How to Ask for Help When You’re Suffering

Author’s note: The bulk of this article was originally written for a stranger who had shared their struggle with suicidal thoughts, but I would give this same advice to anyone who struggles with mental health …or even just really big emotions! It doesn’t have to be extreme before it’s worth paying attention to what’s going on inside us.

It’s important to have someone you can be vulnerable with, even if they are anonymous. Everyone needs someone they can trust to tell their fears to. Many times the people we love feel uncomfortable when we share, so they don’t know what to do. They feel like their only options are to try to fix you, or to protect themselves from feeling so deeply, because it hurts so much. It takes a lot of strength to be with someone who is suffering and just allow it to run its course, even though often it’s the best thing they can do.

When you need to share your anxiety (and you need to) first tell the person what they can do for you. Preface the conversation with something like, “Can I share something with you? It’s awkward for me, and very personal, but I feel like I need to tell someone…” You might even add, “You don’t have to try to fix it or make it go away. All I really need is somebody to listen and be there.” (Or, if you know your Love Language, you could say that you just need a shoulder to lean on, or some words of encouragement, etc.)

This step of getting “permission” can save you from heartache and embarrassment. It prepares them to be there for you, and by answering affirmatively, they have committed to it. You can often gauge from someone’s reaction whether they are interested or cannot be trusted. It’s probably normal to see fidgeting, or even lack of eye contact (they might just need a moment to adjust to the intensity), but someone who scoffs, shakes their head, changes the subject or just plain walks away isn’t ready yet. On the other hand, someone who can maintain their focus, or even increases their attentiveness when they hear your words, is preparing themselves to be there for you. The same people who might seem cruel when they don’t know what to do with themselves have the potential to be good to you if they have enough clarity (and if they aren’t surrounded by negative peer pressure).

Keep in mind you are more likely to get a negative response if the person you are planning to talk to is the person who is causing the problem you’d like to talk about. Sometimes, when you’re feeling stepped on our disregarded, you just need someone else to speak up to them on your behalf. A third party could also help you find the words to be assertive, yet kind. You might share with your trusted confidante that you’re not trying to make anyone look bad, but you would like guidance on how to gently work out the situation. (PS, coaches can be good for this, too!)


The important thing is not to wait until you are near the breaking point. It’s important to tell someone at the first sign of trouble, so you have time for several “failed” tries to share your troubles if you realize you either can’t trust someone, or they aren’t emotionally ready for you. By searching for help right away, there is still time to keep trying until you find someone who understands that you need someone who cares, long before you’re at your breaking point. This is a skill. You will get better at it, and so will they.

Another note: Often adolescents don’t understand how to get our attention, and if you have a very angry adolescent on your hands, consider taking the time to teach them how best to get your attention, rather than just reacting badly when they start badly. Often when they’re being a problem, it’s because they’re having a problem. When you’re prepared, you can respond to them in a helpful frame of mind, you won’t accidentally dismiss a problem or get defensive and start a whole new problem. It is one of the best lessons they can learn, because it helps them get the help they need, now and into adulthood.

I am an avid student of interpersonal communication, and I believe the way we get someone’s attention is every bit as critical as the thing we have to say. Believe that the other person wants to help you. Help them help you.

I pray you will find a trusted confidante. It could a be a sister or brother, maybe you haven’t communicated with in a while. Get their permission before you disclose, and it could be nearly anyone you’d expect you could trust. Be a strength to them, too, when they fall on hard times, as well as when they need someone by their side to celebrate life’s good moments. Happiness isn’t as joyful when you have no one to share it with. Share the joy they have to offer. ♥️

Feel Like a Fraud When You Only Post Your “Best”?

Imagine with me: An artist you know and admire has a big gallery showing. After a successful opening evening, she laments privately to you, “People see my art and they think I’m great, but in reality I make a LOT more half-hearted doodles than I make masterpieces. Some of them are so terrible I just throw them away! My studio is a mess, I constantly forget to clean my brushes or prep my canvas… Last week I was totally late on delivering an order; I’m just a terrible artist! I present only my best to everyone, and it looks as if I’m always nailing it -I might even make it look easy- but it’s not the truth. If people knew the real me, with all my do-overs and mistakes, they wouldn’t be impressed at all. I’m really just a fraud.”

Would you empathetically nod your head and agree? Would you feel disillusioned and think she’s a fake after hearing this? No way! Most likely you would be completely shocked and say, “WHAT!??”

The idea of having such a lowly view of ourselves and backward expectations like the example of this artist seems ridiculous, yet are you doing this to yourself?

Do you give yourself a Pinterest-perfect standard where you aren’t allowed to leave cups on the table and crumbs on the floor (or books layered with crayons and banana peels, depending on your stage of life)? Does your internal voice seem to be saying, “Better Homes and Gardens could pop over any moment for a photoshoot, and girl they are judging you!” I would love to encourage you to have a more authentic standard where you allow yourself to be imperfect, but if you’ve ever cleared off just one corner of the table to take a clean photo of the cute cupcake you made, at least don’t feel guilty about THAT! Go ahead and celebrate what you accomplished, because life is hard enough without stressing about the details you cropped out of the picture.

Was Thomas Edison defined by the fact that he had 999 failed inventions? No, he was praised for his persistence and admired for his success! Baseball players strike out more than they hit home runs. A radio announcer doesn’t always talk in his radio announcer voice (I would hope) in social situations; he needs to be able to relax his voice and and focus more on what he’s saying, not only how he’s saying it. A therapist can’t be expected to practice dedicated therapy with everyone she interacts with, every moment of every day, carefully balancing empathy with impartiality; that would be emotionally exhausting! Remember, Olympic runners still walk from one place to the other way more often than they run. You have to do that, too.

Good parents are still not perfect parents every minute of their lives. It would be fabulous if we could always be an amazing beacon of patience and wisdom and creative memory-making!! The reality is, sometimes you get distracted or irritated and wish you could be doing something else. Children often fall apart after coming home after a long day of barely holding it together, because they are with their family and they feel safe. Sometimes you need to check out and take a break, too, or you’ll burn out and lose your cool. Keep in mind, when you do lose your cool, it doesn’t undo ALL those other moments when you gave it your whole heart. Earlier I used the analogy of a runner; I believe a runner could permanently lose the use of his legs, but he’s still a world record-breaker and Olympic medalist for the rest of his life.

There is hope in being able to create strategies to get to a high performance level more often or more easily, but as humans, we can’t expect to perform all day all the time, then beat ourselves up over an occasional lapse in judgement or performance. Nobody can run at 100% capacity for 100% of the time.

Look at what you’ve created, you should be proud of it! Consider any mediocre efforts as “practice”. We all need practice. Maybe you make doodles and sketches a lot more often than you have masterpiece moments, but that doesn’t mean those moments don’t count.

From bright ideas to dark days, when you have lifted someone else’s burden, or you’ve needed someone else to lift yours, try to accept all those wonderful, complicated parts of yourself. Your impact, like ripples in the water, echoes on and on, first within your circle of influence, then your community, and continues on through time to people unknowable.

Sometimes you may feel like a fraud, the only one hiding your frail humanity, but you’re not alone. You think you’re struggling against the odds to do any good at all, but don’t define yourself by your doodles! Maybe it’s our nature to characterize ourselves by our most undesirable qualities, but if you could take a step back, I wish you could see; You are more than a work in progress, you’re already a masterpiece.

What’s Next? (Don’t put it off!)

I’m going to walk you through my mental process of creative problem solving. Of course all the mental dialogue took place in seconds, but I’ll slow down the pace a bit to keep it comprehensible. 😉 Here we go…

Problem (aka circumstance): Last night I really wanted to start in on my latest recording project *but* I knew that I should get back into doing my evening routine, since my routines had been neglected for the past several days. All week I had the driving thought, “How much can I get done with this little piece of time?” “Ooh, here’s a dull moment, let me escape into this, my latest obsession…” (Classic ADHD thing)

Realization: I stopped a moment and recognized that everything I wanted to do was part of a rather endless project. (How many times have I told myself? “Don’t start projects at bedtime!”)

Resolution: Endless projects cannot be allowed to fill all available time.

Initial Solution: So, I turned my internal dial to “slightly more responsible”, and instead asked myself, “What is it I’m supposed to be doing right now?” 

Setback: That’s a complicated question, actually. I often get stuck in a hamster wheel of what am I supposed to do now? What am I supposed to do now? (Classic anxiety response to an ADHD thing)

Better approach: I found it to be more helpful to ask myself, “What’s coming up next?”

I used to think people only said, “What’s next?” when they had accomplished everything they needed to and were ready to move on, but I’ve observed that “what’s next?” is a question that organized people regularly ask themselves, even when they’re NOT finished yet and NOT quite ready to wrap things up or move on. Hmm, curious…

Good advice: They check in frequently just so they can be ready for what’s coming.

Solution: I can do that. Since the thing that was coming up next for me was bedtime (a couple hours hence) I thought, “What do I need to do before I can start getting ready for bed?” I went through a mental checklist;

  • Drink lots of water
  • Set out medications and breakfast dishes for tomorrow
  • Be sure there are clean dishes for breakfast
  • Be sure there is no wet laundry waiting for me
  • Lock exterior doors
  • Check THE TO-DO LIST

Setback: UGHHH… My natural instinct is to feel overwhelmed at facing whatever is coming up next, even small things such as calling the doctor, emailing a teacher, setting up that darn voicemail (again!?) Sometimes I feel totally lost, unsure what’s expected of me, but other times, like tonight, I know what I need to do next and I inwardly groan, because I know I’m behind, so I don’t even want to think about it. 

**Dangerous thought! Quarantine it when found!**

Better approach: Thinking about a problem is the first step to solving it – don’t avoid that first step! What is it exactly our brains are protecting us from by steering is away from thinking about what’s uncomfortable? Be willing to ask yourself hard questions even when you’re NOT feeling “ready”. Seriously, just thinking about something can initiate the stress of being in the middle of the situation, and our brains seem to think everything will be catastrophic. (Classic anxiety thing)

**Getting into a habit of ignoring problems exacerbates the problem.**

Solution: With that thought in mind, I knew it was crucial for me to really face my upcoming responsibilities tonight, not just go on in blissful ignorance until I’m slapped upside the head by the panic monster after they become due.

Action: I sat down and began planning the next day, and eventually planned for the whole upcoming week (for the first time in a while!) I hadn’t felt very much like “adulting” when I started, but I accepted some temporary discomfort, and motivation showed up as I got into the groove. I reminded myself not to be afraid to merely think about something. I coached myself as I might coach a client:

  • Some of these to-do’s are more urgent than others, focus there.
  • Some things are already past due (oh THAT’S what I had been avoiding) but that does not mean I am a failure. No shame in imperfection.
  • Some things do seem daunting, but that doesn’t mean I’m required to feel overwhelmed. I have a choice.
  • Affirmation: I’m experienced enough – with breaking tasks down into smaller, bite-sized pieces – that I can really have faith in the process.

Result: When I was done planning I felt so much better! I knew that I had made a map that I could follow, and all was not lost.

Bonus: It’s a more wholesome pleasure to spend a few minutes outlining a blog post now with my responsibilities behind me, rather than having them looming large ahead of me.

Moral of the story: This is one of the most critical things for people with ADHD (or for anyone, really) to learn: When we are facing a potential conflict, like needing to decide what’s for dinner, or have a delicate conversation, or plan an event, our brain is wired to protect us from whatever it is that we fear, whether it is worth fearing or not. Have you ever noticed that?

Avoidance is so stressful! Living in the  moment is not what “being present” really means. Ease and instant gratification are only fleeting illusions. Living without regard to the future is a recipe for stress, disappointment, anxiety, and continued avoidance.

Better approach: We all can learn to recognize that not every fear crossing our mind is valid. When we live mindfully, we can notice those feelings that pop up, and we can scrutinize them. I would encourage you to get into the habit of cross-examining yourself when you feel like escaping.

Embrace those fears, look at your calendar for tomorrow, see what is coming up next week and beyond, and make a habit of actually doing it! (That’s a subject for another post!)

Tell me, what is it that you are avoiding right now? Is it something that’s coming up, or something that’s been building up?