In my 10.5 years living with cancer – well 10.5 years since diagnosis, probably 20 odd years actually living with it – I’ve never really given much thought to asking for help. Recently, though, it is something that has been on my mind.
I had an experience with a charity supporting young people with cancer where I went away on a weekend ‘escape’ with them. We bonded, shared stories, busted myths, looked into PTSD post cancer, etc. I had a bit of an awakening while I was there. I realised that I had pretty much spent the past 10 years trying to pretend I didn’t have cancer. Trying to live a ‘normal’ life and ‘just get on with it’.
You can’t blame me really, I was diagnosed at 21, mid-university. So, of course, I wanted to get back to my ‘real life’ as soon as possible. What really shocked me, though, was that this coping mechanism wasn’t working. I was/am not ‘normal’. I can’t live my life just like ‘everybody else’.
I am in pain most days and I am always tired. Sometimes breathing is uncomfortable. Sleep eludes me most nights until 2-3am. I get random aches and pains in my legs, chest, and right breast. My balance is also off, so driving long-distance or in the dark and/or rain is a no-no. As is wearing high-heels (try mixing that with a few wines! Yep, you guessed it, I fall over!). I am not normal, I am living with cancer and probably will be for the rest of my life.
Does any of this sound familiar? Not necessarily the cancer part, or any of the specifics to my health. But the general attempting and longing to be normal. Yet failing, daily. I am learning to accept my diagnosis, my health limitations, and moving forwards into my ‘new normal’. A huge part of that was asking for help. My hope is that this encourages you to do the same.
Asking for Help is Not a Sign of Weakness
It was actually something my husband said to me that really struck a chord with me. Through Shine Cancer Support I have found the strength to ask for help and seek the support I need. Well, they also offer a service for ‘Plus One’s’ and held their first workshop a few weeks ago. I suggested he apply to go, not sure whether he would be keen on the idea or not.
Turns out he was, and he became quite excited about it. He remarked that it was comforting to know that support for him as a ‘plus one’ was out there. That he didn’t like to ask for help, that it was a sign of weakness. Here was this strong, capable man, admitting to me that he felt weak by asking for some support and help with what we’re going through. I had to swallow back the tears, I wanted to make this about him, not me.
Weak is never something I would associate with this man. Him saying he needed some help and support made me think him strong, brave, honest and vulnerable. All qualities I adore in people, and in him. I thought about my own feelings about asking for help. Do I consider it a weakness in myself? Have I been blocking myself from getting the support I need because I didn’t want to seem weak?
If you wouldn’t say it to someone else, don’t say it to yourself
The things we say to ourselves are often far harsher than we would ever say to someone else. I know this all too well. It doesn’t always stop me doing it. But I am aware, at least, and consequently, this stops some of the negative self-talk. This thought of ‘asking for help means I am weak’ is part of that. If I don’t think of someone else as being weak for asking for help, why would I think myself weak? This made me question whether it is my own belief here, or if I am more worried about other people. Of what they might think of me asking for help.
And here is where shit got real. Because yes, this is exactly what my issue was. I was worried that OTHER people would think I was weak.
This is something I am personally working on, still. External validation versus internal validation. It’s something I am talking to my psychologist about. I have a quote by Dr Seuss that I like to repeat to myself when I can feel myself worrying about what others might think.
“Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”
I literally repeat these words over and over. Like a mantra. It really works for me. My insecurities, doubts and worries just seem to disintegrate. I start to feel emotionally strong and empowered. It’s almost like magic. I really suggest you try this sort of thing. You can pick another phrase, quote or saying. Or try this one. Try it, I think you’ll be impressed 🙂
Really this all bottles down to fear. We are afraid of something, whether it is that other people think we’re weak. Whether it’s that we think we’re weak. Maybe it’s fear that we won’t get the help we ask for, that people won’t take us seriously. We worry we’re not deserving of the support. That there are others out there more in need. It’s all based on fear. That nasty, annoying, hateful emotion.
Unfortunately, as humans, we often live our lives in a fear based world. It can control everything we do, or don’t, do. There is only one way to put fear on it’s knees. To get past it. That is to face up to it. Meet it head on, square up to it and move forwards. I like to acknowledge that it’s there.
“Hello, fear, my old friend.”
Is what I say to myself. Sometimes I sing it, actually…. To the tune of ‘The Sound of Silence’ by Simon and Garfunkel.
“I know you are there. I witness your presence. I hear you.”
(I don’t sing this bit)
I choose to not make my decisions based on fear. I choose to see it, meet it, and move past it. Now, it doesn’t always work. Sometimes it feels too big to move past. And that’s OK. Be gentle with yourself. It takes practise, and time, to change our habits. When we’re so used to giving in to fear, it’s hard to challenge it all of a sudden.
But anything that’s worthwhile is hard. I promise you that. And this is very, very worthwhile.
Asking for Help
So, I went through my nurse specialist. I asked her to refer me for some psychological help. You may need to try your GP, or whoever you see on a regular basis for your condition. I was then referred to a Macmillan lady, and she referred me to a clinical psychologist. After just one session I left feeling lighter, brighter and more peaceful. I’m excited about my future sessions, I know they’re going to help me. And I know they could help you too.
Take my experience. Feel my words, and put them to good use. Reach out, ask for help. It is a huge sign of bravery, of courage, of incredible truth. These are all values I hold very dearly. Many people do, perhaps you’re one of them?
Are you reading what I have done and are thinking ‘good for you’? Yeah, I thought you would be. How would it feel if you thought that about yourself? I’m betting that it would feel pretty awesome. Therefore, perhaps you might like to give it a go? Maybe try asking for help and see what happens. You might just find a door opens to a whole place.