Opinion Columns & Blogs

Ashley Brown: Taking that first step and asking for help is the hardest part

In the line of work I have chosen, I am privileged to have people reach out to me when they have friends or loved ones who are dealing with issues. Just last week, I was in a conversation with someone who was worried about a friend. They have had many conversations about connecting with services to help, but while the friend thought about it, she just wasn't ready to make a call.

I could tell my caller was a little frustrated when she said, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink." Isn't that the truth? And haven't we all been on BOTH sides of that statement.

Why is it so hard for us to ask for help? I ask this question without judgment because, while I'm a lot better than I used to be, I am not the best at asking for help.

Personally, I think feeling vulnerable is the hardest thing about asking for help. Being vulnerable is not a comfortable feeling, and as we progress in our careers, become parents and gain more responsibility, we don't feel like we have the option of failing or getting it wrong.

I also think we live in a society that values strong, self-sufficient people, and we believe it is a weakness to need help. We believe we should be able to pick ourselves up and move on. But life sometimes throws things our way that we can't brush off or move through. And, as we get older, the issues we are dealing with become more complex: job loss, divorce, aging parents, health concerns, loss.

I did a little polling as I was working on this article and asked why we don't like to ask for help.

The answers are going to sound familiar:

"I am embarrassed."

"I don't want people to know my business."

"I don't want to be judged."

The thing that struck me was how similar the responses were from a wide variety of people -- and I think that is fantastic news! What it means to me is that we all need a little help every once in a while, and there is no shame or failure in asking for it. The knowledge that every single person has dealt with loss, bad decisions, and disappointment gives hope, doesn't it?

For me personally, it wasn't until I had developed a real sense of self-esteem that I realized that it's OK to need help. I think women in particular don't like to disappoint anyone, and I constantly struggle with my need to be a people pleaser.

I was in my mid-30s before I fully realized and embraced that I didn't have to be perfect for people to like me or my parents to be proud of me.

This was a time in my life when I was changing careers, ending a long-term relationship and, quite frankly, feeling down and a bit like a failure. I finally realized I was stuck and not making progress in deciding my next steps. At that point, not only did I reach out to my support system, but I also spoke with a counselor. I was able to gain perspective on the things that were happening in my life. I also gave myself a break and stopped being so hard on myself.

And do you know what happened? I started to see new options and opportunities for my life. I also reconnected with my resiliency and knew I was going to be OK. Sometimes when we are going through tough times, we forget how strong we really are.

The lesson I learned and still carry with me is this: When I find myself struggling with an issue or situation that I can't work through, I need to reach out to someone to help me gain some perspective. Two things typically happen when I reach this point: I feel much better, and I start moving forward.

I get into trouble when I pretend that all is fine, or I feel sorry for myself and have a pity party. I am not being disrespectful or harsh when I use the term "pity." Everyone needs the time and space to grieve a significant life event, but we eventually have to accept what has happened and acknowledge our new reality and move forward. It is during these times that we need to be brave and seek the help we need.

I am very fortunate to have a strong support system with my family and friends. It also doesn't hurt that I work for an organization that has counselors on staff.

But if you don't have a strong support system, I encourage you to consider your co-workers, family and friends. Do you have a potential mentor who can be a sounding board for you when you are struggling? Start working on building relationships that can be strong and trustworthy so you have a support system when things get a little hectic in your life.

And if you are dealing with something bigger than a family member or friend can help with, we are fortunate to live in a community that has a wealth of services where we can get the help we need.

Taking that first step and asking for help is the hardest part. It is when we start working through our issues that we can move forward with a clear mind and a strong sense of self.

Rose Carlson, one of my fellow writers for this column, wrote something that has stuck with me: We reach an age where we are natural role models. Think of the gift we can give to others in our lives when we show a willingness to reach out for help when we need it.

And let's face it; we all need a little help along the way.

Ashley Brown, executive director of the Women's Resource Center of Manatee, can be reached at 941-747-6797.

Coming next Sunday: Maria V. Zavala, motivational speaker and author, writes to all the women who've been to hell and back: "I have frequent flyer miles!"