Wendy Woolfson

A Helping Hand

Asking for help is vital for survival.

If we look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs we see all the things that he considered are vital for humans to survive and grow, and at the very foundation of that is food, shelter, and warmth. He suggested that if they are not present the child won’t survive. It’s also been recognised more recently that fundamentally it’s not enough; we also need love and compassion.

“If just food, shelter, clothing and education filled all of a child’s needs, orphanages would be ideal parents” Peg Streep, from her book Daughter Detox

There’s not always an adult around to spot that a child is in difficulty, so being able to ask for help is an important skill and needs to be taught as it’s one that many do not have. For some reason our society has draped a cloak of shame over asking for or needing help. I think these days our children are expected to grow up much more quickly than they ever have, and to feel like they ought to be more responsible and resilient than they are. However, if a child is taught to ask for help then even in the direst situation they can be saved. This comes back again to having a loving adult in their life, and by that I mean someone who is looking out for them with a sense of love, compassion, or care. This doesn’t only have to be a parent but a teacher or a family friend too. Someone who notices them and reminds them they can ask for help and that if they do they will be believed, listened to, and supported. It’s an incredibly powerful protective factor, especially in cases of abuse.

I felt I couldn’t ask for help from the earliest age. I always thought I should just somehow know the answer to everything, to all my problems and because I didn’t, then I must be a failure. This was not because I was egotistical, although it is connected to ego but in a different way, it was more a lack of self-esteem, I just couldn’t admit it. I thought it was weak and meant I showed a lack of strength and courage. If I couldn’t do something myself or know how or what needed to be done then I was ‘less than’ and not good enough. That’s a hard way to live your life and why it’s vital to instil in children the idea of working as part of a team and that helping each other is good. We can also model this for them by asking for help in our own daily lives as a way to remove any stigma.

If I hadn’t learnt this well enough before, then the cancer has certainly taught me that now, and I’ve asked for and accepted levels of assistance I never even knew existed for me. Friends and family have gone beyond what I could have even imagined in the ways they have helped me and our family and I know it benefits all of us. We’ve all learnt so much from me having cancer. In no particular order I’ve learnt humility, gratitude, patience, what’s important and what isn’t, how much I love people, and how much other people love me, being still, strength, and handling pain. I’ve seen my husband put all my needs first without a grudge or being annoyed, but with an unthinking desire to care for someone he loves. We talked about how he’s learnt what caring for someone involves and that he’s stronger and more resilient than he thought. We can see how important friends and family are and how wonderful it is that they have stepped up without hesitation, and with generosity to do whatever they can. We know now what cancer really means: an incredibly tough journey emotionally, mentally, and physically, and how it really affects people. My husband has been reflecting on how important the community is, especially the staff at the local chemist who go out of their way to do whatever they can.  It’s lovely how they know everybody in our wee town and we can see that they’re an important hub here. It’s nice to have friendly people looking out for you. In a small town like we live in, people remember you and know your face and they try to help you because they know you’re suffering and want to help. However, most of all, we’ve come to know exactly how much we love each other, and that our love is stronger than ever. What a wonderful thing to have to come out of this. We’re very lucky.

I love asking for help now, and I can see that when we ask for any kind of guidance we are offering someone the gift of an opportunity to ease a situation for another, and to provide support if they can. It’s a gift, because helping someone who is in need gives us a sense of pleasure and satisfaction, and why would we limit that for anyone? Help can come in all different guises and there’s no need to enforce a restriction on what we think aid might look like. I used to become very fixated on how I thought things should be. I had this need to control situations to make me feel safe. I had ideas about what certain things should look like or how they should play out, and it was all wrong. It was all so distorted by my poor mental health and skewed world view. During therapy my layers of bravado and ego were gently removed and I was encouraged to see clearly how important it is to reach out to people and ask them for their help. I could see how pleased that made them feel that someone would think of them as capable of being of assistance in my difficult situation, and the joy that could potentially bring, even when someone is suffering, and that’s ok, it’s as it should be, we should be happy we can help when someone is in need.

So, I have shed those layers of fear and allowed the truth to be revealed, and what a difference it has made to my life. I’m eternally grateful to everyone who has helped me on my journey and I hope I can repay it to them someday or as is now common to say, I can ‘pay it forward’ meaning, I do something to help another person instead, or as well. I mean, why not just help everyone without thinking about it anyway?

There is so much pain in the world right now, so much war and discord in almost every area, that we need each other and our communities more than ever. I hope we can all become much more caring and loving towards each other in all ways and do it without giving it a second’s thought, and together we will all create a more compassionate world, helping one person at a time.