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The Difficulty of Asking for Help

The Difficulty of Asking for Help

Despite chronic migraine and lots of personal ups and downs over the last year or so, I consider myself to be extremely fortunate. I’m close with my family; my sister and my parents all live in my neighborhood, which is actually really wonderful. My neighborhood is fervently supportive of my community-centric business, and I have thoughtful, funny, and kind coworkers on my team. I even have a second, very part-time gig as a health writer, and the colleagues I have at that job are conscientious and so lovely. And don’t even get me started on my friends: I have hit the jackpot with friends over and over throughout my thirty-eight years on this earth; my heart warms at the thought that pals I had as a little kid are still in my life, and I’ve added a ton of clever, empathetic, fiercely loving friends to the roster over the years.

The benefit of a support system

Knowing all of the above, you won’t be surprised to learn that I have a tremendous support system. Even apart from my continual problems with migraine disease, my people show up. They often write cards, send texts and emails, initiate dinner dates and walks, and do so much more to make sure I remember that I am cared for and loved. When migraine has me flattened, I know I can call on them.

Misconception: I will annoy my loved ones

Still, there’s something that nags at me. Despite knowing both intellectually and emotionally that my loved ones would truly value helping me out during tough times, I have trouble asking for help, especially if I have already sought help from those same people recently. Somehow, even though I know there is no truth to the following misconception, I worry that I will annoy them, that I’ll cash in my chips and they’ll feel bothered by requests for help.

Knowing I’m not really alone

When I flip the situation around and imagine a chronically ill friend writing the above paragraph, I can picture myself standing up emphatically, saying, “Are you kidding me?! It is a great honor of my life to be present with you, to run errands when you need that, to go for walks with you, to hold space for you when you aren’t ready to talk but need some emotional support.”

I know my friends and family would much prefer that I ask them for help than suffer alone, trying to do it all myself.

Yet I still have trouble asking for assistance.

Why do I still hesitate?

This problem is especially perplexing to me because of what I outlined above: I have always had amazing people on my team. I have never been burned, and I haven’t ever had someone I love tell me that I am asking for too much or asking for something too often.

So why do I hesitate to ask for help? Is this the mark of a fiercely independent entrepreneur? Does it have to do with being a woman in the twenty-first century? Does it have to do with some subsconcious worry about being seen as less than reliable due to my illnesses and the proverbial hiccups that accompany them?

Do you ever have this problem? How have you learned to ask for help when you need it?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Marian Andrews
    2 years ago

    My sister and I both have chronic migraines and I sometimes feel that we are competing for my mother’s time, sympathy and understanding, especially now that I am staying with my mother while waiting for my new house to be built. My sister will call my mother almost every night and tell her how she feels, then my mother will say that I am “fine”. My mother is very active at age 87 and I wait for the very worst migraines before I ask for help, but my mother is constantly telling my sister that she will take her to the doctor any time she needs to go. I am torn between feeling guilty for trying to compete with my sister for my mother’s attention and wondering why my mother can’t see that I am hurting, too.

  • Ellen H
    2 years ago

    Lately I have come face to face with the realization that while I am hesitant to ASK for help, I am also hesitant to OFFER help to others. Let me tell you about the GUILT I feel. There have been times when friends have needed help and times when I did not offer to help another. The guilt and depression are overwhelming. Looking back over my life, I realize just how affected I was by the migraines. Even twenty, thirty years ago when I was still working and living with migraine, I did not realize how the migraines affected my life even then, let alone today when I am retired and am very tired and am reliving my past with all its revelations. Please tell me that I am not the only one who feels this way.

  • ladyhuckleberry
    2 years ago

    I’ve got no problem in asking for help but getting it from the majority’s like “pulling hen’s teeth”. I’ve got one ER Physician and 1 Hospitalist who’re willing to help but everybody else I see tends to label me and that’s disgusting if you ask me. I pray one day those in Big Pharma, the Insu Industry, Federal Govt wake up with some of the headaches we do and get a good dose of Reality.. Then they get told sorry I can’t help.

  • laurahildebrand
    2 years ago

    I believe my migraines would be so much better if I had any kind of support system, but I don’t, with the exception of my college-aged daughter. When my migraines became chronic, my husband walked out on me. In the beginning I was still invited to things, but 99% of the time I had to decline because I have intractable migraine. I can’t even remember a day when I wasn’t in pain. I have a few people left in my life outside of my family who still care about me. My family is a mixed bag. One of my sisters thinks this is all an elaborate hoax so I don’t have to work. My other sister called me every single day for a year after my husband left. My parents came around when I was approved for disability. Living with migraine has left me so depressed and anxious. I’m a shell of the person I used to be. Maybe if I had some support, I wouldn’t be trapped in this pit of despair.

  • DinaMay
    2 years ago

    As my kinfolks would sat, the author is blessed. But we ain’t all blessed. I’ve had a few decades of severe migraine and other health problems. My hubby has been through the wringer trying to help out. And my kids had to do without some of the things their peers had, all because of me and my problems. I’ve asked for help many times and not received it, for,a,variety of reasons. When I’ve asked a particular person too many times, that person has sometimes let me know I’ve overasked. Some family members have said I should deal with it all on my own.
    So whenever possible I do what I can on my own. Right now hubby and I are in an assisted living facility because of our health problems. We take advantage of Uber and Lyft and Redi-Wheels (the local paratransit system). I have purchases delivered. It’s expensive when you add it all up and I’m pretty sure we’ll run out of money eventually. But at least for now I don’t have to wear out my welcome with family and friends. And that’s good enough for now.

  • Deb
    2 years ago

    Migraine Girl, you are fortunate to have such a strong support system. I am thankful you are so blessed. Even so, you struggle with asking for help. I think I know why. You, like me, are a very independent woman. From your description of all you do as an entrepreneur and otherwise, independence is written into your DNA. I recognize this in myself. I’ve always been, from childhood right into my mid sixties, fiercely independent. As a result, I will ask for help only when there is no other alternative.

    I have Chronic Migraine Disease, Menieres Disease, and a hubby who has MS and has suffered many strokes and a coma in the last three years. Even so, it is rare I ask for help. I have planned in advance for as many possible problems I can think of. Because I can no longer drive, I use Uber rather than ask friends or family for rides. My groceries are delivered. Almost everything we need is ordered online. Our beautician and massage therapist come to the house. When I do go out, my purse has a big compartment in the bottom that holds all the emergency stuff … knee pads in case I fall with a Menieres attack and have to crawl, a barf bag, disposable underwear for both of us, etc. My phone has an emergency app to call for help wherever we are.

    I try to use rare times when we can go out with friends or family to do enjoyable things like dinner or a movie. Because independence is hard wired into my DNA, I know myself well enough to realize I will only call for help when I have no way to resolve the problem myself. When have I asked for help? In extreme situations … my husband’s first stroke at 2:00 a.m. Times when I desperately need support. Because I do not call frivously, my friends and family know if I call for help, I really need it.

    All that being said, I am not complaining. I am finding ways for my husband and I to stay in our home and live independently as long as possible. It has taken foresight, planning, creativity, and being willing to ask for help when necessary to allow us to still be in our home living independently. We are blessed to have the resources and services near by to be able to do this. I realize many people do not and find their dependence on others a necessity because they truly have no other alternative. My heart goes out to fellow migraineurs who need support and suffer alone terribly without it.

    I, like my fellow migraineurs, have experienced the pain of confrontation by people (most people) who just don’t get what it means to experience disabling migraine disease. I’ve learned there is no way they can understand because they haven’t experienced it themselves. I hope they never do.

    Migraine Girl, I hope you will recognize your fiercely independent spirit as a positive asset and use it with pride, while also realizing when you truly do need help and support, you have the strength to ask for it. And fellow migraineurs who need support and are facing the judgment and uncaring attitudes of friends, family, and coworkers who don’t understand, I hope you will somehow find other resources to provide the help you need. My heart goes out to you and to all who suffer this horrific condition.


  • SkiingIsBelieving
    2 years ago

    I am glad the author has such a wonderful life, I really truly am. Her gratitude is clear. But this article is a bit tone deaf to the deep suffering that many on this forum experience. I have a lot of loving family and friends, too, and an excellent partner, and while I’m really grateful for all the benefits of my life, I wouldn’t spend much more than this sentence writing about them. Yes, we all have different experiences, as the Moderator has said to other commenters. But these articles are best when they focus as much as possible on what commonalities we have and how we can support each other. 3/4 of an article about how great we have it with a couple questions at the end doesn’t strike the right balance, in my opinion. It causes more pain than help for those who are really struggling, or isolated.

    To contribute to the dialogue, I would offer that yes, independence, femaleness and the subconscious probably all play a part, but mostly I think reluctance to ask for help comes from a very deep human fear of admitting vulnerability— worry that when we let others see our “real selves” and how needy they are (whether from chronic pain or other emotional anxieties or just being real), they won’t stick around. I think all people suffer from this at some level, and chronic pain sufferers in a compounded fashion.

    Strategies that help me are daily mindfulness/positive visualization meditations that help me counter negative self-messages (I use the free Insight Timer app); discussing with my partner my fears about help and overload when I’m *not* having migraine, so we can both be present for the issues that come up; and offering to help others whenever I am able, even if it’s as simple as writing a card to honor a milestone, transition, or just to say I am thinking of them.

    May all of us experience some relief from suffering.

  • butterflies
    2 years ago

    Having been raised by a very needy mom, I have always hated asking for help…Consequently it has taken years for my adult children to even have a glimpse of the level of my suffering. I’m not proud of it, but only in the past year or two have I begun to be more open with them because it was so difficult for me to release the image of the ‘strong, vivacious’ mom I had been in the past. I simply can’t power through, anymore.

    It’s wonderful for those who have such a strong support system, but I totally relate to the hesitancy of asking for help ‘too much’.

  • glowingmoon
    2 years ago

    Wow. This article was pretty depressing for me to read. Having friends and family around willing to help has not been my experience at all. You’re very lucky you have this. Many (actually from what I see around me, I’m guessing most) of us do not.

    I see it all the time in my own life and in others I know who have chronic illnesses. I find most people do not understand and just think we are whining about nothing. From the time I was a child I’ve been called lazy, weak, told I need to tough it out, that if I’d just “calm down” I wouldn’t get “headaches”. I’ve lost jobs, been discriminated against in school, work, been accused in emergency rooms, doctor’s offices of faking pain.

    Often it’s very necessary to limit asking to the most critical things so they won’t tire of helping. When you need a lot of help you can use up your favors very quickly.

  • Holly Harding Baddour moderator
    2 years ago

    @22cml0r– Your experience of encountering disbelief and the polar opposite of support is indeed quite common. You are not alone in this experience. As the author says, she considers herself very fortunate. And she is. I appreciated the guidance you offered regarding pacing your asks so that they don’t overwhelm what is perhaps a smaller and overly taxed support system. I have found that sending articles- that resonate with me specifically- to my support network can help gently educate them about what I’m up against. An outcome of doing so can be that they become less judgmental and more supportive in the long run.

    Do you have any other tips you could offer the community about how to get the support you need, or even how to increase your support system altogether?

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience- your doing so helps others feel less alone.

  • dhlweh
    2 years ago

    I’m with you. Migraine girl is very fortunate to have the support system that she has. I do not believe that is the norm. And yes, it was rather depressing but good for her.

  • Maureen
    2 years ago

    Hi, MigraineGirl!
    Here’s my theory… and it also works for why I don’t take my meds right away like I should… you have a difficult time asking for help because you don’t want to need help. I don’t take my meds because I don’t want it to be a migraine. Maybe it won’t be. Maybe I’ll wait.
    I don’t want to. I don’t want to. I don’t want to.
    Basically, I don’t want to have a migraine, so I don’t take my meds right away in the delusional hope that not admitting I’m having one will help it not be not happening. Emphasis on delusional.
    I’m guessing, you just don’t want to have to ask.
    You don’t want to. You don’t want to. You don’t want to.
    For no good reason, except the delusional hope that if you don’t, you won’t need to. Emphasis on delusional.
    …And sometimes, it’s just really hard…like rolling over in bed and reaching for the nightstand or your phone. Only someone with a migraine, or other chronic pain condition, can probably understand how hard this can REALLY be.
    But I totally get it.

  • Luna
    2 years ago

    At least you have people to ask for help and that would like to help. Many of us do not have that help or very limited help available. Many of us are much older than you.

  • Holly Harding Baddour moderator
    2 years ago

    hi @jean – you are so right that no one has the same experience here. This is part of why our community benefits from the various voices and backgrounds that are shared so that we can hopefully learn from and support one another through this incredibly challenging disease. How have you navigated the very real and common struggle of feeling isolated and not having the kind of help available that you have needed? Your insights and experience will likely provide guidance to others. Thank you for chiming in.

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