How far would you go to support somebody? Today we visited a garden first started in 1940 by Harry Clive in a disused Victorian quarry so that his wife Dorothy, who had recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, would have “a series of interesting walks” to do whilst fighting the illness. Nowadays the Dorothy Clive Garden is run by a charitable trust and covers twelve acres. It is the sort of garden that if I lived locally I would have a season ticket for, because it is garden that is designed to be interesting all year round. I was particularly delighted to see so many bee friendly plants currently in flower, and would happily camp in the gardens trying to capture photographs of these fidgety critters.

The other highlight for me was the scones from the tea room. I ate a sultana scone on the lawn accompanied by a pot of tea, with strawberry jam and clotted cream spread on it (on the scone that is rather than the teapot). Now these scones are large, almost a meal in themselves, but that is nothing if they don’t taste good; boy do these scones taste good. The texture is superb. These scones were obviously (to my mind) handmade fresh this morning by an expert maker whom knows that the mixture needs to be minimally combined. No machine was used to mix here, and I can honestly say I have never eaten a better scone. Two other members of the group also noted how good the sultana and savoury scones were.

Whilst Dorothy didn’t live long enough to enjoy the garden much as she died in 1942, Colonel Clive stared a great source of support and interest to others, and I for one would happily spend many days in this peaceful and beautiful setting.

20160807_131749This experience got me reflecting on support in my life. I am a naturally supportive person; helping other people helps me to feel good about myself I guess, so it isn’t about altruism particularly but I have always found it much easy to motivate myself to do something if I am doing the task for somebody else.

I have found two issues with this stance. The first is actually learning how to say no to being asked for help. It is not about saying no because I don’t want to do something, it is more about considering the consequences initially on me, and now on other members of my immediate group. For instance, if you had asked me for a lift home, I would automatically say yes because I had a car that should be used, and I enjoyed driving on top of helping you and getting to chat to you whilst driving you somewhere (shared experience and connections again perhaps). It would not matter if you lived half an hour in the opposite direction – sleep wasn’t an issue for me either. Today I would have to think through the implications. I get more tired much easier now, so the additional time might be taking a risk with my own and others health. The car may be needed by somebody else so that would need to be checked. I may be required to do something early in the morning, can that be worked around? I find it much less comfortable driving at night now, I seem to be more sensitive to other headlights, and I don’t seem to see as well as I used to. Life seems much more complicated now.

The second issue is that it is no good helping others all the time if you are not prepared to ask them for help yourself. Now I am not saying it must be tit for tat, I am saying that if you help people then you must be prepared to ask others (not necessarily those you helped) for help too. That is my experience anyway. Some people can give an awful lot, but eventually resentment will build up. I like cooking but my partner doesn’t so I do most of the cooking. However I quickly lose inspiration for creative cooking and revert back to everyday stables and then cooking becomes a chore, a chore I can’t do every day without getting angry, so I need a break, I need others to do the chore too. I needed to communicate that need though; I needed to ask for support.

There will also be times when you cannot cope with your life, and it is much easier to ask for support then, if you have practised a bit first. The times in my own life that instantly come to mind are being newly married, getting a new home, having young children, becoming acutely ill and perhaps more importantly during chronic illness. The later will happen at some point in your life and you will need support. My wife and I needed support for over ten years after my liver disease became apparent and leading up to my transplant. It is easier to ask others for support when there is an obvious need (like your husband being in hospital) but it is the times less obvious when people won’t offer you help per se because mainly they will be unaware there is an issue.

I wonder if that awareness is a matter of honesty though? I think mental health is a good example of where people rarely can see an issue but it doesn’t mean they aren’t willing to support you. I know that going out on a bicycle is good for offsetting my depression, but I find it much easier to get out on my bike if others ask me to join them. Equally the others may be more likely to ask me out if they know I am depressed, though it is difficult for me, I would benefit from explaining this to my friends. I would benefit from being honest about my state of mind.

I think honesty also ties in with the first issue too, if people know that I will sometimes say no to requests for help then they are probably more likely to ask me in the future. Does that sound counterintuitive? Let me explain. They will ask me for support because they know I am positively choosing to help them and I can contain any complications that may arise for the help given. There will be no build-up of resentment because if supporting them caused me so much trouble then I would be honest with them and say I cannot managed it at that time. I suspect though that if I turn down a request for support then it would help the situation if I encouraged them to ask me again in the future. I would think this would be particularly necessary if I turned down somebody the first time they ask.

Offering support and being rejected can feel hurtful. In my experience it is important to remember that it is the offer that is being reject, it is not the person, it is not me.