One of the women I interviewed for Chronic Challenge had Multiple Sclerosis. When she went shopping she used a wheelchair. Her daughter would take her, but sometimes leave her in the mall to run an errand. In a quote from the book, the women said, “I don’t want help unless I ask for it. Don’t grab my wheelchair and start pushing me down the hall, without my asking. I try to make sure others don’t take control, like carrying me when I don’t want to be carried.” Can you imagine her discomfort? The people picking her up or pushing her chair probably feel they are being helpful. Giving help requires first asking if it is wanted. Many people with limitations cling to their independence fiercely. Usurping that is a huge hindrance.

My older sister is a wonderful helper, but sometimes it becomes an obsession, even interfering, as when she tries taking over every task when I start cooking dinner. I enjoy making tasty meals, but her ‘help’ throws off my timing and neutralizes my pleasure. Definitely hampering! However, when I tried to put up my tent in high wind as sand blasted my face, her help proved invaluable. She’s also great on the other end of my loaded kayak. But only if I want her there.

My husband has had an ongoing struggle with guests and the dishwasher. Thinking they are helping, they will start putting dirty dishes in the dishwasher, messing up his method. He asks them to leave it, is ignored, and so dreads the next time they come. His nearest and dearest now know to “stay the hell away from the dishwasher”. His idea of the best help is respect for what he wants.

Several older friends, still living on their own, appreciate the help of their son or daughter, when they ask for it. “Could you please change the lightbulb, carry that heavy box in.” However, one friend found her daughter had reorganized her entire kitchen. “Look Mom, I put everything you use most often where you can reach it easily.” Seems like that would be great help. But this woman had cooked in that kitchen for forty-five years. She used muscle memory to prepare her meals, yet now has to stop and search for everything. And with short term memory diminishing, food prep became much harder for her. Her daughter’s idea is a high fence she can’t hurdle – a hindrance.

An artist I spoke with described an amateur painter she knew who proudly posted a photo of her latest painting. Several experienced artists jumped online and gave what they considered helpful tips around improving the piece. Their comments totally demoralized her and killed her joy in painting. The same thing happens with literary critiques. Constructive help must be worded carefully if it is not taken as criticism. I appreciate a good editor and haven’t worked with one who didn’t improve my manuscript. However, I have given my work to family or friends for input and found their enthusiastic ideas took my story so far from the original I couldn’t recognize my work. In their creative fervour they hindered me.

I like using my initiative by first asking the person if my idea of help is theirs or acting on something I’ve heard them say. While visiting with a friend, we became too hot on the deck and decided to move into the shade of some trees. “There are cushions in there I can put on the chairs,” she murmured as she went into the house to refresh her coffee. I cleaned off two chairs lying in the grass and got the cushions out. She exclaimed in surprise when she saw I’d done it. Surprised, in turn, that she would think I’d stand and wait for her, I asked her about her reaction. “Nobody does those things for me,” she replied. “I guess I don’t think to ask.”

It took many years, but I learned to ask for help. The bigger lesson, finding the patience to wait for the helper to do the job in his/her timeframe not mine. When I began accepting help, I discovered most people take pleasure in helping. Accepting their help becomes a gift from me to them. And, by giving them clear guidance, I make it easier for them to help without straying into hindrance territory.

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