I’ve never been the type of person who stretched my hands out in a form other than fists. Even when I find myself standing below the altar of the Lord, when I raise my arms in praise, I have to fight to keep my palms exposed, this battle thus exposing my soul. It is a battle I have been conditioned to not be proud of. But, in my defense, it’s a habit that has been reinforced by years of people who confused love with occupation. That being said, when something of my life needs filling, I very rarely have the strength to receive. Or perhaps it is not that I don’t have the strength, but that I am too overflowing with pride and fear to have room for what those who love me want to give. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve spent my fair share of evenings knocking on doors I didn’t deserve to have opened but needing something, anything even as small as a crack to show me how to have mercy on my own soul. But, psychotic desperation is not the same as asking for help. At least not to me.
I have had so many conversations with young men who are trying to piece together the brightest world they can imagine and for some reason they think that should include me and so they sit sipping their coffee pleading “let me help you” and all I can reply is “don’t you know what that would do to me? Don’t you know the amount of wattage this world would lose?”. I’ve had so many conversations with young women who sit on the edge of their chairs by habit, saying “if you need anything, come to us, we will take you with open arms and we will not lock our fingers once you rush into our embrace” and all I can reply is “thank you, I definitely need that”, knowing I will not show. To accept help is almost as treacherous as asking for it in the first place.
I don’t know where it comes from. I don’t have a folder of psychoanalyzed reasoning filled to the brim with dreams and memories and poems I wrote when I was 5 pointing to some area of my life where I never finished development. Most of the time I think that’s a load of crap anyways (and I call myself a Psychology student). I never wanted that folder in my life so I always made sure I never needed it.
Maybe I need it.
Either way, being here in Ecuador and having my body quit remembering how to read books about homeostasis and having my stomach decide gravity was not the boss and having to realize that I am more afraid of returning home to find the earth splitting beneath me than I am here means that I am (finally) learning how to ask for help.
Last week I was at a friend’s house when I suddenly turned into an oven who just wanted more and more blankets and who could not even keep down a cup of tea and I felt ashamed for needing help. I felt ashamed and embarrassed for my weakness. But when I couldn’t make it from the bed to the bathroom without having the floor kicked out from under me I made the choice to stretch my arm out with an open hand at the end instead of a fist. And someone was there to take it. How good it feels to have someone there to take it.
A few weeks ago when we were hiking Iliniza Norte and there was rock scrambling that our helmets did next to nothing to ease the suspicion of, we came across a chasm in our descent. A chasm that the dudes in front of me crossed with ease but seemed to get caught in my throat. I hesitated for longer than I was comfortable, my anxiety rising because there were people behind me waiting. And I did what I despise and reached my opened hand across the chasm. Someone was there to take it. How strange it feels to have someone there to take it
When I ate it in cross-country and twisted my ankle in a way that halted the speed at which I normally pass through life, my good friend always offered his arm on the stairs. He always offered and I always said no even though the uneven rhythm of my steps made it so obvious that I should have said yes. And always, halfway up, my unclenched fist would sneak it’s way into the crook of his elbow and I would blush and he would say nothing and I would hope that he did not associate me with the word weak. But he was always there to support me. How full it feels to have someone there to support me.
When I went to the emergency room this weekend, I did not tell anyone I was going. I didn’t tell them when or how or that I was going alone because I was so afraid that someone would say “do you want me to go with you?” and my mouth would betray my weakness and I would say “yes”. If I had, perhaps someone would have been there to catch me when my loss of consciousness slammed my body into the ground. I tried to ask for help when I felt the world slipping away, I tried in the way that I know how but of course the random hospital employee couldn’t understand that my slowed and slurred “tengo que sentarme” was me pleading “I do not have the strength to support my own body weight and I cannot see, please help me”. And no one was there to catch me. How warm it would have felt to have had someone there to catch me.
That night, I made a friend come over and stay with me under the pretense of watching a film because that was how I knew how to ask for help in a way that let me preserve my pride. I knew I needed someone who would be there in case I went down again, literally or metaphorically. When the film was over and all that remained was darkness and music I sat listening to stories of his family and his home and the things that wake him up and I sat listening to him breath because for me, just knowing that someone else continues to push air in and out of their lungs makes the empty space I feel between mine feel a little less threatening. And it helped. It helped silence the voices in my head telling me that I was a fool for thinking anyone would want to willingly spend time with me. It silenced the raging beating of my heart reminding me that in the end my body will always eat itself alive. It silenced the poems I wanted to write that did not end in hope. He was there to remind me I am alive. How beautiful it feels to have someone there to remind you that you are alive.
So yes, I feel more safe with fists held up to friends but feeling safe does not always mean that you are safe; a tree may be refuge from the rain but when it falls at the hand of Thor, it turns from an umbrella to a coffin. I am learning to ask for help. I am learning to relax my fists and accept that I do not have to be alone and that I am not weak to ask someone to be there. It will take a long time, I have spent twenty years running in the opposite direction, but I am finding that there are people along my path who also stopped running some time ago and simply want to walk with me, step in step, hand in hand, willing to help me form the words “I need help.”