Learning to Ask for Help

I was raised on a boat. Not literally, but basically. Ever since I can remember, my family has had a boat. It's not a fancy boat, just big enough for a family and fast enough to ski or wakeboard behind. When I was little, I would run my hand along its black and yellow stripes as I wiped it down with vinegar water after a day on the lake. I have memories of clinging to a tube as it flew wildly behind our boat as my dad whipped around in a circle. I remember countless adventures up tiny canyons at Lake Powell, seeing how far we could get in the boat before we started hitting the red, sandstone walls. I remember late evenings when the sun was just sinking below the horizon. We would turn on the outboard lights and watch my dad get one last ski in, water curving in arcs behind his ski as he cut to and fro across the wake. Yup, I was raised on a boat.

To be raised on a boat, you have to know the rules. My dad's rules are always the same: Sit down when the boat is moving, keep an eye out for obstacles and let him know about them, and have fun. But there were other rules, other intricacies to being a "real" boater. Things like always wipe the boat down when it is still a little wet. Rinse your feet off in the lake water before jumping back into the boat. Keep the ropes from getting tangled. Hold onto your hat so it doesn't fly away. The kind of rules that were more nuances to boating than actual rules.Other rules we were taught were federal rules. Rules like: only twelve people on the boat. Children under twelve had to wear a life jacket. Follow no-wake zone postings. Stay far away from other boats and swimmers.

One very important federal rule had to do with the orange flag that every skiing vessel is required to have. When someone is in the water near the boat, an orange flag must be clearly visible to other water vessel operators so that they know that there is someone to be wary of. When a boat is in distress, the orange flag is to be waved to notify other boaters so that they can assist the endangered boaters. Basically, the orange flag serves two purposes: 1. to warn and 2. to ask for help.

Here's what I'm getting at with this long intro: in life, how often do we wave our orange flag when our boat is sinking? Do we wave it wildly, signaling to other boaters that we need help? Or do we stick it in the side compartment on the boat and resign ourselves to floundering in the water, risking drowning or injury? I think in general, we tend to do the latter. Asking for help is to many people too much. Pride, conventions, fear, etc. get in the way of asking for much needed assistance. We don't want to be a burden, we can just tough it out, we don't want people to think we are weak...the excuses go on and on. Asking for help has become a shameful thing in society. Waving the orange flag has become obscene and embarrassing. Well, that has to change.

When you (or those you love) are dealing with a mental illness of some sort, you are probably going to find yourself in a spot when you need help. You might be able to take care of it yourself (might) but more often than not, you're going to need some sort of help. Let me tell you a quick story about my experience with asking for help:

Too many times, I haven't asked for help. Last school year, I was drowning. I saw my boat going down but I was too prideful to get help. By the time I decided to whip out my orange flag, my boat was pretty much all the way submerged. I had to quit my job and withdraw from a class, among other things. I ended up failing a class and finishing the semester with less than a 2.0 and was put on academic warning. I was barely making it out of my apartment, I wasn't eating right, I was spending money erratically, and I was just a downright mess. But I didn't ask for help. The people closest to me did what they could from what I told them. I didn't let too many people know just how bad things were, including my parents. The ones who knew did the best they could to help, but in general I didn't let them. When I finally told my parents how bad it was, they were heartbroken that I hadn't asked for help sooner. I let my mental illness overtake me and I lost control.

Fast forward to this past month. It has been extremely difficult for me getting back in to school. I have experienced a lot of issues and challenges that I wasn't anticipating. However, remembering my experience last year, I asked for help sooner this time. Obviously, I'm still doing some damage control. I've lost some footing in school that I'm trying to get back. I've tried to humble myself and ask my parents, my doctor, my counselor, and my closest friends for help. So far, so good. Waving my orange flag is paying off.

What does this mean for you? It means that when you need help, ask for help. There is absolutely no shame in it. When you feel yourself sinking, turn to those you trust most. That could be your parents, siblings, ecclesiastical leaders, doctors--you name it. But start with someone who you know can support you. The sooner you get help, the better off you will be. Trying to save yourself without help only tends to aggravate the problem. You've got to get help to get better.

How do you know when you need help? Watch your gauges! When a boat is running out of gas, it will show on the gauge. Same goes for you--when you're running out of steam, your body is going to start telling you that. It's different for everyone, so you just have to pay attention to your mind and body to start picking up on what it's telling you. For me, I know that I'm starting to hit rock bottom when I don't sleep as well, when I start indulging in risky behavior, when I start missing classes and work because of anxiety, when I start eating a lot less than usual, and when I get headaches. It has taken me some time to figure out that these are warning signs for me, but now that I have figured them out, I use them to gauge when I need to start waving my flag.

This is kind of a long post, but the bottom line is that asking for help is not a shameful thing. It helps you stay healthy and happy, It is a hard thing to do, but it is worth it in the end. Don't ever feel alone. There are so many resources! Here are some:

  • Family members 
  • Friends
  • Doctors (normal physicians are a great place to start)
  • Counselors
  • www.nami.org
  • National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1 (800) 273-8255
  • Me! Yes, me. I am always willing to listen and help you out. You don't even have to tell me who you are. Email me at: yellowinthegray@gmail.com
Don't be me. Don't wait so long to ask for help that you are already sunk. If you already feel like you are sunk and it isn't worth it, I promise you it is. No matter how bad it seems, you can always pick up the pieces with the right help. You just have to ask.


Just so you know.

Sometimes, I feel like I am a monster. I feel like I am a pit of despair, a walking rain cloud, a tornado of emotions. I feel like all I do is drag those around me down and into my mess. I am hard to be around, and I know it. Often, I take my feelings out on the ones I love most. I lash out and I get irritable, even when they're just trying to help. I am the kind of girl who professes to wear her heart on her sleeve, but I really put up walls and push people away through my actions and my words. So to my loved ones, just so you know, I love you more than I can say.

Just so you know:

Family--Mom, I've seen your tears when you're hurting because I'm hurting, when you're holding me even though I'm 21 years old. I've heard your prayers on my behalf as you kneel at your bedside. Dad, I've seen the love and concern in your eyes as you help me find the professional help I need. I've heard the love in your voice when you call me and talk me down, and even offer to drive down to Provo just to give me a hug. Shelby, Sadie, and Amberly; I've seen your maturity as you handle my episodes with love and understanding. I've felt your love as you hug me and laugh with me and listen to me.

Friends--I've seen your love as you for still stick by my side even though I change a lot. I've seen you go out of your way to let me know that I'm loved even when I don't go out of my way to do the same. I've cried on your shoulders and dumped all my emotions on you. I've seen the texts, read the notes, listened to your words of support.

So to those who support loved ones with a mental illness, I think I can speak for a lot of people when I say that they appreciate you more than you can ever know. Just so you know: they love you. They care about what you say, what you're doing for them. They feel your support and your prayers. Maybe they don't realize all of these things, but it's true.

Please, don't give up on me. Don't give up on those you love. Keep fighting for them, keep pushing them to get healthy. Keep up your prayers, your love, and your understanding. We need you. Without the support that I have, I wouldn't be where I am today and I know they wouldn't be either. Your efforts are never wasted. Even the smallest of things can make the biggest of impacts, just so you know.


It's okay to not be okay.

"How are you doing?" A common question. A gesture of courtesy in most cultures. Out of genuine interest and concern or just out of politeness, it is a question that I hear on average ten times a day or more. "How are you doing?" Most of the time I respond with a, "Great! How about you?" Not really interested in their answer as I pass them on campus. Or, I respond with a "I'm doing pretty alright, how about yourself?" There are times when I'm giving this response that I grit my teeth and respond through a fake smile. "I'm great!" I think to myself, "I am so not great. I am so not okay. I am totally lying." Fake smile, courteous answer, move on. Sometimes, I just want to explode when someone asks how I'm doing. "I am NOT okay. I am depressed. I am anxious. I am manic. I am very not okay. Very, very not okay." But I don't, obviously. Who wants an answer like that when in reality they're just asking to be nice?

For some reason, there is an extreme, inexplicable need to be okay. There is shame in not being okay. We plaster on fake smiles, muster up false responses to cover up the pain and issues in our life. We are conditioned to be "okay". To convince people I'm okay, I put on makeup, force a smile, and go on with my day. I've allowed myself at times to be convinced that I'm a failure if I don't appear to be doing well. 

You know what? It's okay to not be okay. It's okay to have bad days, to feel depressed, to have challenges. It is okay to need to take some time for yourself. It is okay to realize that you just need some help. It's okay.

I've realized in my life the more I focus on not being okay the more I'm...not okay. "I should be happy." makes me very unhappy. "I shouldn't be anxious about that." makes me more anxious. It's a vicious cycle, always focusing on being not okay. I've realized that recognizing that I have weaknesses is a positive thing. Beating yourself up about your bad times is like picking at a scab. The more you pick, the worse it gets. It doesn't heal the wound and sometimes it scars instead. What's the point in causing yourself more pain and more trouble? 

So what do you do when you realize that you're not okay? 

1. Recognize it. Own it. Choose to acknowledge that you're struggling and need to adjust accordingly to get feeling better. What is the quote? Admitting that you have a problem is the first step? Ya, something like that. If you don't, you're going to explode in one way or another--I can almost promise you that. 
2. Don't beat yourself up. I feel like this is an actual step in the process, not just a side note or subtitle. Forgive yourself. Let it go. Admit that your shortcomings aren't who you are but a challenge that makes you a better person.
3. Take some time to get better. There's no shame in needing a break, no matter how intense the break needs to be. Last winter semester, I had to withdraw from a class because I wasn't okay. I was barely making it out of my apartment more than a few times a week. I had to take the time to give myself a mental break and get the rest and help that I needed. 
4. Move on. Don't force yourself to fake it (though sometimes you have to every once in awhile) but choose some things that are okay. "I've got cute shoes on. That's pretty okay." "I'm enjoying this book I'm reading." "That sunset is gorgeous." Even when everything seems is falling in around you, I promise that there is something small that will help you move on.  
5. Help other people realize that they are okay. Reaching outside of your challenges helps. Being a listening ear and someone who cares about the response to the question, "How are you?" is something that will help you. At least it helps me. The more that I care about the trials of others and desire to help them, the more I recognize the blessings in my life. 

So to the person who is thinking that they are a failure because they have issues--you aren't alone. Sometimes, I feel the same way. But guess what? I am not a failure and neither are you. I am human, and so are you. Having trials and challenges is part of this life. We are always, always going to fall down. There are always going to be bad days or bad weeks or bad months...you get the picture. No matter what you do, there are going to be "not okay's." And that's completely alright. The sooner we can all accept that, the sooner we can be okay.