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Carolyn Hax: What if you reach out for support at a tough time, but it isn’t there?

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: A recent crisis “hit” all my particular mental struggles juuuust right. I live alone and have a terrible time reaching out for help, but I did try with a friend yesterday and her reply was … very unhelpful. I guess I don’t have a question so much as I’m scared.

— Struggling

Struggling: I’m sorry.

It's not unusual to struggle with asking for help.

But that obstacle is actually, counterintuitively, more difficult the less you encounter it.

You might think that doing X one time would have a feeling of difficulty of 1X, and doing it 20 would feel like 20X.

Yet when your difficulty is with reaching out to others, it's mostly a problem of vulnerability — of feeling very uncomfortable making yourself vulnerable to others.

Given that, reaching out only once to only one person made you enormously vulnerable to that one person — 20X — whereas if you had made 20 different attempts to connect to others, including sure things like group/event/class sign-ups, you would be counting very little on any one attempt to work out for you, so your vulnerability would be quite reduced. Maybe 1X per, or even less.

So, as hard as the initiation effort will be upfront, I urge you to think of 20 ways you can reach out to the world beyond your home. This counts as one, right? And for a second try, go to the comments under this column or on Facebook to chat with some of my other readers.

Then give yourself a mental break, do something/anything restorative, then back at it:

Think of other friends or family or neighbors you can contact. Even from long ago.

Then restore …

Then back at it. Think of groups you can join, help you can offer, interactive classes you can take, free and online if that's what your conditions dictate right now.

But do put as many lines into the water as you can manage. And think in minutes, hours, days, not weeks, months, years. Take care.

Hi, Carolyn: I work from home trading the stock market. I’ve put in many years of study, money and effort, and find it incredibly mentally stimulating. I’ve finally found the best system for me and it’s a lot of hard work, but I enjoy the challenge. Occasionally, when people I meet learn what I do, they go straight to, “How much money do you make?” I always deflect, because I find it rude and inappropriate. Some folks persist in asking, just in different ways. Can you or your readers suggest some polite but firm responses I could use to shut down the question?

— Weary of the Rudeness

Weary of the Rudeness: That does take some chutzpah.

I suggest either saying outright, “Personal question!” or “Why do you ask?” The latter weeds out the purely nosy from the people who are genuinely interested in what you do and maybe lost their social bearings for a second. Best part, even when they give a reason, you’re still under no obligation to answer their original question. You can just say, “Hmm, okay,” and then change the subject.

Re: Rude: Say, “You first.” That should silence them.

— Anonymous

Anonymous: Perfect. Note that this response originally credited “You first” to director Fred Zinnemann, but that story is apocryphal, it seems.