I’m in Paris.
This is definitely my first time back as a thirtysomething — and let me tell you, I’m starting to notice in a huge way these days how much the notorious naïveté of youth is actually completely discounted. It’s really worth something!
In past trips here, I had no problem approaching strangers and talking to them in French, despite the fact that I hadn’t taken a French class since 2001. Of course, I would warn them of such, but I had a lot more bravery immediately accessible to me. I hadn’t been back since 2010! Now I get disproportionate anxiety just from the thought of asking where the entrance to the Métro station is.*
This morning I made a little stopover at a local Monoprix, which is a department store of sorts — and I fumbled around feeling like a silly goose at the caisse, because of this exchange:
Cashier: (in French, albeit a bit mumbly) Would you like a bag?
Me: (in French) Yes, I speak a little French.
I actually had a small pile of miscellaneous purchases, like toiletries, eyelashes (necessary), cotton rounds, a long-sleeved shirt (striped, of course), and there was a bit of a queue forming behind me. I also had my laptop in a big backpack with me, so no, I did not need a bag. (I spend enough time while not traveling as a bag lady, thankyouverymuch.)
However, as she handed me my change, I found myself trying to hurry along. I moved my stuff over to the side so that the next patron could step up and check out.
I felt flustered, and slightly annoyed that I still haven’t quite figured out a way to operate in a fast-paced world without constantly giving out the underlying, energetic message that I’m somehow sorry for my existence.**
Now, it’s obviously far worse in a foreign country where I’m feeling self-conscious about my limited ability to communicate (Mercury in retrograde doesn’t help!), but after I moseyed off to find a dressing room — so I could take all the damn time I wanted to to get sorted! — it dawned on me that being a traveler in a foreign country can sort of mirror the reality of trying to keep up in a world that moves too fast — or in other words, expects too much of me.
I found myself in the dressing room reminding myself, “You don’t need to hurry; get grounded. No one is pushing you to move faster.” I needed that moment to literally regroup and organize my new acquisitions within my backpack.
I’m rather fond of describing my situation in my father’s words, mainly because they’re so simple, yet so accurate. Years and years ago while I was going to daily outpatient therapy, he would say that I was “in the middle of something.” What he really meant was that although I no longer used a wheelchair or a cane, I still nonetheless had a pretty serious, chronic physical condition to respect.
Appearing from the outside to be just like pretty much anyone else while internally being like very few anyone elses — in lesser terms, “being in the middle of something” — has come with an interesting set of challenges that I’m determined to master before I get out of “the middle.”
It comes with most people assuming I can keep up with a fast pace, that it’s my duty to do whatever I can to meet the demands of the world.
It’s not my duty.
Here’s the distinction I’ve made: It’s my responsibility, first and foremost, to take care of me in ways only I can take care of. If I’d like to run, if I’d like to be well rested, if I’d like to improve my French — all of that is on me.
It doesn’t mean it’s my responsibility to take care of everything for myself. Or that I must obey all societal expectations. It hasn’t recently been any more apparent than these days on my trip, as I’m traveling alone for these first three weeks.
It’s probably going to be an unpopular opinion — but I adamantly believe that everyone, not only those of us “in the middle of something” (but especially us!), must learn to understand when we need support and ask for it when we don’t have it.
When I first arrived here last week, my good friend Bertrand drove to the airport to pick me up at seven in the morning. I was so relieved — because I would not have asked him to, though perhaps it was the Universe providing support I obviously needed.
I have actually come to Europe on my own several times with perhaps more luggage(!), and without anyone to greet me at the airport. I know I can take care of myself in that way, find out where a bus or a train is that will take me elsewhere — but if support is available, it’s just dumbassery to turn it down.
It’s often socially more acceptable to turn down other people’s help, because:
- we think we’re inconveniencing the other person
- we don’t want to feel obligated to another person (i.e., owe them a debt)
- we think we’re “too good for it” and can do it ourselves and that it’s simply better to be independent
Dumbassery, I say! Why?
Inconveniencing the other person: Everyone is responsible for themselves and what they do. If someone offers you a ride, that’s their choice. Let’s not even go down the rabbit hole of the fact that no one should ever offer to do something they’re not willing to do. When a person offers to help, we can then safely assume that they wouldn’t be offering if they weren’t happy to do it. (If not — then perhaps you need new friends. 😉 )
Obligation to the other person: I really hope you’re not the type of person to “keep score” in your relationships. (That’s a really petty way to play the game of life and will create a lot of unnecessary misery!) In any relationship, there’s a general energetic nature of give and take that typically evens itself out over time. If one of you is only giving in order to receive, not only is that a “covert contract” (i.e., an agreement that only one of you knows about and has agreed to — which is invalid!), but it’s also kinda slimy.
Being “too good” for asking for help: This is purely an ego thing. Unless you are literally a perfect human being, which — let’s face it — none of us are, this is actually impossible and utterly stupide. We simply aren’t happy when we socially isolate like this. By nature, we depend on the air we breathe, the food we eat — and the people we know. Humans are a social animal. No man is an island! Nor is it a good idea for us to try to be one. Have you ever truly done anything without support? It’s not a trick question. If it weren’t for the engineers and businesspeople behind Apple who dreamt up and brought to fruition this thing I use called a laptop (who all received their educations from countless other people) I wouldn’t be blogging. (Or, you know, the City Mapper app on my iPhone that painstakingly brought me to this coworking café.)
Of course, there’s more to it than just turning to others and their tools to get your needs met. Some people will offer too much help, in which case it’s no longer support, but enabling you to be overly dependent. Don’t play in that sandbox. I have, and that too becomes slimy over time. Not only that, but it’ll cost you your self-esteem.
I’d like to discuss more about this in the coming days as I figure out how to break up the different nuances involved in asking for support. Do you have any questions you’d specifically like for me to address? If so, leave a comment here on the blog. It’s a doozy of a topic and I can see this becoming somewhat of a theme, and soon!
To our healing,
*Anxiety over communication to be covered in part 2.
**Feeling like a burden, part 3.