Asking for help is always difficult, but for a naturally independent person who suddenly comes down with a debilitating illness or other physical limitation, it can seem impossible. I always highly valued my independence and ability to care for myself, and since becoming seriously ill, I find it quite difficult to ask for help, or even to accept offers for help with activities of daily living that have become a challenge for me. I believe that part of this reluctance stems from an unwillingness to accept the practical reality of my physical limitations, as I have only been seriously ill for about a year and a half, and it frustrates me immensely that I cannot do everything my friends can do. Part of it stems from, quite simply, not having had a lot of help for quite a while. I spent many months running from an abuser with very little outside assistance, and became quite proficient at loading all of my possessions onto my walker for each of my frequent moves and forcing my body far past its limitations in a multitude of other ways. Part of it, quite simply, is pride. No competent adult wants to have to ask someone to get them something to eat, do some laundry for them, etc. I’d like to offer a few things to remember if you are ever trying to help a loved one with a disability:
It’s hard to ask for help, so why not offer? It’s a lot easier to accept an invitation for help than to directly ask for it. Nobody wants to feel like a burden, so whenever possible, try to offer to help in ways that don’t appear to take you out of your way (ie. “I’m heading out to the supermarket- can I pick up anything for you?”).
Understand that someone’s limitations may change quite regularly. Just because I can’t do something today, that doesn’t mean I won’t be well enough to do it tomorrow.
Don’t tell someone that they are too disabled to do something. If someone clearly needs help with something but rejects your offer for help, avoid trying to force them to accept your assistance. If possible, try to offer a more limited way to help that the individual in question might feel more comfortable accepting. One night, I really wasn’t feeling well, but was living in a building where my room was upstairs and I was on the ground floor. My muscles were collapsing as I tried to even walk with my walker, and I was offered the opportunity to sleep downstairs, which I did not want to do because all of my belongings were upstairs and I was more comfortable there. Instead of trying to force the issue, the person I was speaking with asked if she could carry my walker up the stairs for me and just walk behind me to make sure I got to my room safely, and I gladly accepted this offer.
Try not to make someone feel as though there is something wrong with them for needing a certain kind of assistance, or that their particular needs are, in any way, an inconvenience. Incessant questions about someone’s particular medical issues, medication regimen, mobility devices, etc. simply aggravates the feeling of being different or, somehow, less than one’s peers, that tends to come along with serious disabilities. Any question that starts with, “What’s wrong with your _________?”, “Why do you need to _________?” or, “Why can’t you _________?” will, most likely, just make someone feel as if something is innately wrong with them. People with disabilities certainly need opportunities to talk and, quite honestly, to just rant about the daily challenges that they face, but there are far more accepting and less stigmatizing ways to instigate such a dialogue. For a long time, I refused to use any sort of mobility device, and still feel conflicted about occasionally needing a wheelchair, as I feel as though every time I admit the need for a mobility device that I did not previously need, it is an acknowledgment that my condition is getting worse. Luckily, I have a friend who reminded me that all these devices are for is to make it easier to do things that I want to do, regardless of my illness, and that it’s more about not having to reject invitations to do things that I enjoy than making any kind of grand statement about my overall health.
If you know someone with a disability, try to make a point to look at the person, not his impairments. There is no illness that should take away an individual’s right to make his own decisions, whether or not you may agree that those decisions are truly in his best interest- after all, only he knows how his body feels. Help is most appreciated, but only when it is coupled with respect and every possible effort to treat the person in question as a full member of society who is in control of her own destiny.
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