I took some sort of French class from the second grade to the end of my sophomore year in college.
Somewhere in the middle of all these classes I learned something.
The distress call we hear so often in movies, “Mayday! Mayday!” is French for “Help Me,” or “M’Aidez.”
The hardest lesson, and the one it took me longest to learn, was how to ask for help.
For decades I refused to let anyone make my life easier. I didn’t want to go public with my disease and I was proud that I could take care of myself.
It worked until 1983 when I developed pericarditis, an infection of the sack around your heart. I was ordered to go home and go to bed and stay there.
Before that I was sure I was getting plenty of rest, but I quickly discovered I spent little time lying down. I would pop up, remembering something I needed to do, do it and then lie back down.
Pericarditis taught me my first hard lesson. Chest pain like this infection provides made lying down and staying there a wonderful idea.
Fate, as if to prove to me I could lie around the house, provided me with my first cable remote control, perfect for a person who now wanted to stay prone.
Years passed with me doing everything myself. I might have a ratty immune system, fibromyalgia and a spine that talked to me more and more often, but I wanted everyone to know I could at least look like a healthy person.
I hid my disease so well that when I finally admitted to being in pain all the time my friends thought I was lying.
I was in mandated group therapy with a bunch of my friends. I was a reporter then and the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City damaged all of us in different ways. All reporters were required to attend group therapy sessions. I have post-traumatic stress syndrome from the experience, but that’s another story.
We were in a conference room at the paper when I made my confession. The room was silent for a moment before one friend, then another, looked at me with shock and sad surprise.
“Why didn’t you tell us?” “We had no idea you were this sick.”
It was the first crack in my facade. I was in the middle of a flare that lasted for years. I was living on Xanax and steroids and the horrible exhaustion that comes with chronic fatigue was wrapping me in its toxic embrace.
I started out small. I would be on a plane to New York or Los Angeles and I would ask someone to help lift my suitcase into the overhead bin. I started checking in at the gate and asking for early boarding and I got it.
Still, I rarely asked for help until I remarried in 1999. My husband just did things for me. If I was smitten before, I was, and still am, in worship mode.
Seriously, it has been in the last 15 years that I have discovered people like to help. If they offer to help me with something now, I will probably say yes.
We have a large local grocery chain and the staff at any store will sack my groceries, go with me to my car and then load the sacks from the cart to my car. I ask for this now. If I need to buy pet food or kitty litter, I asked an employee to get it for me.
My family now makes sure I have help if I need it. They will drive me anywhere I need to go and they don’t make me feel like an invalid for taking the help.
While it’s sometimes still hard to ask a stranger for help, I have made a lot of progress in balancing the help/no help equation.
It is still a work in progress.