Twenty-four hours ago I felt close to a nervous breakdown. After slicing and dicing what seemed like endless parsnips, carrots, and turnips, I was cutting into a large brisket that demanded strength and fortitude and a better knife that I had. Still before me were several laborious steps before the ingredients would pile into a large, as-yet-unfilled pot of hot water that would become brisket soup.
My husband was at the gym (I had sent him out, saying merrily, “Oh, I’m fine!”) and I was caught in the middle of a project that was larger and more demanding than I expected. Everywhere I looked were dishes, some filled and some dirty. The kitchen counters glistened (and smelled) like I had painted them in garlic, and the fresh thyme had disappeared. My neck and shoulders ached. I felt trapped.
Many years ago (decades in fact), I decided to cook Chinese food for guests. I lived in a small apartment with a tiny kitchen, and within short order there were piles of dishes, containers, and utensils filling every inch of space. I remember feeling lost in a chaos that had no exit except to keep going. I remember nothing of the dinner itself; only the eye of the storm that was the kitchen, through which all the guests had to walk to enter the apartment.
The memory of that Chinese cooking chaos came to me last night as I descended into my private frenzy. To feel trapped is a trigger situation for me — shaped long-ago by a multitude of life experiences — and it evokes anxiety, panic, dread, and insecurity. Usually I respond by closing my eyes and thrashing about, a cross between a mouse on a wheel and a cat frantically scratching at a closed door. But last night I did something different: I opened my eyes and woke myself up.
I woke up from the memories and I woke up from the chaos and I woke up from the belief that I had no choice. I stopped chopping. I stopped saying, “I have to get this done.” I stopped being trapped and I said, “I’m not going to do this alone.”
I put the food away and went to the store to pick up something simple for dinner. When my husband came home and said, “How’s the soup coming?” I said, “It’s not. Not today.”
Then came the really remarkable part of the story. I said, “I need help with this.”
Today my husband finished up all the chopping, searing, and sauteing, and created the soup. I took conscious pleasure in not being responsible for it. How simple it was to move out of my chaos into a balance borne of a shared task! All it took was realizing that I could say I needed help.
As the sun sets, I smell soup cooking. I’m feeling relaxed. I don’t know if we’ll ever make this soup again, but I know I’ll remember it well any time I ask for help. I’ll call this experience The Brisket Bonus, and I plan to remember it often in 2014.
Questions for Reflection: Does this story remind you of any experiences in your life? How hard or easy is it for you to ask for help? What have you learned about getting help when you need it?
Writing Prompts: “It’s hard for me to ask for help when ______” (then keep writing); “My experience with getting help has taught me that ______” (then keep writing); “This blog post reminds me of the time when ______” (then keep writing).