Five Things

I Know I Should Ask for Help, I’m Learning to Feel It Too

The person I want to be asks for what they need. I’m getting there.

Photo: Jasmin Merdan

One.

I’m less afraid of deadlines now that I don’t believe they offer any particular insight into my worth as a human being. That’s a new feeling. I mean, I’ve known it was true for much longer than I’ve felt sure. Teaching myself to do things differently — to see myself differently — always includes this gap in understanding, these long stretches of time where my mind is convinced and my body is not. I’ve learned not to be too angry at myself for this process. I’ve learned to talk and self-soothe my way through it. And I’ve learned that I’ll have doubts, and the cycle will begin again. I just have to talk about it and ask for help. Which sounds so simple even when it feels like it might kill me.

My fear of deadlines fades with each assignment filed, but asking for help remains a source of shame when it should not, which I promise I already know. There is nothing else I could read or listen to or watch, no conversation I could have, program I could enter, or entity I could worship to relieve the pain of this wound. It’s just something I’ve got to practice, teach myself to do like any other skill. Like I taught myself to cook for two and change an alternator and feel my feelings. I’ve looked for all the shortcuts. I searched for any way to get through life without “being a burden” and found them all ineffective to say the least. Turns out people needing people is a real thing, and nobody gets out of it, even the ones who think they have.

I never needed to be better at meeting deadlines as much as I needed to be better at asking for what I needed to meet a deadline. That’s what’s been tripping me up for years. And it’s been a huge waste of my time, and everyone else’s. Not that it’s the most important way I spend my time. It isn’t. I’m a lot more than when, how, or why I work, and so are you. So much more important than that. But I know how I want to work, and who I want to be as a person who creates as I do. That person is on time, except when she can’t be, and when she needs you, she asks.

Two.

When someone says the word “love,” do you think you’re thinking of that word in the exact same terms they are? That is, do you believe a word like “love” or “fear” or “work” can have a common universal definition? Of course, there are dictionaries and thesauruses and references throughout the historical record of words used in similar ways or common context, but it’s hard for me to believe that every person thinks of these big words the same way in their heads.

If you had to give the word “loud” a color, what color would you choose? Does the word conjure a slammed door across the house or a wailing trumpet parading down the street? Is it a good thing? A bad thing? A normal thing? An odd thing?

What about the word “help”? How does that one make you feel?

There are so many opportunities for deviation in our experience of a word, and I am so curious about how that changes our perception of a common definition. I might be rambling. Which I think of as a bad thing. Do you?

Three.

When I was worse at asking for what I needed, I’d fall into these long bouts of depression and constantly watch movies I’d seen before. One of those movies was, and still is, The Truman Show. Sometimes I even listen to the film score while I write. There’s something about it—I don’t know that I’ve been able to pinpoint exactly what it is. It’s the performances, sure, but it’s also the set and the loneliness and the mass manipulation with mass viewership. Maybe it’s something about being watched. I don’t know. I still don’t know.

At the end of the film, which I’m pretty sure is too old to spoil, Truman asks the creator of the show, “Was any of it real?” And the creator responds, “You were real.”

I’ve been watching that scene since I was a child, and it still makes me cry. I think to myself, “He had to be real to get out. He is real, and that’s why you couldn’t keep him. It was always going to end this way.”

Four.

A couple of weeks ago, I counted how many cover interviews I’ve written for a magazine over the last two years (including the one I’m working on now), and the answer was nine. I’d been telling myself it was five in my head, but when I sat down and actually made a list, I realized I was wrong. Now, I’m wondering why I can’t ever seem to accurately recall how much and how often I work. I have my suspicions, but I want the impossible. I want answers. I want to be able to enjoy my accomplishments as much as I fear my downfall and demise. I’m working on it. And when it’s appropriate, I’m reaching out.

Five.

My sense of self-control has been a point of pride for me for most of my life. It took me until very recently to realize that self-control was not an antidote for the inevitable pain of living a life. There was no amount of organization, money-making, or stable housing I could acquire that would negate my need for human connection. Never asking for help, never reaching out, never saying what I need or want out loud, none of that was actually possible while feeling alive. I had all this self-control, and everything I wanted required self-compassion, and it still does. I can’t write without it. Self-control helped me sell my book, but self-compassion was the only way I was ever going to really write it. I didn’t think I’d ever have enough to get it done, but I found it, and I did now. And now, it’s real. I’m real.

Writer. Editor. Host. AshleyCFord.Com

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