In the years that I was dealing with cancer, there were many things I couldn’t do on my own so I had to learn how to accept help from others. I wasn’t immediately willing though; about a year and a half after my diagnosis, when I was down to a mere 83 pounds, I couldn’t even get myself to the store to grab some food. Friends were leaving food on my doorstep, and I even found that hard to accept. I remember turning away lovingly made tomato soup because I decided the day before I was going to cut nightshades out of my diet. Looking back it seems silly, but it wasn’t really about the type of foods I was receiving…. I just had trouble receiving.
Many people wanted to help, and I had to constantly remind myself that it was ok to allow them. It took a long time until I became comfortable with receiving help. It was a gradual process, that with practice became easier – eventually, I even managed to start asking for help, despite the discomfort that it aroused in myself. Like, I said though, it wasn’t quick or easy – there were blockages to receiving that I had to overcome. Different blocks would appear at different times and with different people, but I don’t think there was ever just one reason for my resistance to receiving.
There were many reasons…..
Getting discouraged by rejection – Right after my diagnosis, many people offered their time and assistance and then didn’t follow through. Initially I let this discourage me because I didn’t want to get excited only to be let down when the person simply forgot, or wasn’t able to follow through due to other commitments. Despite being disappointed previously I had to decide to trust that others would come through if they could. Remembering that an offer for help is an offer and not a guarantee, I realized that sometimes I may have to gently remind someone or just let it go if it didn’t happen – and most importantly, to be grateful for the help that did come through. More often than not, people did what they said they would and I had to stop letting a few disappointments discourage me from accepting other offers for help.
Feeling unworthy – Since I didn’t feel worthy of receiving care and attention, I thought others didn’t think I was worthy. This belief was easily exacerbated by the first one as I took any denial of help personally, which only confirmed my belief that I was not deserving of it. When that belief arose I was pretty deep in my own suffering and forgot that people have busy lives and sometimes just can’t be of help – for reasons totally unrelated to me. Now, it seems like a ridiculous thought that any of the beautiful people in my life would deem me unworthy of their love, and even more ridiculous that I would deem myself unworthy.
I didn’t want to burden anyone – Instead of asking and letting others decide for themselves, I already decided that they wouldn’t be able to or didn’t want to help. Not only did this tie into the belief of unworthiness, I was also trying to caretake others so they wouldn’t get uncomfortable by having to say no if they were unable to help for whatever reason. I wasn’t allowing people to speak for themselves and I was also robbing them of the opportunity to help. Most people actually want to help others and feel helping is a joy, not a burden.
A fear of connection – Giving and receiving support increases our ability to connect with others. Although I didn’t have trouble making friends and being social, there are different levels to human interaction. Asking for help opens us to others, it shows vulnerability and increases intimacy. Being seen as we are can be scary and I’m still working on being comfortable with this today. I know that it takes many years of continued effort to dissolve the barriers that keep me isolated from others.
Pride, my stubborn pride – It’s common in our society to believe that asking for help is a weakness, a dependency, or just plain needy. Although I now believe that there is a great strength in the ability to be vulnerable enough to ask for help, I didn’t always see it that way. I felt like asking for help meant I was failing in my ability to cope with things. The truth is though, that we all need support in life. As the motivational speaker, Les Brown says “Ask for help, not because you’re weak, but because you want to remain strong.” Absolutely no one can cope with everything all on their own; it’s normal, human, and healthy to reach out for support. This doesn’t mean it’s easy though – pride is a very hard pill to swallow! However, it’s worth dealing with the initial discomfort because once we learn to ask and receive, that stubborn pride transforms into a soft and beautiful humility.
I wasn’t surprised at my inability to receive. My yoga teacher had been telling me for years that my heart was blocked, I just didn’t understand the extent of it… until I was in my desperate situation. In yoga, giving and receiving is related to Anahata, the heart chakra. Some people are more emissive when it comes to the heart and they give love easily, others are more receptive and they welcome in various forms of love. Ideally, we want to be balanced and able to both give and receive, but it’s very common for us to be blocked in one way or another.
My heart really opened when I started allowing in help, which is an expression of love. Simply receiving opened my heart more quickly than any asana or pranayama geared at activating Anahata. Not to discount yoga techniques, but to me, the most powerful practice is the yoga of daily life. Yoga is union, so giving and receiving love is an amazing way to feel more united with everyone and everything, at least in my limited experience.
By the time I was in the hospital last spring for my stem cell transplant, I had no hang-ups about having daily visitors bringing me food and entertainment to make my hospital stay go more smoothly. However, months later I realized how much I received, and wondered how I could give back. I found myself stressing sometimes over how to give back to all those who have helped me when I was going through such a difficult period in my life.
The idea that I had to pay back each and every individual was overwhelming, until I was reminded of the cyclical nature of life. There is a beauty and flow to the cycle of giving and receiving. We don’t need to keep tabs to perfectly balance our giving and receiving with each individual in our lives. Since we are all ultimately connected as one, if we do our best to support others, the universe aligns so that we too are supported. Call it karma, or whatever you want, I think it’s just the natural flow of life, we do get what we give (if we are open to it). Sometimes the exchange happens between the two same people, and sometimes it doesn’t. If it does, it should be natural, because it’s not aligned with our authentic nature to give because we “owe” someone or feel an obligation to give back.
It’s also impossible to be exactly equal in any relationship when it comes to giving and receiving. Our support for each other is hard to quantify since it comes in many forms. Some people give with their time, some with thoughtful gestures, some help financially, and some are just always there if we need an ear to listen.
All we can really do is give to others in the ways that we can, when we are able. And, not to forget to stay open to receiving support and express sincere gratitude and appreciation for it. I know I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for all the beautiful people who have blessed me with their time and their hearts – and for that, I am endlessly grateful!
“To be independent looks like power, freedom, and true strength. But it isn’t. Independence is not strength, it is a wound. Independence is inspired not by love, but fear, and not by wholeness, but aloneness.”
~ Robert Holden
Photo: Evan Kirby