Bone Tired and Ready to Be Bossed Around

Friday, October 10, 2014 - 5:06am
Photo by Jason Ross

Bone Tired and Ready to Be Bossed Around

Today, I am bone tired.

I won’t belabor the details, but let’s just say my family got hit with a big, mean cold while navigating planes, trains, and automobiles. I have to put on a capable, happy face — preferably without snot running down it.

The weird thing is that I have been surrounded by generous, big-hearted people. People I’m related to. People I consider my dear friends. People I’ve just met but seem like the sort who actually mean it when they say, “I’m so sorry you’re having a bad day. Is there anything I can do to help?”

So why, amid all this sincere generosity, have I still felt so alone?

(Jason Ross / Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).)

Because there is a place beyond tired — bone tired — where you don’t even have the wherewithal to ask for what you need. When you’re in this state of mind, kind humans offer up their time and talent to you, but somehow you can’t receive it. You’re in a fog of exhaustion where you can only see an arms length ahead: reply to this email, return this call, drink this coffee, do this dish, survive, barely.

Then someone stopped offering help and started ordering me around — namely my husband (which, if you know me, is pretty hilarious). “That’s it,” he said. “Get in bed and take a nap.”

Without saying another word, I stripped down, peeled back the clean, white sheets of the hotel bed, set the timer on my iPhone for one hour, and crashed. When I woke up, the fog was further out. Not gone. But a little bit less ominous.

(Jason Ross / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).)

I’ve been thinking about what a gift his bossiness was ever since. How many times have I met a friend’s desperation with what I thought was a truly generous statement? If there is anything I can do, let me know. I’m here for you. It’s always well-intentioned, but it’s too easy. It doesn’t, in truth, really work. Almost no one follows up with a request. It requires energy that the truly down-and-out — whether grieving or overwhelmed or depressed — just don’t have. And yet we keep saying it to one another. It’s a gesture, not a rock. A drawing of a life preserver, not the actual thing.

In part, people resist doing things — bringing soup, making an acupuncture appointment, taking the kids for the day — for friends in need, because we wisely understand that not everyone is built the same, particularly in their darker moments. Some of us genuinely want to be left alone; we need the salve of silence. Some of us feel comforted by a body right up next to us — the isolation shattered by the warm breath of another human. Some of us need sleep. Some of us need to be dragged out of the house.

When we tell loved ones to tell us what they need, the hope is that we might provide exactly what they actually want. It’s a safeguard against projecting what we would want on them.

(Jason Ross / Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).)

Parker Palmer, while being interviewed by Krista once about his own depression, relayed this moving story:

"There was this one friend who came to me, after asking permission to do so, every afternoon about four o'clock, sat me down in a chair in the living room, took off my shoes and socks and massaged my feet. He hardly ever said anything. He was a Quaker elder. And yet out of his intuitive sense, from time to time would say a very brief word like, 'I can feel your struggle today,' or farther down the road, 'I feel that you're a little stronger at this moment, and I'm glad for that.' But beyond that, he would say hardly anything. He would give no advice. He would simply report from time to time what he was sort of intuiting about my condition. Somehow he found the one place in my body, namely the soles of my feet, where I could experience some sort of connection to another human being. And the act of massaging just, you know, in a way that I really don't have words for, kept me connected with the human race."

Asking for permission makes sense, but beyond that, just touching Parker’s feet, in a sense, saved his life. I think we often err too much on the side of getting it right instead of just showing up and getting compassionately commanding. Could this be why more of us don’t actually tell friends when we’re feeling low — because we don’t want to navigate the abstract offers of assistance?

I have had so many moments when I am deep in the fog and I don’t reach out. I don’t know what to say. I don’t have a neat story about my sadness. There are only a few people that I feel comfortable being totally incoherent with, calling and saying, “Hi. I’m going to cry. I’m okay, but I’m just going to cry.” Often I don’t call, not just in order to spare someone my blubbering, but to spare them my confusion over what they can do to soothe me. It’s so much responsibility, isn’t it? It feels like we are expected to be simultaneously devastated and proactive in our culture. What about just being broken for a moment?

(Jason Ross / Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).)

When I was recovering from birth, people brought food — huge pans of gooey lasagna and chard tarts, frozen curry and tamales. They didn’t ask. They just showed up, trays in hand. Sometimes they stayed long enough to kiss the squirming little babe, but mostly they just ding dong ditched. I was reminded with each oat-filled cookie and spoonful of bone broth soup: we had brought this defenseless creature into a community, not just a two-parent household. We didn’t have to do it alone.

I want to do more of that in my life for others. I want to show up and be a little bit bossy — steer my friend into bed, do her laundry, entertain her children while she drinks a cup of tea alone and breathes. I want to answer the phone for a new mom when she calls courageously in her full messy confusion. I want to get better at calling others in that state, too. I want to put my husband to bed sometimes, even when he insists he’s fine because I can see in his face that he isn’t. I want to trust that my loved ones will tell me if I haven’t picked the right strategy for soothing the first time around. I want to love them fiercely when they’re in the fog.

Share Post

Shortened URL


Courtney E. Martin

is a columnist for On Being. Her column appears every Friday.

Her newest book, The New Better Off: Reinventing the American Dream, explores how people are redefining the American dream (think more fulfillment, community, and fun, less debt, status, and stuff). Courtney is the co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network and a strategist for the TED Prize. She is also co-founder and partner at Valenti Martin Media and FRESH Speakers Bureau, and editor emeritus at

Courtney has authored/edited five books, including Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists, and Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: How the Quest for Perfection is Harming Young Women. Her work appears frequently in The New York Times and The Washington Post. Courtney has appeared on the TODAY Show, Good Morning America, MSNBC, and The O’Reilly Factor, and speaks widely at conferences and colleges. She is the recipient of the Elie Wiesel Prize in Ethics and a residency from the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Centre. She lives with her partner in life and work, John Cary, in Oakland, and their daughters Maya and Stella. Read more about her work at

Share Your Reflection



Headed to the store to make chicken soup for a friend! Thank you1

I am a registered nurse on nights in a small mother baby unit, and I get to be 'bossy' on a regular basis. when I see a mom who is turned inside out with exhaustion,I try to staff the nursery so she can fall into a deep sleep in between feedings.Sometimes you act in accordance with the greatest need you see.

Denise, this comment brought a massive smile to my face. The labor and delivery nurses I had the honor of interacting with were absolute masters of this.

Denise, after pushing for 3.5 hours and being awake for a total of 36 hours (and having a lot of pain and tearing), my nurse took my son and said "i will bring him back to you in the morning." I said "but, no, but breast feeding, but but but"... she informed me that it wouldn't hurt him to have formula through the night and he would still feed in the morning. She was right and to this day (3.5 years later) i still love her for it. Thank you for what you do every day for new mommas!

This really spoke to me today, as someone who seeks to help others and as someone who often finds herself inexplicably in need. Thank you for sharing.

this rings so true. I'm caring for my husband who has CHF and Alzheimer's. In addition to helping my parents and a widowed aunt. As I struggle to keep my own depression at bay I often experience that sense of being so overwhelmed I hardly know what to do next. Sometimes my therapist bosses me around, giving me "homework" that generally involves some kind of self care. That outside voice often is just the gentle nudge I need to carve out some time for myself. I wish I had more people like that in my life right now.

Thinking of you prayerfully, Elizabeth, and hoping that you can do the self-care your therapist is prescribing.

Sending you much love and resilience. Take care of yourself.

Do you have a church affiliation or a group you used to be a part of (yoga, painting, books) and ask for a little company, assistance, a errand run and then accept it gracefully....give someone the OPPORTUNITY to help YOU. Be well.

Asking for help is so very difficult, for us all. Sometimes just the very act of showing up with a meal, or that order to go take a walk, go to bed, I will sit here with your kids, your mama,whatever.
People "mean" well when they say just ask, but......

Thank you, my dear friend, for a beautiful column—so human, so compassionate, so true. Thank you, too, for recounting the story of the friend who massaged my feet during one of my bouts with depression, helping (as you say) to save my life. His name was Bill Taber, a profoundly modest man who would have been embarrassed if I had named him while he was alive. But he died a few years ago, and naming him is one way I have of honoring his memory. Thank you for giving me another chance to do that.

Thank you so much for reading this, Parker, and even more for your beautiful response. I wish I could have known Bill. I have so much to thank him for.

Bill sounds like he made the world a better place.

thank you Parker, for your honesty and bravery in speaking about your depression. I have read many of your interviews and they have given me hope. I'm battling clinical depression right now, since March, and it is the hardest thing I have ever gone through in my life. most people have no idea what it's like, but knowing that you and others have been through this and come out of it gives me hope at a time when i have so little faith that I will get better.

I think it is possible to have relationships with others, where we can show how bad we feel without worrying the other person. Like anything, it takes time to set- it up. Let's you and I agree to take turns listening to each other. To really get to know each other and help contradict those patterns and be there for each other no matter what. Like the 3 Musketeers."One for all, all for one."

Courtney has defined the core of lost community mechanism. We knew how to obtain needs as infants and young children: we cried voraciously when hungry, whined when tired, threw out our arms to be picked up when frightened or when needing closeness. Then we learned the lessons of socially correct behavior without the part about "but when you are tired, hungry, overwhelmed, alone you can ask permission to be held, fed, loved unconditionally........
Thanks Courtney!

Awesome reflection, Margaret.

Thank you. I do think is core to community, and often lost in lives that feel too busy to just drop everything and act.

I feel this way SO often. Like, here I am drowning and you want me to explain to you how to throw the life preserver? The only thing I would add, that I'm beginning to understand, is that to offer specific help that may not be received is VULNERABLE and many people, despite how dearly they want to help, simply don't want to risk being vulnerable to rejection or failure. But you so nail it on the head - even in the midst of those vague offers, you can feel so deeply alone.

How nice to read that someone else feels the same compassionate muddle that I have known both on the receiving & giving end. Perhaps we all need a bit more "esse quam videri" (to be rather than to seem).

This makes me want to weep - someone finally put into words the painful isolation I felt raising a child with special needs. There were offers from friends and from the church but no action and I didn't have the internal resources to say - PLEASE do what you promised and take my child for a night. Calling and making arrangements constituted a relational obligation I couldn't fulfill and so I never asked and I never got respite. If I had accessed the understanding 15 years ago the church and friends might still be in my life instead of a distant painful memory.

There is so much loneliness living a life outside the norm, so much grief and sorrow that others do not understand. I am at a loss for words, but your post pierced my heart and I could not leave the page without saying that you will be in my thoughts and prayers today.

Thank you for your response - it meant ... it means a lot to know that someone understands.

Thank you so much for posting this, Jill. I loved the article, and immediately applied it to our situation, having a son with cerebral palsy, who requires constant care, both physical and otherwise. It is exhausting and unrelenting. When school is not in session, my husband is barely able to work, as it is so physically demanding to care for our son. I so desperately wish someone would offer to just come and hang out with our son, walk him around the block for an hour, anything, but you got it exactly right: I am hesitant to ask for help, for many reasons, but partially because of the relational obligation. I wish I could ask, but it feels like everyone is out there with their own struggles and problems, and I don't know how to put my and my family's needs out there. I feel like because most people have no understanding about the truly constant and unrelenting reality of raising a very disabled child, they aren't able or willing to offer and provide concrete help.

Thank you for your courage to share this.

I've been in the position where I want to help my partner through lots of struggle and they never call on my offerings, and they are the type of person who really detests being told what to do. I'm not sure I can jump that hurdle of taking charge and bossing them without making matters worse. How do you help someone who doesn't want help other than just reminding them you're available if they need it? I feel that's all I can do but maybe that's OK.

You share with them what you shared here -- that if you felt more courageous about bossing them around, you would. Instead of asking, "How can I help?" ask them, "Can I boss you around a little? If you say yes, I'll do this and this and this and this and this and this. Just give me a green light and all of that will be done."

Sometimes we confuse the offer with the activity. Saying "I'm happy to do whatever you need" is NOT the same as actually doing. When we are in crisis we need people in our lives to DO, not say, because thinking of a response is impossible, as Courtney put it so well. I am grieving a little bit for all the ways I could have DONE, not said, for people in my life, and I vow to be more active going forward. I also want to be more tender-hearted and forgiving towards those who couldn't help me when, from the depths of my sorrow, I needed something I could not define. I agree we are in some kind of crisis of caring; we don't know how; we feel lonely in our ability to give or receive. Thank you, thank you, for an amazing column.

Thank you. I didn't think of it as a "crisis of care," but that's such an apt phrase.

When my husband was on hospice care and slowly dying in the living room, a dear friend came and picked the green beans from my little garden and put them in the freezer. It was such a comfort to have her there doing "normal" summer things.

Thank you for sharing such a beautiful memory.

I just stumbled on your blog for the first time today. Oh, I love this. I remember when we first got our kids (we fostered them for three years before we could adopt them), feeling this same "the fog will never lift" sensation. I'm so glad you found someone to rub your soles, and another who loved you enough to boss you around a bit. Sometimes I wish someone would order ME to take a nap! Thanks so much.


Take a nap. (Things will look a tiny bit better after you do. Promise)


This is such a struggle in our culture. We are all brought up that we should help others, and also brought up not to need help ourselves. We see needing help as a weakness. So accepting help, or helping in a way that doesn't diminish the other becomes very difficult. Thank you for writing about this. We must all continue the dialogue about this and find better ways to be more open to giving and receiving help.

This was so good. I've been on both sides, feeling isolated and depressed or having a hurting friend and not knowing how best to help. I might speculate that as Americans, we want our stories to have happy endings, whether they are in the books we read or being lived day-to-day. But sometimes there isn't a way to fix things or make them better. I'm learning that sometimes life just really sucks and we just need to show up and love our people--whether with our time, words, touch, gifts, or service. Thanks, Courtney!

Commanding Compassion - what an insightful, well written and pertinent article. I will try to remember this the remainder of my days. Thank you for writing this.

This was amazing. I often find myself offering to help in any way but I see the burden in that too. I honor the 'bossy' loved ones in my life and how often they see what I need before I do....a lovely piece. Thank you.

Amen, sista! I started a website called A Girlfriend's Guide to Loving a Friend Through Cancer and Loss so that people could do just what you talk about! After my husband died at 44, my three kids and I survived on those compassionately commanding friends. I would not be sane today if it wasn't for them. Thank you so much for showing others that stepping in is a wonderful and needed act of love!!

This is exactly, profoundly correct. I have struggled in my life with how to help the people I love most with their, sometimes overwhelming struggles. I mistakenly try to say the right thing, give the right advice, the right pep talk. I offer help but nothing concrete, thinking it's best to not force myself on someone. Like this author, I learned about generosity when I was put on in hospital bed rest for almost a month before my son was born. It was bad enough he was supposed to be born w/o part of his brain, now I was stuck in the hospital. So many people were kind to me. So many people prayed for, called, emailed me. Many people asked that famous question : "How can I help?" As well intentioned as that question always is, at that time I felt burdened by it. But
there were some people who just showed up, and I loved it. They brought cookies. They painted my nails. They sang to the baby through my stomach. My saintly husband showed up and showed up and showed up. He listened to me complain . He brought me every crazy thing I asked for. He stayed w me each night, watching movies, playing scrabble, often eating hospital food. Afterwards and since I have thought of these people who just came w/o asking first. I want to be like them, but still I struggle. I think it's because I am afraid of facing what my friend is going through. As one friend once said, "Fear is the opposite of good." Agreed.

When I'm bone tired, I'm always grateful for those who say kind things and offer to do anything. Trouble is, I physically CAN'T think of anything for them to do. When I was moving a few years ago, my friends offered to unpack my bedroom so I could rest. They didn't ask what would you like us to do, they asked to do a specific chore they sense I needed most. I could say yes to that. I went to bed after they unpacked the bedroom, and while I slept they unpacked the kitchen. Ever since, I've offered specific help to those I think need it. A fatigued person can answer "yes or no" questions, but not make a decision about the countless needs he or she might have. This was a great, thoughtful article and I was moved by Parker Palmer's story, as well as your own.

This may be helpful to people in ordinary life situations. But if you are the victim of stalking, it can only encourage a stalker to cross boundaries inappropriately.

This article frightened me quite a lot.

Thank you. This is beautiful and real.

At my advanced age, with limited amounts of energy and anything else you can name, it is quite difficult to really commit myself to any volunteer projects of good will or caring. My concern for others, however, is with me always and one thing I try to offer, wherever I go, is a kind word, a helping hand or some sort of humorous remark....I try to say something to make another person happy and I can see the results in how people respond. My philosophy is simple...try to "make a friend" wherever I go. There are so many situations in my day with an opportunity to give another person a moment, or perhaps more than a moment of happiness,laughter, or good will.

Thank you so much, John. I love this philosophy!

thank you so much. so very well said.

very apt observations. it depends on how close one already is to another to sense an implicit license to act "bossy," though. action can be eloquent. showing up is good; seeking help for presumably minor problems is also good. these are related. staying in touch is key.

Beautiful words filled me with pictures and the desire to be a bit more bossy...which I am not sure the world needs. Or maybe it does. Peace to you and thank you!

So precisely and aptly written. Thanking you from my own solitude.

I've often thought this, but sometimes don't have the time or talent to do what I think ought to be done. A simple "I'm praying for you" may be a cop-out, and I'm going to reflect more on what I can actually DO, One can be swept up in meeting needs, and become worn out also. I'll remember this article.

In caring for my mother with dementia, a few phrases seemed to speak to me. Besides, "We don't have to do it alone", I will remember "what about just being broken for a moment" when she says she feels like crying but no tears come. And, finally, "I want to love them fiercely when they're in the fog" which seem to be the atmosphere that surrounds her.

Thank you.

This resonates so much w/me. Struggling to take care of so many issues right now. In truth, if someone would just bring some sunflowers (preferably in some sort of vase so I don't have to trim them & do the work myself), or some pre-packaged Oreos... People think there has to be a grand gesture...there doesn't have to be. Just a small one is all that's truly needed. Think about the person you love & the things he/she generally enjoys on a day-to-day basis and offer that. It's not complicated and so appreciated.

YES! There is nothing like being given the permission or the supplies to start healing when we are past articulation and no fun to be around. The "fog" is so isolating and dehumanizing that it sometimes feels like something to hide from in shame. But look, it turns out that lots of people end up in the deep fog. And, like Ms Martin says, we need different antidotes. A therapist once told me to practice "not looking so competent." Excellent advice. Thanks for this piece!

It is a courageous friend who acts out of concern for another and gives them what she thinks the other needs, not necessarily what she would want in the same situation. I can live with being bossy when I can see that my friend may not be thinking at her best at this time of her life. Been there.

"Bone tired" is so difficult to claim. Thank you so much for discussing-- legitimizing-- it.

I am to exhausted to share my story. I just wanted to let writer know that this article was an amazing read and very relatable to my daily life. On that note, I will now cover my head with blanket and get some rest.

Isn't this the core vulnerability here?.... What if, in need, we open to someone's just acting without asking; what if, from love, we start acting without asking? What if we do that and it's not felt to be helpful or helping turns out to be beyond our resources? What if we find ourselves accommodating to unrequested action simply to put a helpful friend at ease or as the helper we find ourselves having inadvertently done the opposite? How then do we repair a relationship?

Isn't there something here about how we ask, how we listen, how we negotiate? The depth of attention with which we keep feeling each other?

As a hospice volunteer I always ask, but I ask in specific concrete terms and often after I have a pretty good intuition based on many signals. Sometimes asking is not verbal, it's in touch or gesture. And yeses are not necessarily verbal and may end at any time, not when "the helping task" is complete -- so I keep watching and reading cues and re-asking (verbally or not) for redirection and drawing on intuition. When I need help, the deepest gift is when my helper is willing/able to take the lead in this plus relieve me of the work of watching and reading his or her cues in return. When I help, the deepest gift is the satisfaction of connection beyond words. There is so much more happening in "help," being exchanged, than any specific need being met. When I am exhausted or ill or depressed, it's the connection itself that does the most healing. I simply want to be accompanied where I am, vulnerable, helpless alone in this moment.

Aren't each of us flowing rhythms of needs and boundaries? In a way that a broad offer can't, a specific, concrete request for or offer of help initiates a dance of ongoing partnership at many levels. This article is an invitation to a larger inquiry -- what does that dance look like?

Beautifully said!

This is so beautiful and spot on, Courtney. I remember reading once about the different types of showing gratitude or help and that part of being there for someone was matching your offer with their needs. I could look at that list and see each member of my family and close friends ('Yes, that describes Sue. Haley would like this better. Oh, that captures Alex!'). In the end, though, as you mention, it's important to realize that the 'bone tired' (as you describe them/us) may not be able to articulate the ask, then a little bossiness may just result in the help that is needed and wanted.

It's important to know your audience well, this could really backfire. I'm the type of person who feels intruded upon by bossiness and my mom really offended me with her bossiness after my c section. I had already cooked and frozen three weeks worth of dinners, stocked the pantry, cleaned, etc and all I wanted her to do was spend some time with my older daughter and occasionally hold the baby. Instead she kept insisting on cooking (I don't like her food) and telling me to "rest" and "nap". I'm a grown woman with a high energy level and her "help" felt like torture. What's worse - she decided she needed to stay for two whole weeks - I never asked her to do that at all and just wanted my privacy back. So as I said - gauge your audience - bossiness may be a relief to some but can ruin relationships with others.

I agree. A friend of mine from a Chinese background was pressured by her mum to "do the month" after her baby was born (eat special foods, observe particular bathing routines, stay in bed a lot - all aimed at helping the new mother recover) and found it very irritating and constraining of her freedom.

Another frustration I have with Western / Anglo culture on this issue (thanks Courtney for writing so eloquently about it) - and which has been picked up on by some other commenters - is that I think we have a real problem with asking for help, because we don't want to seem a burden. We may have lost the art of caring, but we've also lost the ability to be dependent and that is as much a part of the problem. I accept that sometimes it is really difficult to identify things that would help in response to a broad offer, but it's not always impossible - and that broad offer is often extremely genuine. I've not experienced the kinds of profound losses detailed by others here, but I did learn in the exhaustion of early parenthood to put my pride aside and ask for help, and I think it makes things so much easier! People can say yes or no, and the more you do it, the more it helps create a much more open relationship where help is both offered and asked for much more easily.

As an example, my husband and I are on a holiday at the moment while a childfree friend is caring for our children, which was initiated by her offering to do this - but when I was profusely thanking her for this incredible gesture she said, "It's also because you've welcomed me into your family life in a way that very few other of my friends have since they became parents."

So - it goes both ways, I think, and perhaps we need to remember the importance of creating space for one another in our lives in the good times as well as (and in readiness for) the hard times.

I think these reflections will resonante particularly with the caregivers of the disabled. I am the mother of a nineteen year old with severe disabilities and also a writer, but I've never been able to articulate this with the generosity and insight that you've shared. Thank you.

Bravo! This is right on! I coach women around fertility and adoption and when they experience a loss, whether that's through a miscarriage or change of heart in adoption, they often feel so isolated from their friends and family who don't really get it. For these grieving women (and men),they often need someone to fiercely love them.

Thank you for sharing this sweet open-heartedness. May it be contagious.

Awesome message......I have been bone tired for 3 days and it kills me that I can't help my daughter more......

Sometimes Pastoral Care should be renamed Pastoral "Bossiness" Thanks for the wonderful insight. SC

Wow, people never say "What can I do?" to me, not when I fought off a rapist, not when I lost my home, not ever. So the advice to be more specific is nice, but it comes off as entitled.

Thank you for bringing attention to this subject. I cared for my husband, who had Leukemia, for 5 years. Very sadly, he passed away. I have three children and lived away from any family. I was caring for a progressively sicker man, going to multiple, serious doctor appointments and trying to keep some sort of normality for my kids. I was continuously emotionally and physically exhausted. I experienced the bone tiredness you speak of frequently. Very kind people offered help, just as you so eloquently put it. What helped me most in this situation and what I try and do now for similarly exhausted is to get specific. Rather than offer help in the form of..just ask..or I'm here if you need me..I offer .."I'm going to a kid's movie and would love for your kids to keep mine company..I'll pick them up at 'whatever time'. For me, when people offered specific help, it took the energy required to make a decision out of it and someone else took over. I was making so many decisions at the time and even one like how someone else could help me sometimes could be daunting. To have someone take over and do it was just bliss and so very much appreciated, there aren't words sometimes to express how that helped me.

Thank you so much for sharing this...You just summed up how I have felt so often in my life, why I so often don't ask for help, and why I have often felt helpless to help someone I love who is going through something tough. By naming both sides of the problem and articulating it so clearly, you just helped me understand a dynamic that has been a reoccurring theme for me, and I'm sure for many others. Thank you!

I am thinking of my niece, who shared this column on Facebook, and who is going through a difficult time with her lovely one year old who doesn't seem to need to incorporate sleep into his life! One of the dangers of the state of mind that comes from exhaustion and depression, is that we so often feel that it is we who are doing something wrong--that we have failed in some way. That makes it even harder to ask for help. I know I wish I lived closer to my niece, so I could drive over and boss her around!

When my husband had a serious surgery and I was all wrapped up in that and caring for three children, one of the sitters said to me "can I do your laundry? just bring it when you bring your daughter." That was SO practical and so kind that it remains an example to me. We do need to be more practical than saying 'let me know if there's anything I can do.'

Hi Courtney,

This is a lovely story about the dance of giving and receiving love - of taking care and allowing ourselves to be cared for. As a momma of four, I can definitely relate to being bone tired and longing to be bossed around!

In my working life, I help men and women heal the roots of food addiction and overeating, and one of the tenets of my teaching is healing through the care and connection of others - letting others care, love and support you rather than seeing healing as "self help," - pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and making it happen on your own. So your words resonate with me on many levels.

I ended up writing my own piece on why needing is not shameful and dependence is beautiful. I thought it might add to the dialogue -

Thank you for your lovely and healing words.

Warmly, Karly

Courtney ... I can't thank you enough for this post. This articulates, spot on, what I've been feeling since August when my mother died five months after we found out she was terminal. Sometimes people would say to me, "If there's anything you need, let me know."

Your observation is gold:

"It’s always well-intentioned, but it’s too easy. It doesn’t, in truth, really work. Almost no one follows up with a request."

I graduated from Barnard a couples years ago (and went to one of your workshops there!) where I learned to ask, to negotiate, to assert myself. As you know it's a daily practice, but one I'm committed to. But in this case I *didn't* want to ask for what I needed - not because I was bone-tired or unassertive but because to do so seemed too much like cashing in on a favor in a situation where I shouldn't *have* to assert myself.

The week after my mom died I was observing the mourning practices according to Jewish tradition which meant I wasn't allowed to leave the house, even to go food shopping; people were supposed to bring me food. On the third day I was only receiving desserts, however, so I called a friend's aunt who had said to let her know if I need anything. I told her I needed real food, so she brought me two big shopping bags from Whole Foods - which, don't get me wrong, was kind. But would she have visited me otherwise if I hadn't called? I don't know.

A couple weeks after my mom passed I confided to a cousin I'm close with that the scariest thing for me now would be if I get sick ... being sick with a mom just seems the saddest thing to me. She told me if I ever get sick, let her know, she'll leave work right away to come over - and she's up there in the Department of Education.

But soon after I got seriously sick. Seriously, seriously sick, so much so that I was spending the day either in the bathroom or crying in bed (it turns out it was salmonella). She called me a couple times but didn't offer to come over with chicken soup or anything. I bought myself chicken soup from Balducchi's at 6.99/lb ... which is just the saddest thing to do for yourself when you're 26, your mom has just died and you're running to the bathroom every two hours.

The gap between intention and action is a large one for many to cross. It speaks highly of those who do cross it. And like you said in your post, it's one I intend to cross more often for people ... because offering help simply isn't enough.

oh my lord yes. Thank you for this.