I was introduced to The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe at a very young age. And while I’m not blaming C. S. Lewis for the time I got my head stuck in a dresser, the lack of wardrobes in my life may have played a role.
I’m not sure why I did it, but one day I pulled all of the drawers out of my dresser and stuck my head inside. It hurt–I had to slide my ears through and crane my neck to make it. Again, I have no idea why this seemed at all like an appealing idea. I seem to remember thinking that it would give me some kind of interesting perspective, like there were secrets to be found with my head inside a dresser.
I got my head stuck. Satisfied with what I had seen in the darkness of my dresser, I tried to pull my head out but it wouldn’t budge. My ears were in the way, or the way I’d craned my neck to get it in was just a little too awkward to replicate, or my head had suddenly grown in size. Whatever the case, I was stuck, maybe five years old, with my head inside a dresser.
For a moment, I was afraid. I was afraid my mom would see me and get angry with me, for some reason. I was afraid I’d never get my head out, and began to imagine the curious life I would lead as That Girl Whose Head is a Dresser. Would anybody be able to hear me talking with a dresser on my head? Would I be able to lift it? How was I going to ride in a car?
I felt so incredibly stupid for sticking my head in a dresser that the idea of calling for help was inconceivable. I had done this to myself, and asking for help was inviting someone to laugh at me. I had to deal with my own decisions, even if that meant carrying out life with a dresser on my head, pretending that yes, this was totally my plan all along and no, I didn’t need a hand with it.
The thing is that I inherited my mother’s fierce independence. That’s not a bad thing–I’m proud of my independence, my unwillingness to let anybody else carry me. It’s a mixed bag of a virtue, considering that it also means I’m a perfectionist and highly ambitious and that I like to get myself into tough situations and not ask for help, but it also means that I’m pretty sure I can get things done on my own.
And I did. I screwed up my face, blinked the tears out of my eyes, and yanked.
It felt like the dresser had ripped my ears off, but in a moment I was breathing the fresh air of my bedroom, not the close, woody air of my dresser. I put the drawers back in as quietly as possible and went off to do something else, and didn’t tell my mom this story for at least a decade to save myself the potential embarrassment. When I finally told her, her response was predictable: Why didn’t you ask for help?
It’s a question I have to keep asking myself. Independence is important. It’s a trait I’m proud of. I’m happy with my accomplishments and the hard work that I put in to what I do. But that doesn’t mean that needing help every now and then is failure.
I’m blessed with amazing friends and family, people who really get me and who listen and support me when necessary. Learning to ask for help is an ongoing journey for me, because I can’t seem to reconcile that failure is not an ending, but a temporary stop. If I can’t achieve something on my own, it’s not only okay, but incredibly beneficial to ask somebody to lend a hand. With somebody else’s help, I can learn something. If I yank myself out of the dresser, sure, I’m out, but my ears hurt and I’m grouchy about it.
Like I said, I’m getting better about this. And I acknowledge that sometimes it’s okay to give up on something–I’m a perfectionist, I take on too many tasks and burn myself out on them because I feel like I have to do everything right the first time, but that’s silly. Part of my plan for this year is committing myself to sustainable goals. Submitting one short story a month for publication. Starting this blog. Keeping it up.
And I failed at that last week. I was on vacation and I didn’t plan ahead. There’s nobody I can ask to write for me–I mean, I could, but I’m not going to–so I bear the brunt of the responsibility for that and instead of kicking myself over it I just tell myself to do it right next time. I failed, yes, but you know, shit happens, and it doesn’t mean the world has ended and people are boycotting my silly writing blog and I’ve doomed myself to a career of irrelevance and beating my head against the wall because hey, I’m already doing that.
Asking for help is okay. Failure is okay. Independence is okay, but not when you just let the things pile up on you until you have a dresser on your head and you can’t see any possible way of living without that dresser on your head, not only because you literally can’t see but also because you can’t find it in you to admit that you made a mistake and you could use a hand in getting out of it.
I guess I learned a lesson out of sticking my head in a dresser–don’t do that, it hurts, and you’re going to spend a good chunk of your adolescence wondering if that’s the reason your ears stick out a bit. But the more important lesson was that admitting failure a decade after it happens is just going to make people question why you didn’t ask for help sooner.
Yeah, yeah, admitting failure or weakness or discomfort or unhappiness sucks. Nobody likes it. But the dresser is a metaphor here as much as it is a literal event that happened; please be smarter than five-year-old me.