Overcoming Feeling Helpless

It was the middle of the night. All was quiet throughout my place. Laura, my mother-in-law, Sasha and Darren were all passed out. I woke up to feel my left hand aching. I had lost feeling in my fingers.  

This had been happening throughout the entire night. Every time it happened it was painful. I grabbed the stress ball that I now sleep with and started to squeeze it as quickly as possible to get feeling back into my hand. After several minutes feeling started to return.

This had been happening every couple of nights without much explanation.

After consulting with my doctor and physical therapist I was told that it had nothing to do with my shoulder recovery. The sling and my positioning while I was sleeping was cutting off the nerve pathways. As explained on HowStuffWorks:

"When you apply this pressure for a prolonged period of time, you actually cut off communication from your brain to parts of your body. The pressure squeezes nerve pathways so that the nerves can't transmit electrochemical impulses properly. Nerve impulses carry sensation information from nerve endings in the body to the brain, as well as instructions from the brain to the parts of the body. When you interfere with this transfer by squeezing the nerve pathways, you don't have full feeling in that body part, and your brain has trouble telling the body part what to do.”

As I laid there each time I knew exactly what needed to happen - something had to be adjusted whether it was the pillows under my arms, my sling(s) or, as my physical therapist recommended, simply sitting or standing to “reset” my body. Sounds fairly simple, right? For most people it would be except I am, for the most part, helpless while in dual shoulder slings.

I am unable to complete the most basic tasks such as standing up without assistance. Simple, every day tasks that we never think of I am unable to complete right now:

  • Taking a bite of food
  • Going to the bathroom
  • Getting dressed
  • Taking a shower
  • Brushing my teeth
  • ...and everything else more complicated than those few tasks

I am unable to put any pressure on my shoulders and can only really move at my wrists.

To help fix the situation I found myself in that night, I would need to wake Laura up for help but I didn’t want to. 

Laura is balancing helping me, working a full-time job and trying to take care of everything else. My mother-in-law and I are helping out where we can but there is a lot of pressure on her. But, I couldn’t go on like this for the rest of the night so I woke her up. After a few minutes we were able to adjust the pillows and I was able to fall back asleep.

That feeling of helplessness still stuck with me. It is something I have felt every time I have to ask for help. If even for a brief second, I feel helpless.

I realize that it is only temporary. Every day, every week through this journey I am making progress or finding ways to help myself such as with the Camelbak.

Defining and Experiencing Helplessness

Helpless is defined as:

  1. unable to help oneself; weak or dependent
  2. deprived of strength or power; powerless; incapacitated
  3. affording no help

We have all been there. I'm sure you have experienced one of those feelings before.

We want to help a loved one or friend who is not close geographically to us. Someone we know is going through a situation and we don’t know how to properly help them. Or we wish we could donate more time or money to a cause. 

All of these situations and many more can leave us feeling helpless, which can be a paralyzing feeling. At the extreme it can manifest itself as “learned helplessness” leading to clinical depression or other related mental illness.

How can we avoid letting feeling helpless pull us down, without it leading to something more serious?

How to Avoid Feeling Helpless

I have learned that the first step in avoiding feeling helpless is to understand that it is out of your control.  

In my situation, my injuries have made me helpless. At this point in my recovery I am physically unable to complete many tasks. But, this is only a point in time. I will regain these freedoms eventually. I have to keep that in mind.

When Laura feels helpless it is because she is doing all that she can but maybe the medications aren’t working as well or I’m having difficulty with something that she can’t help with.

For you it may mean that you are separated from the loved one or friend that you want to help. Or that you have donated as much time or money as you can afford without causing you a negative impact.

Whatever the situation is, it is likely out of your control. 

Another way to overcome that feeling is to think through what you could do even if the situation is out of your control.

For example, for your friend or loved one that doesn’t live near you, you might not be able to be by their side but you could do a video chat with them to feel more connected.

That simple video chat may make them feel better and relieve the feeling of helplessness that you feel.

Feeling helpless sucks. There is no way around it. We have all felt it before. 

When you feel that way, take a step back to assess the situation. You are likely able to do something, no matter how small it is, to help relieve that feeling. And if you’re not able to relieve the feeling, don’t let it eat away at you.

Question: How do you overcome feeling helpless? Feel free to comment below or you can email me directly if your story is not something you would like to share publicly.

Image Credit: Frank Knaack