Asking for help is something I have never been good at. It’s rather like standing in front of a car hurdling toward you, intending to push it in the opposite direction. It requires an enormous amount of resistance. And I’m almost certain to come away with some sort of injury.

Lying in bed the other night, I had a realization. I seem to have two modes of being: at rest, sitting or leaning or lying in one place, unmoving, still; or in motion, pushing, moving, rushing, doing, working, over-working. And it is very, very difficult for me to move from one state to another. It is not as easy as just get up and go or sit down and stop. It would be expected, with my disabilities, that I would have trouble getting up from a state of rest to start doing, but wouldn’t you think it would be easy to just stop myself from doing and rest?

But it’s not. I find it very, very difficult to stop moving, working, doing when I am already doing it. Very difficult. In fact, I actually have to work at stopping working. It’s like once the do switch is on in my brain, turning it off is about as easy as pushing that hurdling car. I get to a point where I don’t even notice that I am doing; my consciousness turns off and I am pushing forward on autopilot, working from habit, memorized routines, just going and going — and my awareness has been switched off, perhaps as a way to avoid feeling the pain?, but that means I don’t know when it’s time to stop. I don’t know when I’ve reached the critical point, when I’ve done too much, when I cannot do any more — often, I don’t know until my body just stops doing and I am confused inside it, trying to make it move and being denied, and it takes time for my consciousness to boot back up, to kick on and make me realize oh — I need to stop.

It has come to a point where I’ve learned that I need to stop before it feels like I need to stop, because my body and brain simply do not have the ability to sound the alarm for me. Even when my body can’t keep going anymore, no matter how much I push it, it still doesn’t feel like I can’t keep going anymore.

So I’ve been teaching myself, over the years, to force an override at a certain point — not based on what I’m feeling at the moment, but based on predetermined amounts of time/work that I believe is what I can handle on the balance. It’s hard, because I’m so stuck in that inertia of doing that I often don’t even remember to keep track of the amount of time/work that has passed, so I might forget for some time after I’ve reached that point, and then try to abort belatedly.

Either way, even when I’m “being good” and recognizing when that predetermined point has come, the act of overriding my natural inertia — my natural tendency to keep moving — is not as easy as flipping a switch. I actually have to go through a process of convincing myself that yes, it is time to stop, and yes, I really should stop, no, I should not keep going, and yes, it is okay to stop, really, it’s okay, and yes, I need it — and so on (and on, and on, and on). And then even if I am convinced, I have to try to push in the opposite direction of my body pushing to go and do. And pushing your body to stop pushing is about as technically-impossible as it sounds.

Now, convincing myself just that I should stop doing is a difficult enough thing to do. But add in a sense of pride… and a sense of guilt… and suddenly convincing myself that I should do (or stop doing) something doesn’t seem like such a hard thing in comparison.


I am one of two clerks working on our program at my office. Last week, for three days, my partner clerk was not there — it was just me running the show. And I happen to think that I am knowledgeable and capable enough to do a pretty good job of it. The problem is that we are severely short-staffed — the two of us in our corner of the building are already balancing a workload that should require four or five clerks. So when one of the two is gone, well, things move from chaos to crisis, so to speak.

I have an amazing supervisor. I absolutely adore her. And she was keeping an eye out for me. She kept coming back and asking if there was anything she could help with.

And for that first day, I kept saying no. And I thought it was legitimate! One of the main assignments is something she is not supposed to do at all, and another couple are things that I just thought would be more complicated to have someone else do than to do myself. So I said no.

And then my husband poked a little bit of fun at me — he works at the same office — saying that my supervisor had been talking with him (casually) and mentioned that she kept trying to offer help, and I kept refusing. And they shared a laugh, and he said yeah, that sounds like her. She’s not very good about asking for help when she needs it.

And I needed it. I just couldn’t convince myself inside that I needed it, that it would help, that it would be OK to ask, and so forth. I was already so overwhelmed and using so much energy, and I watched that car hurtling toward me and knew I did not have the strength required to push it the other way. Not on top of everything else I was doing. I did not have the capacity to make myself ask.

Because I’m not supposed to ask for help. That means admitting I can’t do my job. It means admitting my disability does make me less capable than other people. It means admitting my disability does exist and does affect me. And I’m not supposed to ask for help, because other people can’t spend their time and energy doing something for my sake. It’s not fair to them. I don’t deserve that, to have anyone other than me devote a single second to me. Other people would deserve that, but I am not deserving. If I ask for help, I am telling that person “I am worthless. Useless. I can’t do anything right.”

Asking for help means sending the message to the people around me that I am actually not as good a worker (as good a person) as I keep insisting to them that I am. That actually, I am inept and incapable. That I can’t do anything right, that I do mess things up.

Asking for help is asking for special treatment. Asking for help is asking other people to pretend like I deserve the same consideration as everyone else, and deserve to be considered just as capable as everyone else, while also demanding that they treat me differently, do special things for me that no one else gets to have done. Everyone else has to stand on their own, and here I am demanding that all these people prop me up and say that it’s just the same as that person over there standing on their own.

Every single time I need help, I have to fight these thoughts. Even if I don’t actually think them consciously. Every single time I need help I have to take time and energy to refute all of these thoughts to myself. I have to take time and energy to prove all those thoughts wrong. And that takes quite a lot of energy.

So I don’t ask. Even when I need it. Even when I know I need it. And even when I know, intellectually, consciously, that it is OK to ask for help, and that I should ask for help. I still don’t ask.

Because by the time I’m needing help, I’m already at my limits. I certainly don’t have any energy left to deal with that hurtling car.

(Cross-posted at three rivers fog.)

4 thoughts on “Inertia

  1. It has come to a point where I’ve learned that I need to stop before it feels like I need to stop, because my body and brain simply do not have the ability to sound the alarm for me. Even when my body can’t keep going anymore, no matter how much I push it, it still doesn’t feel like I can’t keep going anymore.

    This. So much this.

    I have a problem with this too. I will go through with what I believe should be my daily routine, i.e., getting the Kid ready for school, making meals, doing household tasks, and I don’t notice that I am in pain until I slow down for a moment, maybe to brush hair out of my face or to pause for a drink or water. But when I do pause it kind of hits me all at once.

    All my life I have had a problem asking for help before I needed it. As a waitress I would wait until I was already swamped with tables, or when I was doing work making spreadsheets that were due yesterday for the Pentagon, I would wait until I was behind to ask for help. I, like you have done, need to retrain myself to recognize that I need to slow down or ask for help before I feel it. Because my body in motion sometimes doesn’t recognize that I need it.

  2. Wow. Are you in my head? The last paragraphs, asking for help…

    It occurred to me that when we ask for help and it’s not related to disability or illness, or if we are TAB, that’s okay. (Well, there’s also the social milieu – are you new, did you say I can do everything!, is asking for help okay… “normal” things.)

    This came up in an increasingly infuriating (for me) post at another place called “People who annoy you” and one was “people who think they’re entitled to things – the person with 5 items behind me and my full cart. Sorry you got there late!” Unfortunately, the person used granny, so I and another poster told her that the look on our face is not “oh why won’t this person move, I deserve it” but just “sigh, yet more time on my feet.” And we both concurred that asking the person to move (the original poster said she’d move if somebody asked) was the last thing we ever wanted to do – and this is standing in line at a cash register!

    What hurts is working up the nerve to ask for help and getting nothing, or you know, no miracle cure. (That’s what moms are for, right?) Or you work up the nerve and have to repeat what you said, which only makes it worse because stop looking at me.

    The lone wolf ethos is not a good thing all the time – and I’m a loner.

  3. YES!

    Aha, yes, this is…so true for me. For me, it’s mostly physical stop signs that I drive right through.

    I have a care assistant who comes in most evenings. She’s there basically to do all the thigns I can’t – wash the dishes, help organize stuff, give me a hand with my exercises if I need it, make the bed, so on and so forth. I can’t tell you how often we’ve been doing something like straightening up the kitchen and I’ll be doing as much work as she is when I’m SUPPOSED to be just directing and letting her do it so I don’t injure myself. Or picking things up off the floor when I have both my care assistant and my service dog right there capable of doing it, without the risk of falling over that accompanies me doing it.

    The care assistant and my boyfriend joke sometimes about how terrible I am at asking for help. The last time I moved house, I had 3 relatively healthy folks for the big furniture, and then I was supposed to have the boyfriend and the care assistant for the small stuff. The only way I managed to keep from injuring myself was to plop myself down with the baby blanket I was crochetting and work on it! Otherwise, I’d’ve been right there in the thick of things…and the next day, I’d’ve been in so much pain I wouldn’t’ve been able to get out of bed.

    I know it’s absurd that it’s such a struggle, and feels like such an admission of weakness, to ask for help. I know that most people around me would be happy to help if I asked. I just…I can’t get over the feeling that I used to do this all for myself, and everyone else does all of this for themselves, so I should be able to do it. Blah.


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