Help

My uncle died yesterday.  From obesity and depression.  But mostly from living in a culture where asking for help is a sign of weakness and emotional needs are strangled with stigma.

So, this post is in memory of my uncle.  And, sure, while I didn’t know him particularly well, there are beautiful things to say about him and many reasons to talk about why he was a good person.
But what I’m feeling right now – what’s upsetting me right now – is a disgust for our culture.

I need to write this post because our culture wastes lives and it wastes happiness and it wastes humanity.

We live in a culture where asking for help is a sign of weakness.  And emotional needs are strangled with stigma.
I have to force myself to write this post now because of the “shame” associated with talking about help.  But it’s talked about too rarely.

My partner and I are getting help.  She and I have been seeing a “communications coach” for the past month or so.  And immediately I feel like I have to defend myself because this culture somehow makes this feel like an admission of defeat.  I feel like I’d have to make you aware that we were probably doing the best we’d ever been when we decided to see our coach.  I feel like I’d have to make you aware that we were happy and felt very solid in our relationship.  I feel like I’d have to make you aware that our recent engagement did not put any strain on our relationship and that we would have felt solid going into our marriage without getting help.  I feel like I’d have to make you aware that we were very proud of our communication and felt that we could (and did) communicate openly about anything before seeing our coach.  I feel like I’d have to make you aware that we were excited by new ways to communicate and connect and were curious about ways to improve and grow what we already felt strong about.  I feel like I’d have to make you aware that there was no impending urgency to this and that we would have stayed together whether or not we did this.
I feel like I’d have to make a whole slew of excuses to make you aware that there was no “defeat” here.

I feel like I’d have to argue that we should always be looking for ways to improve and grow, no matter how solid things currently are.  I feel like I’d have to argue that it’s actually probably even best to look for help and advice when we are at our most solid; or, as Ze Frank puts it on his thoughts on self-help books, “when we’re most in need of help, we’re the most vulnerable to bad advice.  So probably the best time to read self-help is when you least need it.”  I feel like I’d have to argue that we don’t need it, we want it.  And then I’d feel like I’d have to retract my defensive statement and argue that, even if we did need it, then that should be even less “shameful” to look for help and to improve.  I feel like I’d have to argue – to defend myself – that we made it (note the competitive language still ingrained in me as if there was a battle to be fought) 8 years just fine and that we could have made it another 8 years and so on without seeing anyone and that the impetus here was not difficulty but a state of mind that improvement is good and that asking for help is not shameful.  I feel like I’d have to argue that your connotations – that this is an intervention where someone comes in and fixes things that were failed at – are wrong and that we instead are looking for diverse perspectives and techniques to how we could grow and make life easier and more fun.  Life!

I feel like I’d have to despair that we allow ourselves to be helped in almost every other aspect other than emotional.  I feel like I’d have to despair that every athlete has a coach and every academic has an advisor (if there’s one thing I’ve learned in grad school, it’s to ask questions often and without shame) and every human has a doctor and we readily take their advice and drills and techniques from their wealth knowledge that has accumulated throughout history and we use it to grow and improve.  I feel like I’d have to despair that we don’t allow ourselves the same when it relates to our emotional and interpersonal health.  I feel like I’d have to despair that “coach” seems like a euphemism when applied to a “communications coach” but that there isn’t a whiff of stigma when applied to the physical realm (hell, half of each Rocky movie is Rocky trying to convince someone, who he realizes has experience and tools and will provide accountability, to be his coach).  I feel like I’d have to despair that we recognize that we stand on the shoulders of giants in most everything we wish to learn and improve on but don’t extend that humility – we just nip at the heels of giants – to emotional fitness.  I feel like I’d have to despair that our culture shames asking for help as a sign of weakness and strangles emotional health with stigma.  I feel like I’d have to despair about hypermasculinity and that there’s a need to be “strong.”  I feel like I’d have to despair that my uncle was too damn strong to be weak.

 

 

And, finally, I feel like I’d have to temper all my exaltations of my relationship with the fact that we are still human.  We did have insecurities and “problems” and recurring arguments.  And, while we did have good communication and we were solid, there were things that were still difficult for us.  I feel like I’d have to say this so that people are aware that not everything has to be perfect before help is asked for (the opposite should be true!).  And I’d have to say that the communication we had took work and time and wasn’t always easy.  And, for some reason, saying this, regardless of the fact that every relationship between two people will have some difficulties, still feels like an admission of defeat.

And it is all of these thoughts and excuses and admissions – piling up, avalanching over – that overwhelm and bury whenever somebody thinks about getting help.
This is why people don’t get help in the first damned place.  This is why we don’t even talk about it.

We live in a culture where asking for help is a sign of weakness.  And emotional needs are strangled with stigma.

My uncle would be willing to take medicine for diabetes and high blood pressure.  He would be willing to do physical therapy after a gastric bypass surgery.  But as soon as the illness to consider is no longer corporeal, as soon as it is emotional, he was at the mercy of a culture whose lumbering heft left him unable to ask for or accept help.

Introspection and communication are problems that can be helped and improved.  Depression is a disease.  It can be helped.  It can be improved.

Pride and shame are home-wreckers.  Pride and shame brew stagnation.  Pride and shame grow ignorance.  Pride and shame are isolators.  Pride and shame are killers.

 

My partner and I are getting help.  My partner and I are getting help in the same way I ask for help opening a door when my hands are full.  In the same way I tried a half-hour class on bouldering techniques when they happened to offer it while I was climbing at the gym – to see if there’s something new I could learn, improve on.  In the same way as when I need to borrow toll money to cross the SF bridge.  In the same way I go to some talks that are on topics I’m already pretty familiar with.  In the same way that I do for anything that doesn’t involve a bizarre  and suffocating stigma.

Help me understand why we can’t ask for help without admitting some sort of defeat.

Help me understand why we have to be ashamed of talking about it.

Help me understand why I wouldn’t have said any of this if my uncle didn’t die.  Why there’s such a stigma around help that I would be ashamed to confess that I seek it.  Why I had to be slapped in the face with a death to be angered enough with this stigma to say anything.

Help me understand why the culture and stigma is so prevalent and undiscussed that I feel I need to post this to at least attempt a conversation.

Help me understand why we live in a culture where asking for help is a sign of weakness.  And emotional needs are strangled with stigma.

Help me make my uncle’s death not in vain.

Help me talk about this.

Help me change this.

Help me ask for help.

Help

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