IT’S OK TO ASK… by Yenn Purkis

Independence is not something I am lacking in. I moved out of home at 17, got a job and went to uni. I had some serious difficulties in life and dragged myself out of them through determination, motivation and  faith. I now work full-time, own my own home and spend a lot of my free time assisting other people. I pride myself on being able to manage my own affairs. These are all good and laudable attributes but there is something I struggle with – I find it almost impossible to give up control and to ask for help.

When I was a child I was taught not to ask people to do things for me. It was rude and selfish and on the list of things to avoid. My understanding was that you only asked another human being for help or favours if you were about to die or were being robbed or something equally severe. I told a couple of teachers I was being bullied in desperation and their responses were quite unsatisfactory – apparently bullying was ‘character building’ and I would ‘look back fondly on your schooldays as the best days of your life.’ Evidently there was no help for me and I was on my own. I got on with doing everything without asking for assistance.

As a young adult I had some difficult experiences and ended up becoming quite dependent and institutionalised. I moved from not asking anyone for help to being extremely dependent and not being able to love independently and manage my own affairs. When I decided to change my life in the year 2000, independence was my aim. I wanted to be successful and accomplished and to not rely on mental health services, welfare payments or public housing, I achieved this and in 2008 I had a Masters degree,  a mortgage and a high-paid, responsible job. I moved cities and stopped seeing my psychiatrist and was delighted not to need welfare payments anymore and to instead paying taxes myself to support the poor.

ceojeanettepurkisThis was all fine until I became extremely unwell with mental illness. It took me months to ask for any kind of help. I thought I could manage it myself. I was treating psychosis with cups or lap sang sou chong tea and Vitamin B tablets! Eventually I was encouraged to seek help by an anonymous counsellor on a support hotline I called not knowing what else to do. On the advice of the phone counsellor I called my mum and  somehow managed to explain that my life was broken, I was lost and needed help. I spent the next few years in and out of hospital, taking leave from work and relaying on income protection insurance through my superannuation fund to pay the bills. All the time was that spectre of institutionalisation and dependence which I desperately wanted to avoid. As soon as I thought I was feeling slightly better I would return to work, only to have to take time off again within a few weeks. I had a great rehabilitation case manager from the HR department at work. She was very supportive and respectful of me and my needs. She told me one time that I was amazing and  that most people would have asked to be pensioned off after such a  severe illness and so many extended periods of leave. This hadn’t even crossed my mind as my job was the beacon of success and ‘ordinariness’ that was motivating me to recover.

My health improved sufficiently foe me to return to wok full-time and within a few months I gave a talk for TEDx Canberra and had a book on employment published. I was a access story again and I saw myself as independent. I had learned to ask for help when things were life-threatening or extremely difficult but I still struggle with asking for help in everyday life. I worry that I will upset or offend my friends if I ask them for things.  Yesterday a friend asked me if she could help with my lounge-room curtains which are a bit frayed and sad. She then offered her and her husband’s assistance to do some other odd jobs around my house. I was very grateful as these jobs were on my list of things which I was unlike to ever be able to do myself and which I have resolved to just put up with. My friend’s offer brought home to me that I not only have difficulties asking people to help me but also that it doesn’t even occur to me to do so.

This all got to thinking about assistance and the fact that were are all interdependent with one another. I imagine I do things for other people which they appreciate so if they want to hep me it is not me begin rude or selfish, it is reciprocity.

Some thoughts about all these things:

  • If you need help, it is OK to ask for it. There are different avenues for asking for assistance, from your friends, partner or family to professionals such as accountants if you need your tax return looked at to psychologists if you have mental health concerns or medical specialists if you have health issues.
  • We are all interdependent. You cannot live your life without somebody else helping or supporting you and vice versa.
  • If a friend or family member offers help it is probably because they are willing to assist. It is OK to accept their offer, or not.
  • If someone offers help, even if you decline, express your appreciation.
  • The help that friends or family give you usually comes from a different place than the help that people who are paid to assist you (such as nurses in hospital, teachers, psychologists etc).   People who are paid to hep you are not generally your friends and they give similar assistance to other people too.
  • Independence does not mean never accessing assistance or asking for help. True independence is about living your life while accessing appropriate support.
  • You don’t know how your actions will affect others, You might just think you are being a friend while your friend finds your friendship comforting and supportive and it means the difference between them being able to cope with their life or not.  You may make a profound impact on others without even knowing it.
  • You may not realise that you need to or are able to access assistance. Try to be open to the option that there may be a person or service that can help you in various situations.
  • While asking for help be aware that assistance should be about empowering you to cope with issues rather than taking away your own power and agency and making you dependent.


About Yenn Purkis

Yenn Purkis (formally Jeanette) is an author, presenter, autism advocate and community leader. Yenn is the author of six published books on elements of autism and has contributed to a large number of journals, books and websites. Yenn is a presenter and facilitator and regularly gives keynote presentations including at the 2013 TEDx Canberra conference. Yenn is a member of a number of committees and reference groups and is has a number of awards for leadership in the community, including the 2016 ACT Volunteer of the Year.