How I ask for help

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.

4 thoughts on “How I ask for help

  1. autisticook says:

    I’m a complete failure at asking for help.

    See? Even NOT asking for help is reason to beat myself up for not being good enough.

  2. Beth says:

    My Mother recently realized that I’m literal minded enough that I might not realize that I can ask her for help and told me that she would come help even if it was only emotional support that I needed. I’m 33. I think that society makes it difficult for people in general to ask for help and when you are dealing with something that makes society in general difficult to deal with, such as a differing perspective, asking for help gets even harder.

    Seven years ago when my younger child was a baby I was feeling very overwhelmed, and guilty, as I was having trouble coping with my very high energy older child. I mentioned this to a friend and told her that I was thinking of asking my Mum if she could come for a few weeks so that I could get my feet back under me. The friend told me that I was a grown up and that I needed to “Suck it up”. I took her very literally and I didn’t call my Mum. Last week when my Mum told me that she would come no matter what I felt so relieved. All I have to do is pick up the phone and say, “Mum can you come?” I never knew that it was like that until she told me. When I stop and think of all the times that I haven’t asked for help …? Just knowing that that is all I have to do brings my stress levels down to something I can deal with and in a month or two when I know my stress levels are going to be high again I will probably call her. Just knowing that I can do that makes me feel more confident which brings my stress levels down yet another notch.

    I think that you are very right that autistic kids need to be taught how to ask for help and I also think that society in general needs to stop transmitting the message that asking for help is a sign of incompetence or weakness because knowing when and how to ask for help actually makes us stronger.

    Sorry for the rant. Your post was interestingly timed and I think that you are incredibly brave. And I’m sorry if this response is gushy.

  3. I also find it incredibly difficult to realise I need help or that something’s going wrong. In fact, it wasn’t until I got anti-anxiety medication for a non-anxiety medical condition that I realised how much of my inability to function was just anxiety.

    Personally, I find it most difficult to explain what kind of help I need. I can’t even figure it out for myself. If it’s someone else’s problem, I can usually figure out some kind of solution, but when it comes to my own difficulties, I often find myself drawing a blank when people offer to help and ask me what I need from them. I’m going to university in the fall and debating whether or not a professional diagnosis might be useful to get disability support, but given that I can’t figure out my needs, I think it might not be worth it.

    • ischemgeek says:

      If I may: Professional diagnosis might give you insight to your needs. I’ve found that online screening tests are useful in identifying what areas I have trouble with and from there I can look into common accommodations for those challenges, and hopefully one helps.

      I am thinking of getting a formal diagnosis myself, partly for that very reason – more insight to my challenges => more insight to what accommodations might be helpful. The other part is of course that I can’t get workplace accommodation without paper diagnosis, and while grad school is by its very environment accommodating to a lot of my needs, I have no reason to think the professional world will be when I’m done.

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