Need help? You just have to ask

When the children in our family were going through their toddler years, our uncle would often repeat, "Need help? Just ask!" I thought the idea was to teach our little people to ask for help before their frustration escalated into overwhelm.

Asking for help doesn't always come easily, whether you're a child learning to put on your shoes or an adult juggling responsibilities. We live in a culture that values independence, busyness, hard work and self-care.

Asking for help can feel uncomfortably vulnerable and a lot like weakness, even when we're teetering towards burnout and adult-sized meltdowns.

But this past month I awoke to a bout of vertigo that set my ordered life spinning. With every movement of my head, the ground beneath me shifted unsteadily bringing imbalance and waves of nausea.

Determined, I started my day anyway, making breakfast and putting together lunches. Like every day, there were commitments and obligations, and the belief people were counting on me to keep everything running smoothly.

After half-an-hour, I gave up on business as usual.

"I don't think I can do this day," I admitted to my family.

An off-kilter day stretched into weeks with constant dizziness and no driving. Reluctantly, I sent off emails and texts canceling my commitments and reaching out for help.

Each ask brought a twinge of regret and an urge to say, "Never mind, I can do it myself!" I wore my need for help like an itchy sweater. It felt uncomfortably like failure, but I was simply being human. We can't do all of the things all of the time. We need each other.

Though we live in an age where independence and self-sufficiency have never been easier, research from Stanford University suggests we're created for connection and community, not isolation.

While we may hesitate to reach out because we don't want to inconvenience others or appear weak or demanding, asking for help strengthens relationships and unlocks opportunities for social connection.

The person responding to our needs is blessed with increased levels of happiness and feelings of competency and belonging. Think of it this way, and you're doing wonders for someone's mental health by acknowledging your need for them.

In our do-it-yourself society, it can be a stretch to admit you've reached the end of your own limited capacity, and yet the support I received during my weeks battling vertigo felt like a living love letter of God's power made perfect in my weakness. But it starts with an ask, because no one can help if they don't know you need it. Maybe my uncle's words were intended for me all along.

- Jade Cook of Hinsdale is a contributing columnist. Readers can email her at [email protected].