The Canal and River Trust (CRT, who manage waterways for England and Wales) asked me to write this guest blog for them, as a boater with a health condition. They have a web page which gives details of how they help boaters who need it for health and wellbeing reasons, so it’s always good to know this support is available. This got me thinking about help, and how difficult we usually seem to find asking for it. I say usually because it seems we are slightly better at it in pandemic times…
I remember sitting in a cafe in the town I went to Uni, with my Dad and sister. I was probably drinking what I now consider a sickly-sweet chai tea latte. I can’t remember exactly what I was saying but I know I was being obnoxious. My two companions called me out on it (rightfully so) and I burst into tears, surprising myself as well as them with my reaction. The truth was I was petrified. I wasn’t scared of studying; my parents weren’t putting me under any pressure to be there academically. I also wasn’t scared of living somewhere else; I’d just lived in Canada for almost a year. I was scared of people. Or more specifically, living with women my own age. And I didn’t know how to ask for help with this.
I was excited to be with women who wanted to go ‘out on the town’, as my hometown friends seemed more happy sitting round a board game. At the same time I was frightened of the unknown. I didn’t admit this to myself for a long time and particularly in that first year, I look back at my actions and attitude and cringe – especially as I believe I knew people who could have helped me. As it turns out, going out on the town isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and I’m still pretty partial to a board game!
As I mention in this blog for CRT, I have relied heavily on Tom’s help since moving onto a narrowboat. Luckily, I’ve had a bit of practice in asking for help since I started Uni. Most of that practice has been in the last four years, where two things have happened. One of them was, strangely, work related. I was working on health-related leadership, where I was often asking the question; ‘what help can we ask for?’. The aim was to make the requests wide ranging, from ‘liking’ a social media page, to running an event, to baking a cake. Inspired by this, when I had to move house suddenly after a relationship break-up, I asked for help. I started out asking just for cars and bodies to drive and carry my belongings, but that ended up stretching to being given furniture I needed, and company at the end of the moving day (which also came with some bubbly, also un-asked for). I was overwhelmed and inspired by what asking had produced; not only had my day been easier, but the group – most of them didn’t know each other – felt jolly, like they were getting something out of it too.
The second big thing was becoming chronically ill with migraine. As others with variable conditions will know, the thing I found most difficult was knowing when and what help I would need. I had friends and family who really wanted to help; some of the time they wanted to come round when I had to tell them ‘no’, and sometimes I really wanted company but didn’t know how to ask. It took a lot of energy just to think about the kinds of help I needed, and who might be best suited or more able for which thing. All these things kept spinning around in my head, causing even more neurological problems. I think I even wrote a list at one point, so if someone offered help, I could immediately consult this list so I didn’t have to remember but could take someone up on the offer.
Before lockdown I would often see others struggling and I wish I could catapult them into some understanding about asking for help. Either they didn’t think they needed help, or are too shy, or their ego won’t let them. It seems that nowadays because everyone needs to – or could need it, if they got the virus – ask for help, it’s less of an issue.
Asking for help shows a vulnerability, and showing this – as Brene Brown says so articulately – is powerful. Where is your list? What’s on it? Being on a boat has helped me need one less, and I haven’t yet needed CRT’s help because of my health but I know I could reach out if I needed to. If you’re on a boat or looking to move onto one, make sure you check out their information to either not struggle in silence, or decide if boat life is for you.