Introduction: I was recently told, while talking about how rarely I’ve been able to explain my disease in any meaningful way to those around me, that I don’t have enough faith in people.
So, talking about chronic illness isn’t easy. I’ve learned that from time to time it’s necessary, both for my own sanity and possibly for purposes of public awareness. Even when I feel the need to get something disease-related off my mind though, it’s still tough to talk about the majority of the time. That said, I’m sure it isn’t easy for people to listen to, either, and that’s what this post is about. I’ve had people shut me down mid-sentence and tell me that I should really be talking to a “professional,” get frustrated at their lack of ability to solve my problem (which I don’t expect a solution to – sometimes I just need to vent), get upset and tell me how sorry they are every time they see me because they’ve decided that my existence is so difficult that it warrants regular apologies…there’s a myriad of reactions, but the truth is, most of them aren’t good. Or at least not particularly helpful, and in many cases, my venting seems to have left a permanent imprint on the mind of the listener in some negative way. Perhaps I’m reading too much into people’s reactions, but the deeper I delve into my story, the more likely people are to display a little bit of the anger, frustration, and sadness that I myself have felt when considering my situation.
Now, it would be really egotistical of me to assume that in a couple of afternoon heart-to-hearts I’ve made such an impression that any negative feelings actually come into their daily lives because of it. Actually, those feelings would probably only occur when they ran into me, possibly only even if they ran into me and I happened to be having a bad day or feeling sick. But the point is, no matter how minimal it might be, that is anger and frustration and sadness which wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for me unburdening myself on them.
Of course, if a relationship of any kind goes on long enough, chances are we’ll do something or say something that is hurtful to the other half of the pair, but in this case, it would be doing so with conscious knowledge of what the reaction will probably be. So, the question that I have written this post to pose is, at what point should we keep it to ourselves? Just box away our feelings instead of consciously hurting another human being with a story of a painful past. Or, probably smarter, try and get as much catharsis as we can out of, say, writing about it instead. That’s a big reason why I started this blog.
I’ve had people become so frustrated, and say “Oh, but I’m happy you trusted me with this though!” I’ve recounted events from previous hospitalizations only to look up to see my friend in tears at something that I didn’t think was all that terrible, and then tell me “I’m glad that you feel like you can talk to me.” Okay, well…neither of those things is “I’m glad you told me.” It’s, “I’m glad you trusted me.” Very different things, or so it seems to me. Because then when the seemingly inevitable distancing follows, it sure doesn’t feel like they’re happy I told them. It seems like they don’t know how to react, like they don’t want to deal with it, like a lot of things that aren’t “I’m glad you told me.”
We need to talk about it. I need to talk about it. I spent a large part of my diagnosed life, until I started college, really, not saying anything to anyone about it. I would smile and nod and say “I’m feeling well today.” I would lie through my teeth. On the days I couldn’t lie, I would isolate myself to avoid having to tell the truth. After years of being questioned and doubted pre-diagnosis, I was terrified of what the reaction to the truth might be. While eventually I did start to open up, I can’t help but feel as though I’ve predominantly succeeded in hurting those around me, and making the relationship more difficult in the process. Once those words have been said, they can never go away. Once you expose those weaknesses, you can never be seen without them again. Maybe that isn’t a bad thing, but it is a scary one, and maybe, in the end, the costs don’t outweigh the benefits. I don’t know.
Conclusion: I was recently told, while talking about how rarely I’ve been able to explain my disease in any meaningful way to those around me, that I don’t have enough faith in people. I was told this by someone who was having a visibly hard time handling the things I had told him about my disease. Distancing ensued.