Updated: Oct 24, 2021
“Healing takes time, and asking for help is a courageous step.”
— Mariska Hargitay*
We all need help at some point in our lives. There are no exceptions to this rule and the fact that, sadly, many choose to never ask for it, does not change the reality of how necessary asking for support is in times of anguish, pressure, or stress.
Society doesn’t make asking for help something simple. Beyond traditions, ways or customs, the perception of someone successful is tied, almost invariably, to an image of unshakable strength. This is perhaps one of the main reasons why the image of what a winner should be seems at odds with the idea of accepting one's own weaknesses.
The champion’s standard
Although this idea is changing, the perceived image of a successful person, at any level, is that of one who never falls, who never gives up and never doubts his/her convictions. This means that, for those who don’t meet certain standards established by society, asking for help in times of distress and difficulty is accompanied by a feeling of shame. How many times have we heard the idea that doubts must not exist, that our conviction must be absolute, and that our plans must not deviate from their original course? I strongly support defending our convictions and handling ourselves strongly and firmly on the path to achieving our goals, but that doesn’t mean that our plans will never need adjustments or that our certainties from yesterday might change under the light of new discoveries and knowledge. Acting with conviction does not mean being inflexible. And being flexible should not be construed as a sign of weakness. It is not.
If you have doubts or fears about what the future may bring into your life, take the time to search yourself and identify where those feelings are coming from. Seek help to understand them. Sometimes the answers can be deeply hidden, and without the wise advice of a loved one or professional help, finding them could become a frustrating and fruitless quest.
The fear to public exposure
Today, as never before in humankind’s history, our daily life, with all its details, are showcased in a virtual window everyone has access to. Sadly, this is largely due to our own willingness to share every detail of our day-to-day lives, thus opening the door to the harshest and most merciless criticisms and judgments. But regardless of how responsible we are for our own lack of privacy, the mere fact of living in a hyper-connected world, without barriers or limits of any kind, makes it extremely difficult to allow ourselves to express our pain or ask for help. The request for help has been associated, among other things, with the stigma of weakness, laziness, and lack of self-esteem. The rampant ignorance in everything associated with mental and emotional afflictions, only aggravates an already desperate situation.
A bone fracture is easily visible, either to the naked eye or through an X-ray. A deep cut bleeds, and a strong blow to the head causes a concussion that can also be confirmed by a medical study. Cancer, diabetes, or pneumonia are all provable diseases through clinical examinations. Even more than that, they are accompanied by symptoms that are noticeable to the naked eye.
However, in many cases, mental and emotional afflictions lack such obviousness. They are not perceived from the outside, nor can they be checked from the inside. It would be fair to clarify that there are studies that show chemical imbalances or neurological tests that allow measuring brain activity. Still, the lack of visible physical signs makes mental conditions difficult for society to understand and accept. It is understandable when people don’t go to work or place of study because they are suffering the collateral effects of a cancer treatment, but not because of the impossibility to get out of bed because they feel that all the weight of the world has fallen upon them, while a horrible feeling of impending tragedy controls their brain and paralyzes their body, literally. Fainting from a drop in blood pressure is enough excuse to take the rest of the day off. A panic or anxiety attack? Not necessarily and, even if it was, there will be no shortage of people saying that he or she was “just looking to go home early."
This reality is cruel. This type of veiled discrimination is overwhelming and hurtful. The frustration these injustices cause is understandable, and I can perfectly comprehend your anger when facing them. Many times, the inability to express how we truly feel forces us to accumulate anger and pain inside that, inevitably, will lead to an outburst. Going to this extreme is negative and damaging, not only for us, but for those who love us and care about our well-being.
Before it’s too late
Knowing the sensation of feeling invisible and ignored —at least when it comes to the “real me”— I can only advise and plead you to not face this fight alone, and to not wait until you are overwhelmed by negative feelings. Conveniently, there is always time to improve on our own, telling ourselves that asking for help “can wait”. Truth be told, in these kinds of circumstances, waiting rarely yields positive results. What gain is there in continuing to prolong suffering? Where does wisdom lie in keeping to make wrong decisions, a direct product of our weak state of mind and non-existent self-esteem?
Asking for help should not be humiliating, even if you think otherwise. Weakness paralyzes, and requesting help is acting, which helps us break out from that state of immobility. Have you ever thought that by facing your fears you are showing strength and courage, rather than weakness and cowardice? Has it occurred to you that exposing your fears and accepting your vulnerability requires an enviable confidence, which many of those who criticize you lack? It is time to, just as you do with criticism, provide yourself the space to get some respite and value your struggle and effort to get out of the hole in which you find yourself.
One of my biggest fears when sharing my experiences and opinions, is sounding corny, repeated, and trite. There are many platitudes when it comes to talking about emotional struggles, depression, and anxiety. But that does not detract from these words, however repeated and hackneyed they may be. I don’t know about these things because someone told me about them, but because I have experienced them firsthand. It is not my goal to be an example to follow but, if at least my experiences shed some light and can offer some inspiration and comfort, my mission is accomplished. I am nothing but the result of many mistakes and some successes, in the same way that I am also the product of the love of those who surrounded me in the past, as well as today. Their words of support and affection, their patience —extreme patience at times—, and their love for me despite all my failures, have been fundamental pillars on my path. Step by step, they’ve helped me learn to smile more, and suffer less. I'm not at the end of the road, and I don't know if there is an end to it, but I like this trail because, after many years, I can now feel that I am moving towards a destination, even if I still don’t know exactly what it will be.
As I have said on previous occasions, that is what I wish for you. That and more, whatever your struggles and dreams are.
Wake up before it's too late, and shake off the feelings of defeat and gloom.
Ask for help. It is worth it, and it is a must.
The only battle we will lose for sure is the one we dare not fight. You are already on the battlefield. Focus on victory!
* Mariska Magdolna Hargitay (Born Jan. 23, 1964 in Santa Monica, California), is an American actress, director and philanthropist. Hargitay is also the founder and former president of the Joyful Heart Foundation, an organization established in 2004 to provide support to survivors of sexual abuse.