Problems with accessible environment for people with physical disability. Young black woman with millennial man in wheelchair having no possibility to enter building without ramp, outdoors

A Dozen Ways to Ask for Help

By Barbara and Jim Twardowski, RN Tuesday, July 18, 2023

5 Second Summary

We all need help sometimes, but there are many reasons we avoid asking for it. These methods will help you make clear requests to people who can help lighten the load on your caregivers and yourself.

I was taught it is better to give than to receive. Don’t ask for handouts. Pull your own weight.

All my life, I told myself, “You are only disabled if you allow yourself to be disabled.” That belief worked for me when I could still stand and walk. Now that my legs don’t function and my hands are extremely weak, my physical limitations can’t be ignored. I adjusted my self-perception and grudgingly acknowledged that I need help. 

Having lived through Hurricane Katrina (half our home was destroyed by the storm), I have had a crash course in accepting assistance from the US government, the Red Cross, my church, friends, family members, and strangers. For a few weeks, my family lived out of state. Although we owned a home, we felt homeless. It took nearly eight months to rebuild our house. During that time, I was depressed, scared, frustrated, and angry. People helped us move our belongings, prepared meals for my family, invited us to their homes for dinners, taxied our son, and supported me emotionally through one of the most difficult periods of my life.

When the house was repaired, the support ended. However, my disease progressed. Unlike a national disaster, my difficulties have not been broadcast on the evening news. My dependence on my husband, Jim, has gradually increased. He not only cares for me but has taken on more of the household chores. Like nearly 42 million people in the United States, Jim is a family caregiver.

I am having trouble with daily living skills (dressing, bathing, transferring, preparing food, and more). Jim does not complain about his added responsibilities, but I can see the extra work is stressful. Our family may be approaching a major disaster, but no one is rushing to our aid.

Like many people, I used to find it difficult to ask for help. Even when well-intentioned friends offered to help, I was not sure how to respond, and I was embarrassed.

The book Mayday! Asking for Help in Times of Need, by M. Nora Klaver, helped me think differently about it. The author says there are several reasons why people wait until they are desperate to seek assistance. People are uncomfortable and afraid to ask. We value our independence, and no one taught us how to ask for help. We don’t recognize that we have a need until we are in a crisis. Often, we are unclear about exactly what we need, or we ask the wrong person to help fulfill our request.

Learn how to ask for help

M. Nora Klaver’s book details a seven-step “Mayday! Process.” The first step is “name the need.” Be specific about the need and be open to possibilities. This may sound simple, but it will take some analysis of your situation.

In Barbara Twardowski’s kitchen, a teenage girl opens a drawer to get a kitchen tool while the author observes, sitting in her power wheelchair.

A young neighbor who enjoys cooking assists the author occasionally in the kitchen.

Begin by making a list of the areas where you need support, such as transportation, household chores, running errands, yard work, and pet care. Prioritize the list. What can be delegated to a service? Perhaps you can hire a housekeeper or a teenager to mow the lawn. What needs could be met with volunteers?

Besides looking at my needs, I also consider what would make life easier for Jim. In our home, we need help with meals. Although Jim enjoys cooking, he can’t prepare dinner on the days he works a 12-hour shift. Dining out is great, but our budget is limited.

Dennis Botts, a retired social worker and former Director of the Rapides Regional Medical Center in Alexandria, Louisiana, accepted meals from his church when he was recovering from cancer, and he also received tremendous support from his professional peers. Dennis, who recruits volunteers for the Red Cross, offers these words of advice: “Networking isn’t formal; it is informal. Getting what you need — at the level you need — takes bulldog persistence. Get over the problem of asking for help. Tell them what you need. They won’t say, ‘No.’”

12 ways to ask for help

  1. Brainstorm solutions with friends and family. That’s how we came up with several ways to arrange affordable meals and take the pressure off Jim. Once a week, a friend comes to my house and cooks a meal in my kitchen using a recipe I have selected. We purchase meals from our local Farmer’s Market. When our son visits during holidays, he always prepares several freezer-friendly meals for us to use in the future.
  2. Build a support network. Make a list of everyone you know — friends, neighbors, and family members — matching their interests and talents to your needs. For example, one friend has offered to do all my filing once a month. Continuously look for ways to meet new people. Make a point of introducing yourself to new neighbors. Join a class or organization where you might make a new friend.
  3. Build a support network that also assists your family caregiver. “We should worry about the caregivers,” Dennis says. “Caregivers can get sick, tired, or depressed.”
  4. Tap into service organizations. I’ve gotten help from a local Girl Scout troop and teenagers who needed to fulfill service hours for their school.
  5. Use a care calendar. I created a support group e-mail list and send weekly notices telling the “members” what days Jim is working. If I would like to tackle a particular project, I explain what it is and ask for volunteers. Some organizations and services have online tools that can help with care coordination, such as Lotsa Helping Hands and Care Calendar.
  6. Keep a list of how others can assist you. Ask friends and neighbors to text you before they run an errand. My helpers drop off dry cleaning, run to the post office, and pick up groceries for me. No one minds picking up a carton of milk when it’s a trip they planned to make. If someone purchases an item for you, always pay them immediately upon delivery.
  7. Create short jobs. For example, I told a few neighbors and close friends that I needed “15-minute favors.” In 15 minutes, someone can unload a dishwasher, put the trash out, or make a bed.
  8. Copy what other folks are doing. It’s one of the best ways to begin finding help. Attend a local support group and talk to people or join an online disease community to meet people with neuromuscular diseases and their caregivers from all over the country. Ask them how they manage.
  9. Call MDA’s Resource Center. The Resource Center provides support for individuals and families looking for information about neuromuscular diseases, MDA Care Centers, resources, activities, and more. Call 833-ASK-MDA1 or email
  10. Dial 211 to find community services.
  11. Think outside the box. For example, even if you’re not a senior citizen, you might be eligible for services available to them, such as transportation. Perhaps you need a ramp built and don’t have the funds to hire a carpenter. Call your local builders association and ask if they have a community outreach program.
  12. Be grateful for the help you receive — and express your gratitude. Send thank-you cards to helpers. Host a dinner (order takeout) to recognize the people who make your life easier. “People like to be of service,” Dennis says. “You don’t want to deny them a good time.”

Barbara Twardowski has Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT) and uses a power wheelchair. Jim, her husband, is a registered nurse. The couple lives in Louisiana and writes about accessible travel, health, and lifestyle.


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