Anne T. Donahue: Even Unf-ckwithable Women Need Help Sometimes

As a pioneer of good, old-fashioned emotional repression, I’ve come to realize that inevitably, your feelings will boil over and force you to reconcile with being an actual person

A stock image of a woman walking down a dark street with an umbrella—homepage

(Photo: Unsplash)

For everybody I know (but especially me), January has been the emotional equivalent of a cold, dreary afternoon. Days feel tedious and existence feels overwhelming, our New Year’s sparks have been extinguished, and to merely “get through it”—whether “it” is the day, a project, or an hour—feels like a gold-star achievement. Which also gets lonely. Because the last thing any of us want to do when slogging through tasks we once zipped through is admit vulnerability and ask for help.

I hate asking for help. I claim I can do everything and anything by myself, and even after slicing my finger and needing a lift to the hospital last December, it took dripping blood all over my kitchen for me to cave and call my dad. Which ended up setting the precedent for the last couple of weeks: stitches led to a booster shot which led to a reaction that made me so sick I needed my mom to stay for a few nights, and when I finally got better, I found myself all alone in the realm of book edits, which I figured would feel less lonely with the addition of a cat.

It didn’t work out. My new cat, while lovely and beautiful and the most precious muffin I’d seen, needed an owner who was home even more than I was. And I needed a cat who didn’t wail all night because a door was closed. I texted my parents regularly in despair, and finally broke when I realized I needed to take her back to the animal shelter: “Do you need me to come over?” my mom finally asked me. I started crying, half-relieved I didn’t have to ask for help myself and half-relieved someone would be around for a little while to keep the cat company when I wasn’t. “Yes, please,” I replied, tears streaming down my face. I needed help (and more specifically, my mom) and still couldn’t really admit it.

Most of us have been trained to go it alone. We embrace slogans like #girlboss and #hustle, and equate badassery less to camaraderie or to needing other humans than to getting shit done. We shy away from telling friends how we really feel to avoid seeming weak or like a burden, and then when we feel better, we push the memories of how dark it got so far down that we’re convinced they never happened. And it never works: as a pioneer of good, old-fashioned emotional repression, I’ve come to realize that inevitably, your feelings will boil over and force you to reconcile with being an actual person. This weekend, I thought buying plants would make me feel less blue about a recent series of unfortunate events until a Crown rewatch made me cry way too hard (especially for having seen it a million times). So finally, I texted my parents and admitted the impossible: I needed them to come over because I was feeling sad and anxious and emotionally depleted, and wanted to talk to people who wouldn’t judge me.

Not that my friends would have. Nor would any other members of my family. But anxiety is a liar that makes everything feel extreme and like it will carry on forever. This January has largely felt like an exercise in being convinced that things would always feel this way or that my parents would be annoyed with me talking to them about how I felt, or that my friends would hold my vulnerabilities against me. (Despite having no proof to back up any of those fears.) Asking for help and needing people doesn’t negate achievements or a legacy of being a grown-ass adult. But we often fail to remind ourselves of that.

I, contrary to what I’ve claimed and told myself, need people. I need help sometimes. I need moral support from friends and family, I need a therapist, and I also need to be on medication that keeps my brain balanced. I, an independent person who values alone time, still needs a support system. And while we’ve painted a generation of women as unf-ckwithable because they don’t seem to need anybody, we’re wrong. As someone who works at home, I’ve carved out a career that’s lent itself to operating on my own terms, I’ve also put myself in a position where I can spend days in my apartment without talking to another person, minus neighbours in the elevator. And that isn’t great when you’re stuck in a January-shaped bell jar and need someone you know and trust to push you out with much-needed honesty. Or to sit next to you when you open up about how too-much everything feels. You’re not a martyr by maintaining the guise that you’re weak or any less of a boss if you can’t take it all on alone. You don’t earn more points by making it difficult for yourself.

Which is something I still have to remind myself. (As in, right now and in this moment.) Today I made my first therapy appointment in three months after claiming I’d gotten everything I needed out of it. And then I commiserated with a friend who was also feeling the effects of this particularly bleak month. I talked to my mum and dad and updated them on what was up and new and my plans to learn how to take breaths again. And while none of the above has made me less eager to burn January to the ground, it’s made getting through it feel doable. Because we’re not alone. And I’m finished peddling the myth that we are.

More from Anne T. Donahue:
Have Yourself a Realistic Little Christmas
The Shopping Mall as a Safe Space
How to Use Anger for Activism