Asking for help. That’s something I’m not very good at it. And it seems the same can be said for accepting help, too. A fact that became quite apparent to me not so long ago when I found myself in the following situation… While I was away on my “composite family holiday,” my friend K looked after my house and cat for the week. When I returned, K cautiously started up a conversation that went something like this: “Uh, well, I thought perhaps, maybe um, please don’t take this the wrong way, but uh, would you perhaps like it, uh, if we were to come over one weekend and give you a hand? You know, with some chores and stuff. And well [laughing, nervously], to help you tidy up?”
I looked around and suddenly saw my house through her eyes. The fruit bowl on the table is piled high with junk; the window sills are crammed with hair brushes, gels and deodorants; and dotted all around the living room are retro cans stuffed with things like pens, bicycle lights, screwdrivers and all manner of useful items that have no fixed place. And if you look inside my cupboards and drawers, it only gets worse: cutlery lies higgledy-piggledy; my clothes are by no stretch of the imagination hung up in an orderly fashion or folded away in neat little piles; and each side cabinet is jam-packed with stuff. And then there are the odd-jobs that have been waiting a looooong time for a visit from the “DIY fairy”: a blind whose cord has snapped; lamps that need to be hung; a broken window in the shed door; the cistern of the toilet that was dismantled in half in order to make it work properly; and all sorts of other things… “Ooohhh that’ll be lovely,” I thought when K suggested coming over one weekend with her handyman boyfriend. “Oh no, I really cannot accept her offer,” was the thought that followed immediately after. The voice in my head began to raise objections: “They’ll be wasting their two free days! I need to tidy up better myself – I’m a grown, independent woman after all! How can it possibly be that I cannot get my home in order when I’m so incredibly organized in my work?”
I voiced with all these objections, but K casually insisted: “Yes, but we’d like to do it for you.” And then I remembered a story I had just read for our forthcoming Dutch autumn special about friendships and relationships. In it, Dutch psychoanalyst and professor of clinical psychology Paul Verhaeghe says, “Ask people when they feel good, and you’re always told ‘social exchanges’: doing something for someone else, or someone else doing something for you.” And then I felt less embarrassed with the thought that they may actually find it nice to help me out.
Which they will be. This weekend. And it feels like a huge luxury. A greater gift than many of the presents I ever received (stuff which is now just lying in a drawer). But somehow, something keeps gnawing at me, because accepting help is really difficult. So I’ve already booked a table at the beach café for a guilt-redemption dinner. And I’m going to provide a full breakfast. And I think that on Sunday, we should stop early enough to be able to go and have a few drinks together too. Uh, how many hours are there in a weekend again?
Irene, together with Astrid, is the founder and creative director of Flow Magazine. She lives with her children (10 and 13, co-parenting) in Haarlem, the Netherlands. Each Friday, she writes about how various Mindfulness lessons apply in her daily life.