“You need help.”
It’s an insult sometimes, right? It’s a controversial phrase, one that implies judgment. In true Autostraddle fashion, we have a whole column named after it. Usually “you need help” is uttered in response to someone’s perceived mental health issues, but I also think it says So Much about the ways we look at the idea of “help” and who needs it. If you “need help” you’re failing in some way, whether that’s with being the “right amount” of sane, or more often, when it comes to conforming to whatever niceness and politeness and respectability look like.
Asking for help, the kind that requires another person to set aside time for me, to exert themselves physically, feels as easy as touching a hot stove.
If I had done everything right, I wouldn’t be in the position of needing help, would I?
AND YET, I know we’re sick of how So Many People (and often people who have some kind of inheritance or family money) talk about “bootstrapping.” We know “girlbossing” and “leaning in” are things that can actually only be supported by the labor of others in some way and by a certain level of money and class privilege — the ability to buy prepared meals, to pay someone to do housework. Still, the mythology of self-sufficiency gets recycled and fed to us again and again from different angles, whether that’s the idea of having some off-grid cottage in the woods or of being able to find some sort of balance, some semblance of being well when everything is on fire. It’s too much of a challenge not to internalize it, to escape the lingering sense that everything should be Absolutely Fine when my ex only moved out in September and I’ve been working and working and working to burnout for who knows how long — and guilt when it’s not and I’m not somehow magically productive every waking hour and able to accomplish everything I wanted to just because I put it on a to do list.
Part of the rewiring I’ve had to undergo while embarking on this project of being a person without an infrastructural relationship (for the first time, really, in so many years) has involved the getting of help. I’ve been happy to make time when someone else has needed to rearrange a garage or move something heavy. But even with offers from other people, it’s been a difficult process sussing out just exactly how I want to approach getting help from the people in my life — how much I can ask for, from whom, and what I can do in exchange.
With one person, it’s been easy. We’re both working on our houses. I help him hang some drywall one day. He brings his truck and loads out some of my debris and takes it to the dump another day. This makes sense to me and is pretty easy. If I need a ride when my car’s in the shop, or if I’m sick and need food, I have a different friend I know I can ask, and I’ve done the same for her. I found out from yet another friend that if I had just texted them when I was alone on Christmas, that they would have been happy to hang. I just should have asked. As counterintuitive as it’s been to remap these pathways of care in my personal life, it’s also been a huge part of healing. It’s made me so much more resilient, too, I feel. In the past — and especially with the pandemic — I slid into the trap of relying too much on one single relationship. Breaking out of that isn’t so much a breaking as it is months of building connections.
It’s not like I’ve built up these friendships with this end goal in mind, of being able to ask for and give help in a multitude of ways with a small network of people, but because the process is a pleasure. Still, reflecting on it makes me feel like this is some solid measure of how far I’ve come since I began this column. I know that talking about networks of care is nothing new, especially among queer people, but it’s really something else to find myself there in a deeper way.
But, dear reader, why am I reflecting on this right at this moment? It’s because my dad and sister have come down to my place as a special Birthday Treat. Their treat? They’re helping me clear out old junk and home reno debris so that I have a fresh start to continue forward from. Everyone I’ve told about this has been blown away by how actually helpful this gesture is. And it has been! It’s also been strange, and hard. Until my dad and I repaired our relationship in a big way several years ago, I didn’t have much to do with my family in terms of actually helping each other out like this. It’s weird to have him and my sister digging through my things, and letting go of how odd that feels is a whole internal process in and of itself. Like, sure, go through my old art projects and my photos and my keepsakes from times in my life when we barely spoke and comment on it. This is fine. Everything is fine.
At the very least, there’s something cathartic about hearing your dad grumbling about the mess your ex-girlfriend’s left behind. It makes me feel like getting some help with it all isn’t so unreasonable.