Are you strong enough?

I have a close friend who has been going through a bit of a rough time lately. She’s still working through her divorce proceedings, and it’s not pretty. It takes an incredible amount of preparation to get everything ready for the attorney, and just the act of pulling it all together forces her to look back at many of the ugly events and feelings that led up to her separation. Plus, he soon to be ex husband has withheld all money from her with regards to the monthly expenses. He walked out, leaving all the bills on her. For the past year, he’s been paying her his share, but as the divorce heats up he’s stopped, and it’s created a real financial burden. It’s unbelievably stressful for her.

And if that’s not enough, her youngest daughter is getting married in about four months. That is a happy occasion without doubt. It also adds to the overall stress. Not only is there the work that has to go into getting ready, the ex husband is again, not contributing financially at all. In fact, he has no interest in her upcoming marriage at all. Her poor daughter is very distraught about it too. Her own father doesn’t even care to be a part of one of the biggest days of her life.

I feel really bad for them.

I can’t really do anything about getting her ready for her divorce. It’s none of my business, and I certainly don’t need to be involved. I can offer support, I can be a sympathetic ear, and I have enough experience with my own divorces to at least offer some insight into the process. There’s nothing tangible I can do about the wedding either. Our relationship isn’t to the point where I’m involved with her family, and my involvement would add considerably to her daughter’s angst. Again, support, listening and understanding are about all I have.

But I can help.

There are always day to day responsibilities and tasks that I could pick up that frees up her time to focus on the priorities. I could help with the housework. She’s been paying for lawn service (Which she can’t really afford) and I could absolutely do that for her. An automobile repair she needs is something I can take care of. And the list goes on.

And she won’t let me do a thing.

Part of the reason she won’t let go of any of her responsibilities is a product of 27 years of marriage. Her husband never offered to help, and in fact just turned everything over to her to handle. Early on, she’d ask for help, but he never did. And he would ridicule her for even asking. So it became a learned behavior; don’t ask for help. It’s a sign of weakness and it won’t happen anyway.

She also seems hesitant to open herself up for any kind of assistance. And there is a certain vulnerability to asking for and accepting help. It’s another sign of weakness in her mind.

And there’s pride. It’s easy to be too proud to admit you can’t do it all.

So what is the point?

I think everyone needs a hand at some point. Life is full of stress and events good and bad, and circumstances that can become overwhelming. Self reliance is one thing; a shoulder to lean on is something else. There’s no shame in sharing the load. Feeling the love and support from friends and family can be a very good thing. Knowing you are cared about is a comfort that offsets some of the stress.

And sometimes, the load is just too heavy, the problems are too great, and the ability to do it all is just not possible.

Like an illness. Like a mental disease.

Speaking as someone who is bipolar, I’ve often been confronted with situations which are greater than my ability to cope. The aftermath of a manic episode can create financial crisis, legal issues and emotional havoc. Dealing with the day to day mood swings takes a tremendous amount of energy, often not leaving enough to handle what needs to be done. And then there are the depressions. The weight of these episodes can be like a thousand wet blankets covering you. The emotional pain and suffering can be so engulfing that even living is too much.

Especially early on in my life I refused to admit that I couldn’t do it alone. I have a strong disposition, and I would try to just muscle through; mind over matter. And there were times I would break. Many more than one time I ended up hospitalized because I had allowed myself to be crushed by my illness. There have been many times where the burden of life has become so impossible that I tried to end it all. It’s only through the grace of God that I’m even here.

After so many times of hitting rock bottom I’ve learned that there are ways to get help. Medications can change the body chemistry that often is the cause of the crisis. Therapy can give you tools and provide a good outlet to share the burden. Friends can offer support and be with you during those times when you can’t stand alone. There are organizations that can assist with financial and legal troubles. Not everybody has family, or family that is understanding and supportive; but so many of us do. And there’s always faith.

But help is often not offered.   This can be especially true when there are no obvious outward signs of the problems.

That’s when has to be sought out.

I am not a weak man by any means; in fact, quite the contrary. The old saying ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ has a lot of truth. After having so many times that almost killed me, my toughness has really grown. But that doesn’t mean I won’t ever be in a situation that is tougher than I am.   Time and experience has taught me that there will be times and issues that I just don’t have the capacity to endure alone.

Allowing yourself to admit a need actually takes more courage and power than just trying to endure. It takes a really big person to acknowledge that there are circumstances bigger than they are. It’s not a weakness, it’s a necessity. There is no shame in sometimes having others to share the load.

So when life gives you more than you can handle, learn to handle it by utilizing resources and support from all avenues. Whether you are just dealing with the ordinary challenges of living, or suffering from a horrible, life altering disease…

You don’t have to do it by yourself.

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