Sometimes I want everyone to read my blog. I want followers and support. Validation for my thoughts and my words.
Other times I want this to be my secret place forever. I haven’t even told my boyfriend about it.
This is a common theme in my life: the opposing desire for secrecy and self-sufficiency, and the need for love and palpable, quantifiable support. I want to prove to the world that I am ok on my own, I need no help while at. Te same time yearning for someone to pay attention. And then, more often than not, as soon as someone does pay attention I reject their help.
Yesterday I was carrying heavy garbage bags filled with donated clothing from my car to my church, in preparation for a rummage sale next Saturday. As I struggled with the bags, a man approached me, walking down the sidewalk in the opposite direction. As we grew closer, I thought how nice it would be if he stopped and helped. He was a stranger and had no reason to help me. I dismissed the thought as selfish and reminded myself the bags were not too heavy, just bulky and cumbersome. A bit of a pain to carry, but not impossible.
The man and I passed. I looked down to hide my struggle, afraid he might see my irrational thoughts of need on my face, and resisted the almost unbearable urge to stop and readjust until he continued down the street. He walked on, without incident.
Relieved that I had remained invisible and in charge, I paused to set down the bags for a moment. As I heaved them up again, I saw the man turn back. He called out, “Can I help? Where are you going?” My response (although moments earlier I had yearned for his help) was “Oh, I’m just going to the end of the block. I will be okay.” I was embarrassed to both need and want his assistance. I wanted to be able to do it alone. I wanted to be strong, talented, autonomous. I did not want to admit I was undone by two garbage bags of clothing. I did not want to appear weak.
And yet I had already admitted to myself I needed an extra hand. I knew the bags were more than I could handle comfortably. Why could I then not relent, and accept his offer without hesitation?
I have a need to remain eternally, unambiguously competent. In every situation, without fail. This need is especially prominent in situations of physical strength. I will not admit I am sick until I cannot move, cannot breath, and am utterly incapacitated. I do not admit to injury (and, as a long-distance runner I have plenty of experience with severe injuries; I have had four stress fractures, all in different bones) until I cannot move. I will endure all sorts of physical discomfort with barely a grimmace. And, while friends, family and colleagues applaud my high tolerance for pain, this tendency leads me to take on more than I am able. I don’t like this proclivity. It leads to resentment (why does this person receive help when I received none in a similar situation? why is no one helping me when I am struggling? why can’t they see I need help?) and low feelings of self-worth (why do I suddenly need help now? if I ask for help, then I weak and therefore bad). I cannot reconcile my need for autonomy with my need for support.
Which is why I was so surprised when I suddenly looked up from my bags and said to the stranger, “Thank you,” and handed him a bag.
After we dropped off the bags in the church office and continued on our separate Sundays, I realized I felt relief. Instead of being irritable and tired after hauling heavy bags, I was giddy. I had accepted help! A stranger was kind, and I allowed his kind act to be fulfilled! I was not a martyr!
My habitual refusal to be assisted is, in many ways, selfish. It only serves to make me feel smug, stronger than everyone else, entitled to self-congratulatory praise. Doing things alone often takes longer, involves more mistakes, and increases the risk that something gets broken. Plus, it can make the other person, the one who wanted to help, feel worthless. I am uncomfortable wen I make a gesture and it is refused; to impose such a rejection on someone else is unempathetic.
Interactions are two-sided. Accepting help from stranger this Sunday was my first step toward learning to uphold my end of the bargain.