Should Paraplegics Ask For Help?

Read time: 9 minutes

The featured image: It was raining hard after the gym, my friend went and pulled up my car for me and once I got in it, without me asking, he grabbed my chair and took it apart for me, getting soaked in the process.

The short answer is yesno.
There is an argument for asking and not asking. 

There is a viable reason you shouldn’t ask for help and there are a few fallacies for not asking. There is also a very good reason you should be asking for help.

Real quick, we’ll cover the reasons that are untrue so we can forget about those and make room for the rest.

The myths about not asking for help

If you’re worried about interrupting, so you don’t ask for help, then you’re being silly. I was having tea with a friend of mine at a cafe, we were just having a good talk about our lives and work when a loud tapping noise came from the glass door. I finally knew what it was like for animals when a little kid, ignoring the rules, taps on the glass. 

This interruption wasn’t from a little kid though, and I wasn’t annoyed, though our conversation was interrupted. There was an elderly woman at the door and she had to use a walker (to walk), so, she wasn’t able to pull the door open. So, my friend got up, she went to the door, opened it and had a little small talk with the woman and then we resumed. 

If that elderly woman cared about interrupting, she wouldn’t be able to enjoy her medium roast, let alone anything beyond a door that doesn’t slide open automatically. 

For the most part, we wrongly assume the reactions of our actions. I did NOT think, “that woman is rude and interrupted my awesome conversation, she shouldn’t have done that.” What I did think was, “that right there is a strong woman and I’m happy that she is able to set aside her worries about what others think so that she can get the help she needs.” The only other option would be for the woman to wait at the door until someone snapped out of their caffeine daze and asked her if she needs help getting in. Don’t wait for others to offer help, they’re always willing to help, and you’re more than a good enough reason to interrupt. Remember that.

Invalid reason two: worried about being a burden. There comes a point in every paraplegics life, hell, this applies to everyone, we go through the “nuisance barnacle” phase. A term that I just came up with while writing this. This is where we feel like our relationships are more parasitic than mutually symbiotic. We feel like a burden. We feel that we ask too much of people and are no more than a barnacle. A nuisance to be dealt with.

It’s a good thing babies aren’t philosophical because they’d be all over this one. But no one hates babies, they’re cute, even when they throw up on you.

There are times that we need a lot of help. We feel as though we could never repay that favor someone just did, or we just feel like we require too much help. It weighs on our conscious and we feel as though we’ve lost our last shred of independence. There are times that people will get annoyed with you. That, more likely than not, is a sign that they are perceiving you as needing too much and not trying.

I’d always end up broken down on the highway. When I stood there trying to flag someone down, nobody stopped. But when I pushed my own car, other drivers would get out and push with me. If you want help, help yourself – people like to see that.

Chris Rock, Net Worth $100 Million

Everyone is familiar with a variation of the quote that says people will help you if you help yourself. We’ll definitely be talking about that a lot.

If someone is getting annoyed with all the help you need, there are three main reasons for this. The first two, you have some control over and I give you the possible solutions for all three. 

  1. From their view, you seem to be asking and not trying yourself. I like to try to get up a set of stairs on my own before I ask for help. That way the person can see that I’m trying and putting in the effort instead of making them my beast of burden. If I fail, I will need help, though. 

This could also happen if the help is controversial. Maybe they think that you’re more than capable of doing what you’re asking. Don’t be lazy. Don’t get used to having too much help, otherwise, you’ll start asking for help with things you don’t need help with and that will make you weaker. Think of what happens if you wear a neck brace longer than you need to. You take it off and have a floppy neck. Don’t have a floppy neck

  1. They might not have signed up for this. Maybe they just didn’t know how much the word “help” indicated when you asked if they could help you or when they asked if you needed help. The way I solve this is by letting them know what help entails when I ask. I’ll say what type of help I need and then ask if they mind doing it. If it’s small, like grabbing something off a shelf, then it’ll typically be catered to. If you ask a random person on the street to help you and they blindly follow you to 20 stairs, they probably didn’t expect such a strenuous task, on top of that, they might not be confident in their ability to help.
  1. The one that’s out of your control is their attitude. If someone just got into a fight with their significant other, or maybe their baby threw-up on them for the fifth time that day, then you’re out of luck. It is possible that asking them for help will help them feel better because helping heals the soul. It is equally possible that some people are rude, maybe not on purpose and sometimes entirely on purpose. Maybe someone in a wheelchair had wronged them and now their perception of the entire community is corrupt. 

This is all to say: there are good reasons to not ask for help. The two reasons I explained above, being a burden and interrupting, are not good reasons to avoid asking for help. 

What is the reason you should not ask for help?

The only good reason you should not ask for help is something I hinted at above. The floppy neck.

You will get used to asking for help, I sure have, but luckily I catch myself or I’m in good company and they know to say no. 

If you surround yourself with people who really love you and want to see you grow, people who know what you can and can’t do (and want to see you increase your “can do” list), then you’ll be on your way to Mach 1 success. 

Again, this is where the MVP tough love comes in and makes the winning shot. If you surround yourself with people who really love you and want to see you grow, people who know what you can and can’t do (and want to see you increase your “can do” list), then you’ll be on your way to Mach 1. 

As I said, you will probably get to a point where you ask for help too much.

There is something I still do, which isn’t totally bad. Whenever I’m in a store and I don’t know where the item is that I need, I’ll ask someone where it is without even looking and it’ll often be within sight. I could claim that I’m not wearing my glasses, but that’s a cheap excuse. Personally, I would rather ask right away and get the answer than waste time looking.

The problem here is that you don’t learn much when the answer is handed to you. You learn much more when you discover something yourself. How will you find out how you can best go up a set of stairs if you’ve never really tried on your own? You need to avoid asking for help when it comes to certain things, what those things are is up to you and your good judgment, which I trust you have since you’re here.

Of course, there is a threshold for what I’m saying, there is a point where you can be stiff-necked. The polar opposite of floppy neck. 

With floppy neck, you lose your strength. With stiff neck, you lose your flexibility, that is to say, being stubborn is only good to a certain point.

People around you WILL get annoyed if you insist on doing something independently for too long. In the same way that I reached floppy neck, I’ve also been stiff-necked, so I know what it looks like – ugly. 

The point for not asking is so that you learn how you can do more and get the experience needed for more independence. I don’t ask for help before I try something myself. Even in a store, I’ll sometimes grab a box of pasta to help me reach something on the top shelf before I ask for help.

I’ve always been one to try before asking for help, that way, I’m knowledgeable about what can be done, I can tell the person what I did and maybe they can suggest a different way, or at the least avoid repeating what I did. Especially for being in a wheelchair, if you don’t try something yourself, you won’t be able to tell the helper which ways work best. Meaning, you won’t know what you need help with and where you struggle.

If you’re going up a set of stairs for the very first time and you ask for help right away, you’re assuming that the helper knows how to help someone in a wheelchair get up stairs (and that the person they helped before was very similar to your abilities). This is a terrible situation to put the helper in, you just made them responsible for your inevitable failure to ascend stairs (if you’re in rehab, it’s a bit different). You need to try it yourself, then, you’ll know what parts you start to really struggle at and where the helper can best apply themselves. The goal over time is to need less and less help. If the helper is someone you’re familiar with, you can experiment with them and ask them to help a little (or a lot) less each time and if you still fail, they can adjust accordingly and go back to the full heap of help.

What is the reason you should ask for help?

We covered it a little bit, but now I’m going to expand on it. If you’ve watched TV at any point in your life (I haven’t watched TV in years, but I still know this), you’ll be familiar with a scene that unfolds like this: 

Dude A is trying to do a comical task that is way above his skill level, Dude B can definitely do it and insists on helping because he recognizes that Dude A will fail.

Dude A has too much confidence and wants to do it himself, Dude B relents. 

Dude A tries and fails. Dude B tries to come back in before the situation gets worse.

Dude A still wants to do it himself and pushes Dude B away. 

Dude A continues, and in the final act, he ends up hurting himself and those around him. 
FIN

Dude, that’s not cool. 

Dude A gives it a shot, he really tries to do it himself and wants to accomplish this task all on his own. I can respect that, but once Dude A fails, he needs to recognize that he is going to hurt himself, hurt those around him, or at the very least, annoy and inconvenience everyone (beyond the acceptable limits). 

Remember how we mentioned the phrase, people help those who help themselves. I did NOT say, people try to help those who help themselves but their help is denied because the person helping them-self is focused on them-self and not getting the job done. Big difference dude. 

I avoid saying that I have regrets. But before we’re done, I have a story about a regrettable time, but I don’t actually regret it because it taught me a valuable lesson about being too stubborn and not asking for help. 

On Easter day, about 3 months after I left rehab, I had just gotten back from church and we were going in for a lovely Easter brunch. I was a lot different even a year ago, I was a lot more stubborn. I really wanted to master stairs, I had already gotten good with stairs in rehab and I continued to work on them thereafter, but I wasn’t able to do all stairs. 

The house didn’t have a ground entrance, it had a wooden porch with steps that led up to it. I really wanted to get up there on my own. I wanted to be able to say, “Head inside and I’ll be there in a minute.” Just as casually as someone who might split off from a group to make a phone call to their family but catches up in a few minutes, I wanted everyone to head inside and not even think twice about my ability to “catch up” in a few minutes. 

I tried doggedly because after all, tenacity runs in the MTU blood. My efforts were to no avail and I couldn’t even get past the second step. Everyone just wanted to go inside and eat and spend time together. I tried, I failed, I was nearly in tears. There is a time and place for not giving up, but this was not that.
On my own time, sure, I can go back and try until my arms fall off. But when people are waiting on me to just let them help me, AFTER I already gave it my Easter best, that’s when it’s time to hang up the boots and just get my ass inside and enjoy the company. 

This whole post is an important one for people in wheelchairs to have in their mindset toolbox, it also applies to anyone who tries anything.
If you ever see someone who is a victim of the fallacies we covered, asking too much or not asking enough, kindly share this with them and make the world a little bit better. 


Immediately actionable items: Do some introspection and see where some of this applies to your life. Then, take the next opportunity you have to try something new, make sure its something that you’re sure to fail at and then ask for help after you’ve tried.

Summary: Talking about when you should and shouldn’t ask for help. There are some misconceptions about why you shouldn’t ask, but there is also a feasible reason to not ask for help. There is also a very good reason you need to ask for help.

Overdeliver: Another reason that it’s good to ask for help is that people like to help. Think back on a time that you helped someone. You felt really good about it. When someone asks to help you, unless you really want to do it yourself, take them up on it and it’ll make your life a little easier and it’ll make them feel good. Don’t deny someone the feeling of goodness if you can give it to them.

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