Another post inspired by meatspace goings-on, like my previous.
So, I’ve been thinking a lot lately of the process of asking for help. Mainly because, due to the emotional state I described in my post on meltdowns and a meltdown that I correctly predicted followed by an almost-all-weekend shutdown, I realized that I was (and am still, to a lesser degree) completely overwhelmed.
So I’m going to write a bit about the process of realizing I’m in over my head, and asking for help.
Asking for help is complicated. It involves several steps. First, you have to realize you’re in trouble. Then you have to understand how you’re in trouble. Then you have to evaluate – correctly – whether you can manage on your own. If you decide you can’t, you have to admit to yourself that you need help. Then you have to think about what kind of help I need, evaluate what kind of help others are able to give, and decide on what is likely to be most helpful, given the resources of those around you and your current needs. Second-to-last, you have to ask for help, and finally, you have to avoid beat yourself up into non-productivity over needing help. The last step is not necessary for everyone, but is for a lot of people.
For me, I’m generally unaware of my own mental state unless I’m at an emotional extreme. So recognizing that the tight feeling in my stomach and my increasing problems with executive function and procrastination are all due to anxiety from feeling totally overwhelmed? Hard. Very hard. I’m still pretty much at the point where I can recognize that I’m stressed but not necessarily why and even if I can recognize the why, I might not be able to figure out the how. So, for this situation: I’ve known I’m stressed about something since January. I figured out that it was my exam causing the stress in March. And it was this week that I realized that how I’m stressed out is that I’m feeling overwhelmed because I didn’t know how I was going to get all the studying I needed to do done while also working full time. After two meltdowns and a shutdown in just one week (which is more meltdowns and shut downs than I’ve had in the preceding six months).
Evaluating whether I can manage on my own accurately is also hard, but for reasons less to do with stuff inherent to who I am (like the difficulty registering my own emotions) and more to do with stuff I’ve learned growing up. I’ve internalized this must-be-Wonder-Woman imperative that I can’t ever admit difficulty or overwhelm or weakness because This Isn’t Hard ™. So. I have to peel by my tendency to brush off my own distress and really evaluate: Is this currently within my ability to do on my own? If the answer to that is no, then I have to get myself to accept that I need help. Which is also hard, for the same reason. Usually (this month being no exception), I have to induce several avoidable meltdowns and/or shut-downs before I realize that I need to do something.
If I manage to get myself to accept whether I need help? Then I have to figure out what would help. Which is also hard, mainly because of my tendency to catastrophize. I have to divorce anxiety-jerkbrain from my thinking process and honestly evaluate what I need more of. Do I need more time? Do I need an extra set of hands? Etc.
Then I have to think about what other people can do for me. This is extremely difficult for me, because I have a hard time keeping track of who is good at what and who has which authorities and resources. Once I’ve figured out who can give me what, and what they’re likely to be willing to give me, I have to figure out who would be best to ask: Which person is most likely to give me something really useful?
Then I have to ask. Which is always awkward and I don’t really have a good social script figured out for, so mainly I just rehearse the conversation over and over and over in my head but sometimes screw it up by overcompensating on the don’t-seem-nervous front and instead coming off like an arrogant asshole.
Finally, regardless of what the other person does, I have to avoid beating myself up over needing help. I have to stop the “This isn’t hard! Everyone can do this, so why can’t you? Maybe you’re just lazy!” mental monolog that gets started every time I admit weakness.
And, that’s asking for help for me. It’s not easy. And that’s why people should teach autistic kids how to ask for help, and that their requests for help will be respected. Because otherwise you get twentysomething adults who take three months to even realize they probably should ask for help and another month to figure out how.