I don’t need any help

Unlike many traditional graduate programs, my program required a 14-day backpacking trip into Utah’s
most grueling terrain. My peers and I spent two weeks hiking along the bottom of White Canyon, a deep
canyon marked by labyrinth-like side canyons, thick underbrush, arches, and pictographs. Throughout
these weeks, my peers and I took turns facilitating therapeutic group activities designed to provoke self-
reflection. What I discovered about myself during one activity changed the way I saw myself forever.
As the sun disappeared behind the canyon wall to the West, I shifted my heavy pack off my back and sat
in the sand to listen to the activity instructions my peer was giving. Here is what she said:


“I will be setting up a maze with rope. With one of your hands on the rope, your job is to find the way out
of the maze. You will be blindfolded, so this task will be difficult. You can raise your hand as many times
as you want to ask questions or to ask for help.”


“Okay, pretty straightforward,” I thought as I tied a bandana around my eyes and placed my hand on the
rope.


I slowly worked my way around the maze, making a mental map in my head. I could hear my peers
laughing and huffing in frustration as we quickly discovered the exit wasn’t going to be easy to find.
After a while, a few peers excitedly proclaimed their success and exited the maze. As fewer and fewer
people circled the maze with me, I grew frustrated and determined to find the exit.


“Do you need help, Jess?”
“No, I can do it! I don’t need any help.”
“Okay, let me know if you need help, I’m right here.”


Slowly but surely, I was the last one in the maze, circling around in the sand and swearing at my inability
to figure out the game. Finally, in a fit of frustration and anger, I pulled off my blindfold and begged my
peer to tell me the secret for getting out of the maze.


“All you needed to do was ask for help.”

If you relate to this story, it’s possible that at some point in your life, you learned that other people
couldn’t be trusted or relied on. To compensate for this lack of trust in others, you developed a
rebellious streak of independence to cope. Now, don’t get me wrong, independence can be a wonderful
strength, but at what point does it isolate you and leave you feeling alone and helpless?
As we’ve seen from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s difficult for humans to thrive in isolation. As difficult as
it may be, learning to be vulnerable and ask for help when you need it will improve your relationships
and your mental wellbeing. I’ll save you the hassle of backpacking into the Utah wilderness and blindly
following a rope in circles in order to unlearn hyper-independence. Here are a few skills to try to begin
learning how to trust others:

  • Check your ego: Use a beginner’s mindset to view tasks with “fresh” eyes instead of assuming
    you know all the answers.
  • Delegate tasks: Ask your co-workers or family members to help you with something small or
    inconsequential to build your trust in their ability to help you in the future.
  • Allow for imperfection: If you’ve delegated a task, and it’s not done exactly how you would have
    done it, ask yourself if that’s okay?
  • Trust: Think of someone you trust completely. Make a list of qualities which make it easy for you
    to trust them. Work to extend trust to others who hold those qualities

Next time you find yourself saying “I don’t need any help,” challenge yourself by adding: “Actually, I could use a hand.” Remember, this doesn’t make you weak or needy, this makes you brave.

Reach out if you need me,

Jess

Willingness for Vulnerability

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I’m sitting in a chair, barefoot and holding a warm glass of tea meant to bring some calm into my life. It’s my first time in this place, a mindful community, and the three others there have been kind and welcoming. I’ve needed this, a sangha. It’s been hard to find one that fits. The task before me is a check-in, much like a therapy group, but without feedback or conversation. Just brief attuned listening. Real space to exist for a moment.

I thought perhaps I’d share something mid-level. In grad school, we used to call it a 4 or a 5 on a scale of 1-10, where 10 is the trauma you’d share with a therapist and 1 something you’d share with a stranger. After all, I don’t know these people. I haven’t even decided whether this is my place or my community. Why let them know me?

Ready to share something mostly meaningless, it struck me. A question I ask myself perhaps to often: “What would I tell a client do to?”

I’d probably say, “what would happen if you actually shared how you felt? What might you gain? What is there to lose?”

My turn came. I made the brave choice.

I’m feeling grateful to be here tonight. I’ve been spending so much time trying to take care of others that I’ve forgotten myself. I used to rely on my meditation practice to help me be my true self, and when my daughter was born that nearly disappeared. I let it. And now I don’t always recognize myself. I get frustrated for such mundane reasons and then spiral into shame for not being the woman I know how to be. It hurts. I’m ready to find what makes me radiate again. My daughter deserves to grow up with that version of me.

It came easily. And it reminded me of something I so frequently encourage in others. Shame only holds power when you keep it secret. Letting the air and light in sends the shadows scampering.

Not every place or person is safe. And, if you are standing firmly in an open, willing vulnerability, nothing anyone says can hurt you. You are open and willing, so you examine it, integrate what helps you heal and grow, and allow the rest to fall away.

Naming what shames us is freeing. It takes back the power that shame steals from us. The power we sometimes hand over willingly. It says, no I won’t disappear inside. I won’t hide or fight it. I’ll open the door laughing and invite it in. Only then do I have any chance to let it go.

Is there some shame you might be able to bring into the light? Where might you be able or willing to be vulnerable?

Reach out if you need help.

D

Love During The Holidays

The fireplace crackling, laughter and warmth surrounding you, you notice a sense of calm as you look around at your loved ones. You’re excited to see the glow of excitement upon their faces as they first gaze at the presents you’ve thoughtfully purchased for them. They’ll love them, like they love you. You enjoy the food made with tender care, the peaceful company you’ve chosen to partake in.

Does this sound like your holiday experiences? If so, you know how nurturing the holidays can be for you and your family. If not, you’re like a lot of people around the world who dread the holidays. Continue reading

Falling In Love

I’ve been faced with the question of ‘who am I’ with my clients lately. Often the suffering that enters my office is in the form of feeling at odds with self, how self fits into others and community, and questioning the value of self. Sometimes this is in the form of constantly rescuing others, other times in the go-getter American attitude of non-stop distraction. Don’t be fooled, I see this in 7 year olds as much as I do in adults.

Self. It’s not a topic we talk genuinely about often, but simply one we refer to. “I’m hungry.” “I’m bored.” Yet rarely, “I’m feeling vulnerable.” We put so much energy into our outside worlds. We even kid ourselves into thinking that we’re taking care of ourselves by watching TV, shopping, or playing video games. Yet when we do this, is our attention, compassion, and energy focused inward? Or are we temporarily escaping reality by putting our energy into something else? Continue reading

Joy and Sadness

 

Being a therapist, and someone who has a strong affinity for children’s movies, it was in perfect order that my little girl and I went to watch Disney Pixar’s new movie, Inside Out. It was a film that brought laughter, tears, and a much needed emotion-focused movie to the market. I’ll try not to ruin the movie for anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure of seeing it yet.

I was impressed with the accuracy, as I see it, in the portrayal of our relationship with emotions. Continue reading

Meeting Grief

 

It is on the one year anniversary of a lost loved one that I write this. As a therapist, I get the supreme pleasure and the difficult task of not only moving through my own life, triumphs, loves, and losses, but bearing witness to those around me as well. Life has a funny way of bringing into my office those who are struggling with whatever I might be facing that week. I believe this is a gift, both to me as the therapist, and to those who seek my help. The gift to me is that I am challenged to grow and remain genuine and congruent: practicing what I preach. The gift to the client is the keen empathy I feel for their difficulties, and if I use my experience in an appropriate way, they don’t have to feel alone. Continue reading