Ah, the hard one. On TV people pretend to be sick to get help and attention. In real life people pretend not to be sick because they are used to being the strong care taker. Many of us were raised to think we have to do it all ourselves, always give, and keep our troubles inside. Stiff upper lips, positive thinking and hard work ethics are much more encouraged than leaving denial and seeing the truth: we need help.

Here are three things a paramedic friend told me that helped me so much on this journey to break my “I have no needs” habit. When on an Outward Bound trip, the leader told the group of women that it is selfish to not allow others the joy of helping you. It feels good to help others. Do not take that away from the people in your life. Everyone needs to feel useful. If you don’t accept help, others may feel shut out or insulted. I love helping my friends. Relationships depend on give and take. Many of us givers are terrible takers!

When at the scene of an accident, the most important person is you, the EMS person. The next most important person is your partner. The victim is far down the list. Why? If something happens to either of you or the whole team, how can you help anyone? Take care of yourself or you cannot take care of anything.

In the movie Gone With the Wind, Scarlet’s sick sister wants to help and Scarlet tells her she is getting in the way and making more work for everyone, so the most helpful thing she can do is get back to bed. When inTOXICated, you are probably a liability in rewiring the stereo, doing the budget, or cooking. For the sake of others, go take care of yourself. These three “you are helping others when you help yourself” stories can guide “selfless care taker” types like me, most women and hero type men to state our needs and allow others to do some of the work.

If no one will help you, it’s horribly painful but it provides you with necessary information about your support network. I had over 4 years where there was no one in my support network aside from my mother and later my paid psychologist, and a lot of the time my mother and I did not get along well. It was awfully lonely and depressing. Things DO change. You do make new friends who can understand who you are today and be supportive because they have faced the same things. They will not flinch where others ran.

In this culture what a man does for money is often even more of his identity than for women. Not working for many men is a huge loss of self esteem and source of guilt and shame. Even men who choose to be stay at home Dads are often treated poorly. Being sick, it is hard to be the traditional “protector and provider” expected of men in our society. Many men when they retire do not know what to do with their time. Trust that many men are going through what you face for many different reasons. Unemployment is at a high.

Being a woman, I am not sure how to deal with this challenge and I have noticed that many men do not talk about their emotional problems, so unlike women, men often cannot get solutions from their friends. I wish I had more to offer than “Many men also are suffering alone.” As the fear that “loss of career equals loss of manhood” is so common, I would imagine there are books on the topic. (I also expect there to be more for women as the Baby Boomers’ first generation of career women retire.)

By now you know that most people do not dote over or ally with sick or disabled persons. Instead they are left to be homeless and die. The TV shows lied. Learning assertiveness skills may be needed. One is the broken record: Repeat what you want and do not get dragged into side arguments. Good communication skills are a must, but be warned: Good communication skills differ from situation to situation. Nonviolent Communication works when everyone agrees to play by the rules, not when you are being assaulted and will be in a seizure in 2 minutes.