Sunday, September 14, 2008

Help ...

In real estate sales, the most important factor for success is said to be, "Location, location, location".  In caregiving -  family or professional - the important factor is, "Help, help, help".

No one can care for others, long term and healthfully, without asking for help, at least on occasion.  But we individualistic, independent North Americans are not always comfortable with asking.  We tend to idealize self sufficiency and it takes most of us a long time to realize that interdependence rather than independence is the true ideal.

But what is interdependence, exactly?  American author, Peggy Collins, says it is, "A place where we're not trying to do it all ourselves, nor are we relying on others to do it all for us." It is a place of balance at the center of the seesaw between self reliance and healthy adult dependence.  It is a flexible position where we can move toward self sufficiency or dependence, given our needs and abilities at the time.

What Peggy is saying is that it is alright to ask for help when you need it - more than alright! Assessing our needs and asking for appropriate help goes a long way toward reducing work stress and building resilience to burnout and compassion fatigue - if we ask for it early enough.

We all have different strengths, limitations and situations and each of us will need different sorts of help at different times.  Whether I am a nurse with 30 patients to settle for the night, a physician who needs a break from call, a therapist who needs a different caseload, or a priest in need of two days off a week, I must ask for the help I need.  Most of us will be surprised to find what a positive response there can be to a direct appeal.

As a young nurse working in a coronary intensive care unit and balancing the needs of a dying father and a seriously ill 2 year old nephew, I didn't ask for help and I had my first encounter with compassion fatigue.  Years later, as a therapist and a family caregiver for my husband, I did ask but I waited too long and met with compassion fatigue a second time. (Some of us take a while to learn life's lessons!).

Now, I have learned to, "Ask soon and ask big.".  The experience of family caregiving has taught me that I cannot always go it alone, and that if I "draw my circle wide" when asking for help, the help will be there.  For me, drawing the circle wide meant contacting people from all areas of our lives - friends, family, acquaintances - and asking them to sign up for either a Wednesday or a Saturday morning so I could get away from home to do errands and to have a rest.  What a profound difference that asking made in all our lives.  My husband's bed bound world expanded through the presence of others.  I could look forward to regular periods of respite.  And those who came to help left with a profound feeling of fulfillment and satisfaction. A win-win-win situation.

So, this week, if you need help at work or at home dare to ask for it.  Start small if asking makes you feel anxious, vulnerable or out of control, but ask, and see what a difference it can make to your life.   


No comments: