Newly divorced, I’d just moved into a cute bungalow with my three children. Most of the furniture I’d left with my ex-husband because I wanted a fresh start.
So I started at IKEA: new beds for the kids, closet organizers for me and a bookcase for all my books. I felt strong and liberated. I was doing it — making it on my own.
Then, when my kids were out for the day, it was time for me to assemble the furniture.Something I'd never done before.
As I stood there, alone, looking at those big IKEA boxes stacked upon the floor of my unfurnished living room, overwhelm arrived. Big time overwhelm. What was I thinking?
I took a deep breath and started with the simplest thing to assemble; the bookcase. I first arranged the boards on the floor and then counted and set aside the screws. Hours passed as I then pieced it all together, referring to the instructions at every step.
Once the bookcase was complete, I was proud of myself for a moment. But then I realized I'd made a mistake — I’d installed a shelf backwards. The outcome wasn't perfect. I screwed up. And, so, I was no good.
As I contemplated the other IKEA items requiring assembly, it was too much: The weight of responsibility, being a homeowner on my own. If I couldn't even assemble a basic bookcase properly, how was I going to manage?
Within an hour, I stuffed down an entire container of ice cream, a family-sized bag of potato chips, a grilled cheese sandwich and plenty of other things. I ate and ate until I couldn't fit in any more. And then I stuck my fingers down my throat and forced it all back up.
I had a total relapse of bulimia, which I'd thought I'd overcome years earlier. But the purging wasn't how I remembered. Instead of giving me relief, it felt exactly like what it was, self-abuse.
I sat and considered everything I'd been through, where I was at, how far I'd come. Instead of treating my relapse as a failure, I learned from it. After acknowledging with compassion that I had put too much on myself and was expecting perfection, I decided to ask for help with the remaining furniture assembly.
In that moment, I decided that taking care of myself sometimes meant being vulnerable and asking for help. The damage to my self-esteem would be much greater from self-abuse than from risking rejection or appearing weak because I asked for support.
That was the first time I consciously practiced self-compassion after self-harm, and the last time I've had a relapse of bulimia.
More than a dozen years have passed since then and I’ve learned to catch those moments when I’m heading into overwhelm and could use some support. I’ve become better at asking for help when needed. It’s not easy for me, but it’s not as hard as it used to be.
As one of my mentors says, Aim for progress, not perfection.
Autonomy is important. If we want to have a sense of freedom, we need to trust ourselves to manage our own lives. But that doesn’t mean we have to go it alone. We are social beings wired for connection, and we thrive when we’re supporting each other. We thrive when we can share our joys and triumphs with each other, and we thrive when we can share our hardships and have the courage to be vulnerable.
I’m here to tell you it’s okay to ask for help when you need it. Asking for help doesn’t make you weak. It makes you human. We all need help now and then. You are worthy of support. We all are.