On the way to Liberty this morning, the concept of needing help haunted me.

A conversation with my secretary (slash) friend Miranda prompted the spectre of helplessness to linger.  I told her that I had fallen that morning.  Anybody could have fallen like this, I rationalized.  I reached for the door frame, missed, and the momentum carried me to the floor.

As I did what I’ve been taught to do to avoid serious injury, flashes of resentment coursed through my brain.  Damn damn damn,  I muttered, even as I twisted to face upright and threw my shoulders forward.  The motion landed me on my butt, just as it’s intended to do, but my head jerked back and I got a good goose egg for my efforts.

Better a goose egg than broken teeth or a concussion.  But after last week’s nasty wrenched back, I had the mindset of going a week or three without further mishap.

Miranda told a story about seeing a man one morning at a gas station disembark from a van pulling his wheelchair behind him.  The man had no legs.  She later explained the man’s situation to her four-year-old daughter, who doubtless had never seen anyone so impaired.  I didn’t know whether to help or not, Miranda admitted.  I figured he probably knew how to take care of everything himself.

Ah, yes.  The age-old dilemma:  To help or not to help.

When confronted with a person struggling to get through a door or off the ground, the important point to keep at the forefront of your mind involves the reason you might offer assistance.  Here’s the thing.  Whether or not I need or want help has nothing to do with the person making the offer.  It has only to do with me.  Your offer of help and my response does not measure the strength of your devotion or the quality of your character.  I do not judge your manliness or virtue by the arm you offer or the hand you extend.

And sometimes, I don’t want help.

Sometimes, I don’t want to need help.

Other times, I want help to silently arrive in the form of a miracle that will lift me from the ground and reverse the clock so I’ll never have fallen.  The other customers in the store won’t have seen the instant flood of tears or the wobble in my walk.  A bag of apples won’t have spilled across the tile.  My pride and my derriere will be unbruised.  I won’t regret existing.  I won’t feel stigmatized, inept, or ugly.

Other times, I want to be quickly pulled from the ground by two strong hands and dusted lightly, reassured that I’m not an idiot by the unspoken word in a brief touch on my arm.

If stairs confront me, I judge the likelihood of my steady ascent and do a weird tri-point measurement.  My hand, a wall, my feet.  I crab-walk down.  I can manage reciprocating stairs on the ascent.  I know where the side of a building or the hull of a plane will be if I fall.  Of someone else’s body, I’m less certain.  I’ve had sixty years to figure out how much weight I can bear depending on what time of day, what shoes I’ve managed to buckle onto my feet, and how emotional I feel.

I don’t know if the concept of help complicates the lives of all disabled persons in quite the same way.  I’m sure I over-think the whole affair.  Maybe the fact that I’ve had encountered more than my share of people who made me promises that they didn’t keep taints my ability to trust, even in the briefest of social encounters associated with a hand offered in a restaurant.

But there it is.  When you offer to help me, I don’t know how to respond.  I might know just what you can and cannot do for me but I might not trust myself to lean on you or your arm to hold me.  I might have an intricate compensatory set of muscle reflexes that will do the trick, and adding your body into the mix might put us both in danger of collapse.  Or maybe I’m just pissed at the intractable realities of my body’s limits.

So if you see me, and I look like I need help but I scowl in your direction, please don’t take it seriously.  Just raise an eyebrow and lift one hand.  If I need help and am able in the moment to accept  it, I will be grateful.  If I don’t need help, or if I’m overwhelmed by my own inadequacy, please don’t take offense if I remain silent or turn away.  Don’t get upset if I stumble forward even if my lurch terrifies you or you think that I’m deliberately ignoring you.  It’s not personal.  At least, not to you.  I might just be biting my tongue to keep from complaining.

It’s the fourteenth day of the fortieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


4 thoughts on “Help

  1. A

    Wow. The first thing I did when I opened my eyes just 10 minutes ago was turn on my laptop and go to my email, and read this.
    I opened my laptop because after my medication and an excessively large amount of melatonin last night, I STILL could not sleep to prepare for the list of things I had to do today. After finally, going to sleep, I could not drag myself awake, even after reading an article hours ago that “blue light” in the morning can awaken you in the morning just as it can keep you awake at night, among many other suggestions for healthy sleep habits.
    I say wow, because I can relate to this so very much right now. Every single word. I am jobless, childless, without family for holidays, without company, in fear of being homeless, depressed – beyond what I ever imagined possible. Praying for help, that miracle that will lift me from the ground. All while knowing I only have myself, yet my “self” is broken.

    Sometimes, the disability isn’t in the body, but the mind. Sometimes the floor, the wall, the weight of which one had come to believe they can bear, the shoes they have managed to buckle on their feet…. that can all be figurative as well as literal.

    1. ccorleyjd365 Post author

      A: When I reach out to people with thoughts such as you here express, I often get back what sounds like lame platitudes. “You’re stronger than you think” is one of my least favorite. I did a blog entry one time “Top Ten Things Not to Say To People Who Are Struggling”, or something like that. I’ll find it. My sister’s least favorite is, “God only gives you as much as he can bear!” I’m like, “Oh well yeah, he misjudged me so THERE!” I personally also do not like “it is what it is”. What does that even MEAN? All that is said to say this: I know you, and I really do think you are incredibly strong. Know that I am a shoulder on which you can cry and a listening ear. You have my number. CC

  2. Genevieve

    I can not say that I understand your struggle because I have not lived with all that you have and do live. I can say that I can relate just a little bit.

    I am clumsy – not sure if it’s just due to ADD or an actual neurological poor muscle control. Probably the ADD. Anyhow several times every day I knock things over, or trip over my own feet. Fortunately at 47 I still have the ability to catch myself when I trip, but I do worry what will happen as I become less limber and resilient. Often when a trip some caring person will ask “are you alright?” it is so embarrassing to me because I do not actually need help – even if I’ve dropped something only occasionally do I trip hard enough to actually fall (usually only if I try to run -or to take pics while walking dogs. I do fall often enough that I have learned to fall so that my camera doesn’t hit the ground. You protect your body – at this point I am still focused on protecting the hardware. When I trip or drop things and someone asks “are you ok” I am embarrassed that they noticed, and that now I feel as if I need to offer some sort of explanation. Sometimes just “no thank you I’m fine” but others I feel compelled to add the further explanation that I trip all the time, or that I’m naturally clumsy and it’s no big deal. I think I need to learn that it’s almost like saying “bless you” to a sneeze – so automatic that if I say no thanks they move on and forget the incident – but when I offer an explanation I’m actually drawing more attention. I realize this is nothing really like your actual need for help at times.

    As a result of my self-consciousness about being clumsy and not wanting to ever be in the position to need help really I tend to err on the side of not offering help except in subtle ways (extend an arm or hold a door etc) I would be willing to help more – but I tend to project my own desire not to draw attention. That said I also know that I can get excited about the idea of doing things – including helping out – and not be realistic about my energy or ability to follow through. I’m trying to get better about this but it is a thing.

    I fear I let you down with the suite 100 cover. I didn’t get it right the first time then it took me forever to getting around to fixing it. I am sorry for that. I’m in one of those periods of life when I have a few additional obligations outside of work, and while most people can handle that – w/ my ADD and low energy issues I often struggle to get more than just one “extra” at a time done. It is one reason why I am in awe of all that you do – with Rotary, supporting art, and maintaining these blogs and your relationships along with the important work that you do. I could not juggle it all. Anyhow, I am sorry that I took so long getting the FB cover revisions to you.

    Hugs to you Corrine. I love that you are so vulnerable w/ sharing your experience. I think it helps your readers understand not just you both other people they encounter. I am sorry though that you have found the effect of being vulnerable can be to get hurt. I hope that at least some of the time it also means that you invite magical people in who make your life better – and I hope that if that is true – it makes the risk worthwhile.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *