How to ask for help — and offer it

Well-meaning people often make erroneous assumptions about our needs

Benjamin Hofmeister avatar

by Benjamin Hofmeister |

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Just three years before I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), I was on what was to be my last overseas tour with the U.S. Army. One day while dozing during a lull in a mission, I was awakened by the sensation of someone standing over me. It was my interpreter, who upon seeing my eyes open, pointed at the unofficial team patch on my body armor.

“What does that say?” he asked. “A couple of the Iraqi troops were wondering, but I don’t know because it’s not in English.”

“It says ‘mereo et cotidie,’” I replied. “It’s Latin for ‘earn it every day.’”

He nodded, then walked over and told the Iraqi guys what it said. A brief discussion followed, after which he walked back over to me, pointed to the grinning soldiers, and said, “They want to know if a nap is what you’re trying to earn?”

I shared this with the rest of my team and mused that maybe I should have a patch with a cool-sounding Latin motto all my own — something more befitting of the prestige of being the team’s senior medic. They smirked and said that given my bedside manner, I should use “aegrescit medendo.” This phrase is usually translated as “the cure is worse than the disease” or “I worsen with your treatment.” But their crude, ungrateful rendering was, “Ow! You’re making it worse!”

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After 10 years with primary progressive multiple sclerosis, and given the onward march of MS symptoms and disability, I often find myself thinking that exact thing. I almost never say it out loud because I don’t want to seem ungrateful when someone is trying to help, but sometimes it slips out anyway: “Stop helping me, you’re making it worse!”

I’m aware that, even on my best days, I probably look like I need help. With no use of my legs and increasingly limited use of my hands and arms, it takes me longer to do things, or I do them in an unorthodox way. Disability drives creativity, and while it may look like I’m making up some of my workarounds as I go, I’m usually not.

But doing things slowly or in an unorthodox way seems to attract unsolicited help like nothing else. People — who usually mean well — seem to assume that I’d rather do things the same way they do, and they rush in to “help.”

If folks are going to assume anything, I’d prefer it be that I’ll ask for help when I need it. At the very least, I’d prefer to be asked if I need assistance. One should assume that I didn’t just wake up like this today, that this isn’t my first time outside my own house, and that I know my own capabilities.

I’m not absolving myself of responsibility here. I have to know my actual capabilities and swallow my pride when they’re not what I think they should be. I don’t want to need help, but I also can’t be too stubborn to ask when I do.

I suppose I could still use “aegrescit medendo” as a motto, but I think I need a new one, too. How about: “Qui temptat lassatur” — “He who tries, tires.”

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.


Fiona Hall avatar

Fiona Hall

Your article did make me laugh as I can totally relate to the contortions required to do something simple. I also had to try and re- activate my Latin knowledge. My family motto is Sero sed Serio (late but in earnest!)
"One should assume that I didn’t just wake up like this today, that this isn’t my first time outside my own house, and that I know my own capabilities." - So true! Also ir you are in a scooter/chair - the silly comments like - 'watch out - she'll run you down' etc. etc. (Believe me, the temptation is strong but....)
Anyway, all the best,

Benjamin Hofmeister avatar

Benjamin Hofmeister

Since we're dusting off our latin, my personal (non-MS) motto should be, "semper procrastinarius".

A contortion (a much better description than work arounds) that I've discovered recently is using a long handled dust pan to scoop up items too small or flat for my grabber.

Tom A avatar

Tom A

My cousin (we all grew up together and are very close) and her husband asked me up to their house- she is now several hours and hundreds of miles away, including a drive past NYC. I had to delicately explain that such a trip involves too much. I might look OK but that can be misleading. It wouldn't be fun. All the things that could wrong, that I've experienced before, are managed well at home. So instead, she is now planning to come visit. I am trying to stay open minded. We'll see how it goes. :-) :-(

Nancy avatar


Loving the Latin. Now I need to find my saying! Humor with MS is requisite to living a fuller, better life. And help, that has been offered first before action. Now I'll be looking for the right Latin for weeks!

Benjamin Hofmeister avatar

Benjamin Hofmeister

Thanks Nancy! Let me know when you find the perfect phrase.I ought to start a just for fun latin motto thread in the forum.


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