Let Me Know If You Need Anything

For Caretakers and Friends - November 30, 2014

Throughout the time that my husband was sick when people learned of his condition they almost always said to us "Let me know if you need anything". It is a common thing people say whenever they hear others are struggling with any health or other life crisis. I'm pretty sure I heard this well over 100 times. Prior to becoming a caregiver to my husband I probably said it as many times to others. It's something that is considered the polite and appropriate thing to say.

On the surface this is a thoughtful and kind offer. It's a way to let others know you care and want to support them. The problem is that since it has become the expected response not everyone actually means it, at least not when the time to help later comes. Because of this people often hesitate to actually let others know when they do need something. This is a problem because when you are dealing with a health crisis it is important for the patient and the caregiver to get the support they need.

So knowing that sometimes people are just being polite and sometimes people genuinely mean it, how do you respond to the comment "Let me know if you need anything"? It's simple, you should ask for what you actually need. Make a list and be prepared to respond to this offer with a specific request. That way you can quickly discover if the person actually means it or is just being polite. You can say something like, "Thank you and I do need a ride to some doctor's appointments from time to time, is that something you can help me with?" By responding to the general, vague offer of with a more specific request it is easy for the person to decline if it doesn't work for them. There is no discomfort for either party.

The problem is immediately making a request often doesn't come naturally for most people. Many of us cringe at the idea of making a list of our needs and then asking for specific help. Unfortunately some people cannot get over the idea that it's impolite or selfish to ask for what you need. If this is the case for you I suggest you do a little mental exercise. Spend some time thinking about one of your closest friends or family members, a person you care about very much. Imagine that person is dealing with the same health crisis you are. Consider what it would feel like to watch him/her struggle and you are not able to do anything to help. How would you feel in that situation? If you refuse to let others help you that is what you are doing to your loved ones. After doing this exercise reach out to someone you trust and explain you need help and would like them to assist you in figuring out what you need and how to make requests.

Most people find that having someone else talk you through all the possible things you need is useful. Have your friend review your usual day and weekly schedule, discuss what you typically do each day and how someone else might support you. To create your list of needs don't think about what is appropriate to ask or what is socially acceptable to ask or about any perceived rules. Think about it as if you had a magic wand and could just get everything you need by waving it. What would you make appear with that wand? Create your list as if you had that magic wand. Go through every area of your life, think about the help you need at home, with your car, with your family or work. Don't think about anything except your needs.

Once you have clarity on what you need it is easier to prioritize and start asking for help. Create a calendar or other system to schedule people to help. Then you or a trusted friend can reach out to people who have already told you "Let me know if you need anything". You may want to consider how you know the person before asking them to do something. Would you feel comfortable with this person doing that favor for you? For example having someone help you with cleaning your home requires you to allow them into your personal private space, that may be fine for a close friend but not a co-worker you barely know. I recommend starting by asking your closer friends. Is there a person in your life that you helped move or have done favors for in the past? You will probably find it easier to ask that person, then you will feel easier about asking others and get more comfortable with it. Having a prepared list of things you need will make that conversation flow smoother. You will probably find that almost everyone will respond positively and will be happy that they can finally do something for you.

What about those people who ignore your request or decline? If they blow you off then you know the original offer was just a platitude and this person just isn't available for you right now. It might mean they are particularly busy right now or have a personal crisis of their own. That rarely happened to me but it did from time to time. Remember that if this does happen it's not the end of world and there was nothing wrong about asking. They did offer.

If I had it to do over again, one thing that I would do differently is I would have asked for help sooner. Too often when you are dealing with a crisis you think you can or should handle it all yourself. There is this weird sense of pride you get thinking you can do it all. I think this just naturally happens because your life is out of control so you try to regain a sense of control by attempting to do it all. The problem is you can wear yourself down so quickly and you really do need help. More importantly you actually do your loved ones a favor by allowing them to help you. Most people really do want to help and you give them a gift by letting them.