Ask For Help

NaBloPoMo 2021:  Do Good, Kid

I bet most practicing physicians can remember a time in their training when, not totally sure of what they were doing, they had to choose:  Ask for help, or go it alone?

Medical culture can give a learner some serious psychological whiplash.  In training, we are told at the same time explicitly that we should ask for help (we are novices, after all), and also implicitly that we should already know everything, that asking for help is weak and makes us inadequate.  It can be a dangerous paradox to navigate, especially when patients’ lives may be at stake.  Do I really know what I’m doing?  I know this attending will make fun of me for asking, say it’s a stupid question.  Is it a competence or a confidence problem?  Do I risk diminishing my reputation or making a mistake?  Bad things happen when we choose pride over safety.

* * *

I need for some extra help at home, but it’s not conventional.   Care.com has not been helpful.  Then EUREKA, it occurs to me, I have a whole network of smart, connected, creative friends whose combined life experience could yield some shining hidden treasures in this hunt.  So I queried them all at once via email; the response was immediate, and just the trove that I needed.  Considerations here, resources there, and insightful questions that broadened my perspective on what I need.  When we ask for help from a loving community or tribe, we get so much more than information.  We receive encouragement and learn about our friends.  We strengthen our connections, which feeds both the helpers and the helped in meaningful ways that really last.

* * *

One profound benefit of COVID, if you could call it that, is significantly improved access to metal healthcare.  The isolation and loneliness, the utter chaos wrought by pandemic living, has pushed so many of us to the edge of our sanity.  But precisely because of the pandemic, now we can do our therapy sessions remotely, by phone or video.  No more carving out commute and parking time once a week, among other obstacles.  Pre-COVID, therapists and medical clinicians were never reimbursed adequately for remote care, so we thought it could never be done, no matter how much it would serve both practitioners and patients.  Non-synchronous, online psychotherapy thankfully had its advent in recent years, so now more people can connect with mental health professionals from home or work, at their own convenience, making contact exponentially easier.  Cost and availability still keep many from getting the help they need, but many more are connecting now than before.  I have said for a while now that we should each just be assigned a therapist at birth.  Life is hard, and we don’t always learn the coping skills we need from our families or at school.  Mental health professionals today are like fifth generation hardware store owners—they possess evolving and historical knowledge.  They wield myriad tools to help us solve problems; they can show us how our own plumbing works.  They help us learn which hammer or wrench to choose when we see, hear, or feel something off in our house.  But we have to seek them out, to ask for their help.

What have you been facing all alone lately?  Who could help you?  When will you ask them?

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