Updated: Jul 13, 2021
Words that I've heard frequently since getting sick with encephalitis which resulted in an acquired brain injury... “yell out if you need anything”, “let me know if you need to chat” and many more variations of those words. But the reality is that when I've actually put myself out there and asked for help, it hasn't always been reciprocated. At times, I've even felt like I had been ghosted. It made me realise that asking for help is only part of the equation.
Personally, I feel like I am not asking for help very often...I know old habits die hard. However, every now and again I’m in desperate need for moral support after seeing ill health linger around for much longer than I’d like it to and reaching out is an option that I need to explore. It's taken me a while to get my head around this concept and I wouldn't say that it comes naturally either, but in time, I've learnt to put my pride aside and reach out. I may not always specifically use the words “I need help”, but I feel like the message that I try to convey clearly states my needs or my state of mind. From there, one of two things is likely to happen; my call for help will be answered, or I’ve discovered that I also have to be prepared for my plea to fall into the abyss. Where does this leave me then? Well usually it leaves me feeling even more isolated, misunderstood, unimportant and as tough I am a burden.
Asking for help is such a courageous thing to do...it's not accepting defeat, it's actually refusing to give up. We should not confuse the two.
Lately I’ve been spending some time thinking about why a call for help may be left unanswered. Following are some of the reasons that I’ve come up with:
My message isn’t clear enough
People are busy with their own lives
People don’t know what to say, so not saying anything sounds like the best option
They think I’ll be able to bounce back on my own
I may have reached out to the wrong person
Perhaps they simply don't care
In writing those, I've noticed that I have some level of control over only a couple of those reasons. I’m absolutely willing to work on those, but I'm still unsure about how to process the other potential reasons that I've come up with. To be perfectly honest, all the other options hurt to a varying degree. I don’t have any control over them and I most likely can’t change their outcome, but I still have to process and ultimately accept them. As I'm writing this, my heart is beating pretty fast. I can feel my anxiety rising as it's not a topic that I like to address. It churns up all sorts of emotions and it's probably why it's taken me so long to write this blog.
My personal experience has been that, at times, an unanswered plea for help will have plunged me further into despair, but other times, it will have given me additional motivation to bounce back harder and better than ever. I realise that these two ways of managing the situation couldn't be sitting more at the opposite end of the spectrum. If you ask me, it also raises more questions than answers as if I have the ability to process things in a more constructive way, why don't I always chose the less harmful way right? Unfortunately, I don’t think that there's a one size fit all way to manage my response because the reality is that there are too many variants to take into consideration and no two situations will ever be exactly the same. Either way though, compromises will need to be made and it will most likely impact my attitude and actions.
In my eyes, actions will always speak louder than words and I guess what doesn't sit well with me is when I'm being told one thing, but I see that the reality is another. Being part of many encephalitis and brain injury support groups, I know that many other survivors struggle greatly with similar issues. I know that many survivors feel like they have been deserted in a time of need by their loved ones/community and this is something pretty heavy that they have to factor in when managing their new reality & mental health too. I like my writing to be constructive and helpful to others going through similar experiences, but on this occasion, I've really struggled to steer my blog accordingly. I've been torn the whole way through and ultimately, I reached out to people within the brain injury community to help me get this one through the line. One of the feedback that stuck with me is that "generally" people say things to make them feel better. It's not done out of malice or with bad intention but more as a mechanism to make them feel better about themselves.
When I read that feedback from a fellow brain injury survivor, it made me realise that an unanswered plea for help has actually nothing to do with me. It's not done against me, to punish me and chances are, I haven't done anything wrong either. The offer was made and it was about people's need to inherently feel good about themselves...and rightly so too! We all want to believe that when push comes to shove we will be doing the best by us, our family, friends and even strangers...but between black and white, we also have to be realistic enough to admit that there are many shades of grey.
As courageous as asking for help is in first place, finding ways to bounce back up after a plea for help has gone unanswered is truly admirable! It may make us more weary to ask for help in the future, but we shouldn’t be put off by it either as when it is reciprocated, it is a beautiful gift for those who need it.
So I'm not 100% sure whether I'm fooling myself into believing that it's not about me only to make me feel better, but for the time being, it's a compromise that I'm happy with. I would however like to end this blog by saying please be kind to yourself and to others. We all deal with things differently but whether we laugh it out or cry it out, it doesn't mean that there is no pain.