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Asking for and Giving Help when Living with MS

By HERWriter
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There are many paradoxes within the human condition; one that we can all probably relate to is how it’s usually easier to offer help than to ask for it. However, life has a way of making us tackle such challenges, especially when circumstances dictate that we can’t go it alone.

Traci Paxton, a Licensed Independent Social Worker (LISW-S) at the Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Clinic in the OhioHealth Neuroscience Center at Riverside Methodist Hospital, helps people learn how to manage day-to-day needs while living with a chronic disease. From her years of working with people who have MS and their families, she has become an expert in coaching people about how to ask for and receive help.

Traci shared her tips for navigating what can sometimes be an uncomfortable topic:

1) Make it simple. Sometimes we don’t ask for help because there are so many areas we could use assistance with and we don’t know where to start. “Take things one step at a time,” advises Traci. “If you have a number of things to do, start with just tackling one or two.”

2) Consider asking for help a strength, not a weakness. “It’s a strength to be able to acknowledge when you need assistance,” says Traci. “The sooner we understand this and get this into our collective consciousness, the better.” Rather than assuming that asking someone for help is a burden, realize asking for help shows your strength and can ultimately makes the people around you feel needed.

3) Think of asking for help as finding a different perspective. When someone is going through something as challenging as an MS diagnosis or relapse, it can be hard to find out-of-the-box solutions.

“When you ask for help, you feel you are being vulnerable, but the people helping you may have a better understanding of what you need and what is going on,” Traci advises. “Sometimes gaining a different perspective can help you find a novel solution.”

4) Recognize that asking for help can expand your world. “We get up, we do, we take care of things. Even when dealing with a chronic condition, it’s easy to try to carry it all on your back,” says Traci. “But try to look at the experience of asking for help, or offering help, as a chance to expand your world.”

5) Utilize available resources. There are a lot of resources out there to help balance everything we need to do. Traci advises, “Take advantage of available help. Connect with others in a similar situation to you to find ways to help one another out or refer each other to services that can be helpful.”

One resource Traci shares with her patients is GatherMS.com. “This is a great site that connects people with MS and their families with lots of helpful existing services and resources – everything from MS support groups and events to help with daily chores and wellness services.”

6) Remember that today is not every day. When you’re living with a disease that has unpredictable symptoms like MS, it can be easy to feel defeated – especially if you’re worried that you’ve permanently lost the ability to do something that used to be normal in your day-to-day life. “But it may just be a bad day,” reminds Traci. Asking for help for one day is much more doable than imagining it will be forever (which may not be true at all).

7) Prioritize your day. Sometimes being overwhelmed is a sign you are doing too much. Think through your day: Can the laundry wait? Can you go grocery shopping tomorrow? Begin helping yourself by cutting or postponing non-essential tasks from your day.

8) Conserve your energy. This is true for all of us, and it’s advice that Traci gives to almost anyone who asks her for help – personally or professionally. “You only have so much energy in a day,” she declares. Choose activities that don’t wear you out completely and think about delegating the rest or spreading those activities throughout the week.

9) Listen rather than solve. When asking for help, it can feel disempowering to have someone jump in immediately with a solution. “It is our nature to want to ‘fix it,’ but that is rarely want the person wants,” says Traci. “If you are helping someone, make sure to give the person space to talk and just be a good listener.”

10) Be of service and be open to receiving support. Traci cites support partners as an example of people who may try to carry the load without asking for anything in return. But they may need support too. “Support partners need to have people they can turn to when they need a helping hand or a break.”

“There are a lot of rewards to being of service to others, as well as from asking for help,” said Traci. She recommends tapping into a community or a support group, which can decrease the loneliness that can come from shouldering a disease like MS. It can also make it apparent that there are people out there who get you and want you – just as you are.

Sponsored by: Genentech

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.