Accepting Help Living with a Mental Illness
This is a follow up to my original blog; Asking for Help as a Man. You can find it on International Bipolar Foundation, an amazing website and resource for all things bipolar, here: Asking for Help as a Man
You might be thinking to yourself, as I admittedly did after I offered up the subject, how is this any different than asking for help? Isn’t then accepting the help the next logical step? Well, yes, but in my world it’s not that simple and I don’t think I’m alone. Asking for help in a meaningful way in the past always required a heavy dose of desperation; I had no other option. Another way of putting it, when you ask for help, you receive it. When I didn’t acutely need assistance, pride always won out. “I got it.” “Nope, I’m good.” “Leave it, I’m fine.” “I’m better off working alone, other people get in the way.” This is the type of pride I am referring to and the type I am working hard to eradicate.
The two places where I have traditionally had the hardest time accepting help are at work or at home, coincidentally the only two places I was… okay, I was dreadful at this. A sense of pride was imbued in me from childhood. I wanted to do it right, I wanted to do it fast and I usually wanted to do it alone. As I grew into adulthood, many times I could not look after myself or provide my basic needs, this pride only grew deeper.
No adult wants to admit they cannot afford decent housing, healthy food, or a winter coat. I especially was not about to accept help knowing I was the one who drank and gambled away the money I needed for such things. I thought that these problems were solely my fault, why would I let anyone help me? Pride, stubbornness and bipolar are the ‘why’ in retrospect.
Fast forward to 2019 and after my diagnosis. I had every reason in the world to accept help. Looking back, I wish I had, but know exactly why I didn’t. I had a new, tangible reason why I couldn't take care of myself in the past. This meant I would now be okay, take care of myself, and no longer be a burden! The pride deepened when I actually needed help the most.
I had an answer, but now had to figure out life when my last 15+ years were a blur of amazingly arrested development. I was an 18 year old in mental maturity in a 34 year old body, with 34 year old expectations of myself. There was no way this was going to work.
It didn't. The first time I accepted help, I didn’t even know it. I was 15 months into my life with a bipolar diagnosis and I wasn’t doing well. In November/December of 2020, my Dad picked me up from a bar near blackout and penniless from gambling multiple times. In January of 2021, I gave him my debit card so I couldn’t gamble anymore and it slowly had the desired effect. Looking back though, giving that card to my Dad was unknowingly the first step of accepting help. I knew I couldn’t stop alone.
For the next two years, things progressively got better, to the point this past fall that I really thought I had it figured out. Not only could I manage alone, but I was everywhere, helping people out, picking up shifts, driving to see people, etc.... Well, it turned out it was a multiple month hypomanic stretch, followed by my first severe bout of major depression post debit card. I found myself barely able to move, ridiculously low energy and life was almost impossibly hard again.
Again I was lucky. I was at work and wasn’t keeping up for the first time, maybe ever. I knew I could, but I didn’t want to drive myself back to hypomania. I asked my manager for help. She smiled, beamed actually. I was very confused to say the least. So, as I’m wont to do, I asked why? Her response was priceless and beyond meaningful, “Because you asked me for help, I’d love to help.” She enlightened me that I was terrible at accepting help, that I insisted I do it alone. At that moment, I knew she was right. I needed to get better at accepting help. Now.
The number one reason I never wanted to ask for help was because I didn’t want to feel disabled. The stigma associated with mental illness and an invisible disability is real. It deepened my pride and need to do things alone just to prove I could. Instead, it has opened my eyes to just how much help I need and how beautiful it is to receive that help. It has made me a better person, strengthened my relationship with loved ones, friends, and co-workers (they like to help too, who knew?), and provided me with a sense of freedom. Become okay at accepting help and a new world will open.