehow, from within my deepest doubting self, I believe her.

Danelle also gives me a suburban smackdown.  When I ask her how she keeps the suburbs from crushing her soul, she tells me that the suburbs are not robbers of the soul, they are keepers of community.  As her voice cracks, and her big beautiful eyes widen, she tells me that the suburbs are a place of family, unlike the one where she grew up.  It’s about taking a deep breath, going and knocking on your neighbor’s door and asking for eggs.  Or a jumper cable.  It’s knowing that there is someone there to help.  Even if that someone is you.

In the future, Danelle hopes to open her own yoga studio from where she can have her massage practice as well.  She hopes that her globe-trekking pilot husband will be more local more often.  Her son will feel loved and accepted.  She will be making a profit and making a difference.  She is so task-oriented and organized, you know she will make it happen.  She is crystal clear on what she wants and where her skills lie.  She knows that in order to be there for others, your own needs have to be met and then you can be there for others.  (From her years in the airline industry, she knows you have to first put the oxygen mask on yourself).  I can’t wait for you to go to her studio!

You can’t help but be a better person simply by knowing her.


Many thanks as always to Barbara Paulsen at Mt. Hood Mama Iphoneography for the photo.