On failing to ask for help

“I don’t want to bother her.” “I’ll just drag him down.” “It’s my job to be strong.” “I don’t want to be a burden.” “I can do it myself.” Excuses abound for why we fail to ask for help–whether practical pitching in on chores or emotional support that could ease us through a tough spot in our lives. The cultural press, in this nation that so prizes independence, is to do it ourselves in order to not irk or stress others.

What about the flip side? Think about when you are able to support someone who is dear to you. How do you feel when you can listen, give a hug, or lend a hand? There’s lots of research expounding upon the psychological and health benefits of giving to others–in many forms. I’m sure that you are aware of the bonus for you when you help a friend or loved one. You get a little glow, a boost to your own day, from feeling valuable to another.

So next time you find you are shutting down, failing to ask for help or confide to a loved one because you don’t want to “bother” or “stress” them, ask “who says?” Who are you to deprive another of a chance to feel good by helping you? Put yourself in her shoes. For example, I often hear women say “I can’t ask my mother for help–she has so much on her plate.” Then reverse the scenario. If you had a daughter, wouldn’t you want her to ask you for assistance if she needed it? You’d want to be helpful if you could be–every chance!

Of course, when we are asked for help, it’s healthiest to give freely if we’re able–and to speak up honestly if we really can’t step in with an open heart at the moment. No room here for passive-aggressive giving shrouded with anger or resentment. It’s each person’s job to police her own resources, and say “no” if a request is not possible. That’s the job of the person being asked. It’s not for the person in need to ‘prescreen’ and second guess.

Give your loved ones a chance to show love and support–ask for it! Benefits all around will abound.

Inspiration to action

The value of creativity keeps invading my conversations. In-depth talks with my inspiring sister, Jane Dunnewold, an artist, teacher, and creativity coach-in-training, are leading us both into further exploration about women, creativity, and wellness.

Creating is a missing piece in our service-centric culture, which I addressed briefly here. Certainly carving out regular times to engage in activities that feed our souls, such as artistic expression and writing, fosters well-being. To a one, the moms that I’ve interviewed for The Sanity Hour point to the value of writing as a stabilizing, enriching force in their lives as mothers. I’ve watched as another friend has taken up quilting to fill the empty nest left when the youngest of her rambunctious boys went to college, interrupting the ever-present thunder of teen boys and dogs in her life. She has lit up as she’s invested herself in quilting, the glow on her face matching the lively and stunning designs she is producing. And today, I finally hold a proof copy in my hand of the long-awaited revision of Postpartum Survival Guide, coauthored with Diane Sanford, PhD. This is a labor akin to producing a child, though we’ve joked that the gestation period for this book is more like that of an elephant: 760 days. Truthfully, this book has been in the works for the gestation period of one elephant and one killer whale (517 days). Today, there’s a baby elephant in my life–and reward for years of work. Links will follow when the book, Life Will Never Be The Same hits the virtual shelves in the next few weeks.

Inspiration is everywhere–we need only open our minds and look around. A fabulous opportunity is coming this Sunday, April 11, 2010. The Dutch Art Gallery in Dallas will be showing the powerful film Who Does She Think She Is? which examines the challenges of mothering while creating art. This is in conjunction with an exhibit by women, Finding Her Voice: Women in Art. A reception for the artists begins at 1 p.m., followed by a showing of the film at 2 p.m. Come and join this fabulous, talented group of women in a celebration of creativity in our lives. Hope to see you there. If you cannot join in on Sunday, the exhibit continues through May 15.

The Dutch Art Gallery
10233 E NW Hwy #420, at Ferndale
Dallas, TX 75238

The value of friends, part 2

You’ve heard me write–and rant (The Sanity Hour, 3/30/10)–about the importance of honest connection with friends for our happiness. Turns out that emotional well-being is not the only benefit.

Serendipitously, I discovered this relatively new blog, MWFseekingBFF, about the process of making female friends in a new city by Rachel Bertsche, an Oprah web producer in Chicago. I won’t repeat her post on the value of friendship for health–you can check it out here. My conviction to invest time in–and honestly connect with–my BFFs is strengthened once again, if doing so not only makes me happier but will extend my life while protecting me against dementia, colds, and insomnia. Rachel calls friendship “the miracle drug.” I declare that champagne and deep conversation with my girlfriends is way more fun than fish oil, curcumin, and broccoli! Bring on the book groups!

The Pearl Illusion

Time to tear off those pesky June Cleaver masks. Women work day in and day out to put up a good front. Not only is it exhausting to appear decked out in our pearls as we vacuum, but a new study shows that we’ll be happier through honest connection, engaging in depth with others, than when we chatter on at only surface level.

In research at the University of Arizona, the happiest people engaged in only one-third as much small talk as the unhappiest participants. Happy people engaged in twice as many substantive conversations, and spent 25 percent less time alone, than unhappy people. The link is well-documented between loneliness and depression. Even when I was in grad school thirty years ago, research was clear that feeling connected to others was a key factor for happiness and for health.

Women often battle the urge to conceal their troubles, rather than speak honestly about the challenging, tedious parts of their lives. Why invest so much energy in projecting the image that we’ve “got it all together?”

1) We secretly suspect that we’re the only one for whom it’s hard. Everyone else has twenty balls in the air and a smile on her face. We think “there must be something the matter with me,” as another ball goes careening out of reach. “If I were only stronger, smarter, more organized, a better multitasker. If everyone else’s life is smooth, it must be me who is defective, weak, or less than.”
2) We are certain others don’t want to hear us kvetch. Complaining is not attractive. People will tire of it, shy away, judge, or label the complainer as a downer or even a bitch.

Straight thinking is helpful. Is everyone else truly surfing breezily through the stresses in their lives? Are you the only woman out of 82.8 million who forgot her pearls today? Really? Are you accurately judging the ratio of calm versus chaos that you are expressing? Is 100% of your conversation constantly stewed in negativity?

Aim for moderation and middle ground. Yes, perhaps, if all you ever do is bitch, others might tune you out. I believe most women err on the side of minimizing life’s thorns, blocking honest communication and connection, than on spewing complaints 168 hours a week. Besides, it’s not the complaining that drives others away. Listeners shy away if they feel uncomfortable with the topic, or when the complainer doesn’t listen to suggestions, can’t be consoled, or goes on like a CD on repeat, ignoring possible remedies. If a friend is interested and listens, we need to honor her efforts with action on our problems.

I find that a simple expression of “poor baby” is incredibly helpful. When we kvetch, we validate each other. We empower our friends by saying “I get it, I know where you’re coming from.” We feel less alone and less defective.

Remember, June Cleaver only had to parent 20 minutes per week. She had no carpools to drive and no boss-imposed deadlines for her pies or her dusting. We feel better when we acknowledge that life is hard for women in this century–maybe the challenges are different than in previous generations, but hard nevertheless. None of us is perfect. All of us have trials. There’s nothing the matter with me–I’m just part of the whole race of women, tromping through the overkill of daily demands. When we connect through honesty, we feel happier, less alone, and healthier, too.