May I Help You?: Why Accepting Assistance Is Always the Wisest Choice

There's value in both offering and receiving help, says columnist Jamie Hughes

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by Jamie Hughes |

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My eldest son just started high school, which makes me feel both incredibly old and somewhat proud of myself for surviving this long. People have been telling me the teenage years are the hardest, but I have a leg up since I used to be a high school teacher. The elementary years were an absolute mystery to me, but having a child this age is like putting on a comfortable pair of sweatpants. It feels right to me. I know what to do — especially when it comes to the classroom.

He’s taking good old ninth grade literature, and one of the first short stories they tackled was Guy de Maupassant’s classic “The Necklace.” (Spoiler alert: I’m going to discuss the ending, so if you want to read it for yourself first, please click the previous link and give it a go. It’s worth it. Trust me.)

(OK, you’ve been warned.)

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I used to love teaching this story because of the ending. The kids would groan and shriek, realizing that the main character and her husband slaved for 10 years to replace a lost diamond necklace, only to learn the jewels had been fake, worth far less than their decade of labor.

For years, I never liked the protagonist, Madame Loisel. I thought her spoiled and shortsighted, unable to appreciate the blessings she already possessed because she was so focused on the things she didn’t have. But over time, my feelings for her have softened, and I think having multiple sclerosis (MS) is one reason why.

Throughout the story, she wants to appear wealthy. She wants to be in control. She wants to break free from what, to her, feels like a life of confinement and deprivation. I’ve felt that way at times because of MS, and like Madame Loisel, I loathe finding myself in need. I would rather disappear forever into the Everglades than admit I’m weak or reach out to someone else for aid. (And apparently, I’m not the only one. There are quite a few articles on this site about the importance of asking for help, even when it’s awkward.)

But if the protagonist had been honest, had she gone to the friend from whom she’d borrowed the necklace and explained the situation instead of stubbornly refusing help, perhaps things might have turned out differently.

So this time, when I read the story with my son, I wasn’t surprised when the ending — as it did with hundreds of other students in my life — left him screaming in frustration. I had to show him how to view the situation from her perspective and then help him learn the greater lessons the story is meant to teach.

That’s the wonderful thing about fiction. It lets you live the life of another person, if only for a few pages, and through their experiences, you get to grow and change. I know math and science are important, but that is something they can never teach.

In her book “Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution.,” Dr. Brené Brown writes:

“Dependence starts when we are born and lasts until we die. We accept our dependence as babies and ultimately, with varying degrees of resistance, we accept help when we get to the end of our lives. But in the middle of our lives, we mistakenly fall prey to the myth that successful people are those that help rather than need, and broken people need rather than help.”

That’s exactly where I am these days — in the middle of life. And she’s right. I want to help rather than be in need. I want to be seen as successful rather than broken. But the truth is, as MS patients, we’re a mixture of both. There are some days when we’re the one lifting others, and on other days, we’re the ones in need of a helping hand.

Having MS has taught me the value of both positions, and while I’m not always thrilled with it or the lessons it teaches, I’m learning how to accept it all.


Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.

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