Aren’t I brave to post a picture with no make-up on a “horrible, rotten, no-good day”? I decided last minute to stop in at work on Monday to check my mail box. I forget to do it during the summer when I’m not teaching. Anyway, I ran into a person I know fairly well. I almost ran the other direction because I know her well enough that I didn’t want her to see me with no make-up, flip-flops, and blue jeans. However, since SHE had all that going on too… I decided to let her flag me down instead of pretending I didn’t see her. We exchanged the “how’s your summer going?” questions and visited for a few minutes. We’ve served on various committees together and so when she asked me, “So how are you really doing?” I didn’t hesitate to answer truthfully. Silly me, I thought she wanted to know!
“Well, I have had a bad day. I get super tired of falling on rainy days. Ya know? But the weather for the rest of the week looks great” and I beamed my best smile!
She said (I kid you not), “Yeah, I fell this weekend and broke my friggin’ nail. Just look!” (she sticks her finger in my face for easier viewing). “I just got a manicure too!”
Now the first thing that popped into my head wasn’t nice. So I’m not even going to repeat it on here. My second thought, however, was “this is why I’m not honest to people face-to-face“. Besides… if you don’t live with a chronic illness or disability, you just can’t understand what having a bad day for THAT person really means. (I can’t completely understand YOUR bad day either). It’s not their fault. I chose to believe she was trying to commiserate and help in some way. I “ooo’d and aaaah’d” over her broken, manicured nail, getting madder and madder (but doing a fantastic job of hiding it, I might add!)
After due diligence in bemoaning her broken nail, I turned to leave. Since I had been holding her wrist to get a better look at the nail, I dropped my hand (and her hand) as I turned to walk away. It was then she noticed my arm. “Oh my gosh. What did you do to your arm?”
I turned my arm to look at where she was looking and saw a row of purple and blue bruises. “Oh that,” I said breezily, “yeah, I said I fell, right?” Her eyes got really big, and she whooshed out on an astonished breath, “Well, I’m an ASS, aren’t I?”
I giggled. Not at her.
Ok, yes it was AT her, but her self-condemnation and horrified look were truly priceless. I assured her that all was well, working hard to make sure we went our separate ways with friendship and her self-esteem still intact. After all, I didn’t want her to think that *I* thought she was an a**. Even though I did…
Why We Dodge the “HOW ARE YOU?”
On the short drive home I belly-ached out loud to Milo (new Service Dog). One of the great things about service dogs is their non-judgmental, listening ears. When I’m angry, I tend to cry. Not sad tears either. (Hubby has learned to not “there-there” me when he sees tears because chances are he’s in trouble and not that I’m sad and need a shoulder).
Many people with chronic illness and disabilities lie. Not premeditated lying. It’s more of a self-protective omission of the truth. When your NORMAL is not “normal” for people who do not live with significant health challenges, you do not really have symptom-free days. Instead, you learn to appreciate the good days and try super hard not to dwell on the bad days. You don’t ever answer “how are you?” truthfully. (Unless the person who asks lives it too and really gets it). You don’t want to be a negative Nellie; a sour puss; a stick in the mud; __________________ (fill in the blank).
So you dodge the question, or flat out lie. I had a friend tell me that “stating how my day really is going doesn’t make my day better. It only depresses the other person. Since there isn’t anything they can really DO to make it better, I grab FRIENDSHIP by the collar and don’t let go, insisting my day is going very well if only to talk to a friendly face for a few moments longer”.
Don’t get me wrong… we all need some folks we can be honest with and tell it like it is. For me, it is often God because I figure His shoulders are broad enough. Sometimes I need a flesh-and-blood human face to talk, too. This is why I highly recommend support groups. I rely on the people I have come to know at Fidos For Freedom. We couldn’t be any more different. We struggle with completely different kinds of disabilities and challenges, but each one of us understands why we dread the “how are you?” question. Even virtual support (through the medium of the Internet) can be very therapeutic to people with chronic illness and disabilities.
But… I really want to know! I really want to help!
I have a few people in my life (and I hope that you do, too) who I can be honest with when I’m overwhelmed with a “horrible, rotten, no-good day”. They may ask, “how are you really doing?” and I TELL them. The obvious next question is, “Well, what can I do to help?” Ya know? I’ve really wanted to take people up on this before. I mean… sometimes it may be that I need someone to go shopping with me. Milo is terrific, but there are some things he cannot pick up and some things I really wish I hadn’t dropped to start with! (like glass). Shopping is exhausting for me but a necessary chore.
My son has a “temporary disability” as he fell through the ceiling while in the attic and broke his arm. (The full story is much longer, but I’m not going there today). He is really struggling with doing “normal” things because he has one hand. So I asked him, “what can I do to help?”
Laundry. My son asked me to do his laundry! And do you know, I was almost hysterical with JOY? I love to do laundry! I am ABLE to do laundry! I love pre-treating stains, choosing settings on the washer, and piling things in evenly. I love putting wet clothes into the dryer. And… (OMGosh I’m trembling with excitement I can hardly get it out…) I love folding warm clothes from the dryer. I’m getting goosebumps thinking about the neatly folded piles of “like” clothing. It’s a very normal (and for most people), boring task. However, “son” couldn’t do it. *I* could help.
If you are in a position to help someone who lives with chronic illness, doing something rather ordinary — is EXTRAORDINARY for them.
Loading/unloading the dishwasher
Washing the bedding and re-making the bed
Mowing the lawn
Deep-cleaning a bathroom
I know people with various disabilities who do things to help out others with disabilities. That’s how it should be, right? People… just helping PEOPLE.
Concluding full circle here – VENTING
I have some high maintenance friends. And you know something? I love them. I knew in advance they were high maintenance and I chose to be their friend anyway. I also have some friends who “hold their hand close to their chest”. Heck, if I’m really going to see their “hand”, I almost have to yank them towards me and demand “a real reveal”. I’ve had to learn how to “read” them. I very well may MISS IT sometimes – the clues that tell me that all is not well.
Sometimes people just need to vent. They KNOW you can’t do anything to improve their situation. They KNOW they will have better days (so please? Don’t tell them, “the sun will come out tomorrow”?) They may just need a few moments to tell you like it really is. You say, “How are you?” and they decide to open the dam. It may pour out of them. It may be a trickle of water that you have to give additional encouragement to in order to really break down that barrier.
Let them VENT.
… and then what? I don’t recommend patting them on the shoulder and asking if they feel better. What’s the next step?
It’s two years old now, but I love — absolutely LOVE this advice. <Click here for full article> The highlights and three follow-up (recommended) questions to a “Vent-or” are:
- What bothers you the most about the situation?
- What is making you the most _______________?
- (My favorite) What worries you about this?
This is listening done right. They vent. You follow-up with questions that let them know you were actually listening. You can brain-storm with them options that may help them with some of the things that are frustrating them. You may discover through dialoguing with them, a way that you can easily help them beyond providing a listening ear.
Folks who live with disabilities or chronic illness like being able to reciprocate, too. I am on CLOUD NINE that my son needs me to do his laundry for him right now. I love dog-sitting for my daughter’s dog when she needs to go out of town. There are some things I can do. Let me do them. 🙂
I hope you will look at venting a little differently after reading this. Especially if the venting you listen to is from someone who has significant health challenges. One of my dear friends has a seizure disorder as well as other significant health challenges. She often lets me hear how things are really going because she knows I care. I tell her I will be praying, and she knows I mean it. She immediately asks, “so how can I pray for YOU?” and I know she means it. A praying friend can be HUGE. Sometimes you can do more. I hope you will look for those opportunities. Lysa TerKeurst does a great job blogging about this. Please allow me to share her great article with you: “Don’t Say You’ll Pray for Me“.
© 2015 Personal Hearing Loss Journal
4 thoughts on “Why I Rarely Vent (in Person)”
I love this. It totally speaks for me in so many ways, even the broken arm! I broke my elbow quite a few years back and I remember just how grateful I was that my upstairs neighbor helped me shower, because I couldn’t get the splint wet. No, not just shower, but SHAVE!!! It was amazing. I felt human again, and it didn’t come at the cost of my brother helping me through it all.
Sometimes it’s just the little things that mean the most. I know I’m always thrilled when a guest jumps in the kitchen and helps me do the dishes (a chore I hate because it makes my skin crawl.) I loved it when I had a dear friend at the shelter to help me fold all my laundry at the end of the day when I’d pretty much resolved to just stuff it all aside and deal with it later because I was so tired, or when she did my chores because I was limping that day, or the day I had the nasty panic attack. Those were all little, normal things, but they meant the world to me.
So, how are ya doing today? 🙂 Man, if that isn’t the loaded question in most cases. It’s true, most people don’t really want to hear and say more than “great, I hope you are!” but it is those that I can tell, and who trust me to tell, that I cherish the most. I hate admitting my limitations and struggles. At the same time, I need people to tell them to, it keeps it real. I also hate (I’m hating today, I guess?) not telling a friend what’s going on because I know that in her attempts to show she cares, she will constantly ask how I’m doing with something. I don’t want to talk about it endlessly anymore than people want to hear about it endlessly. I just want to be heard once in a while. No, I’m not talking about you, the author. Ha! But clearly this piece touched a nerve. Thank you for that.
I think many of us who face extremes. We have people ask who don’t really care to know, and others who become pests. 😀
Sorry, I missed this comment! Yes, it’s a hard fit, to be heard, and not having go to extremes, even if our (or their) intention is good. A good, local friend recently lost a beloved dog to cancer. I was checking in a couple times (literally, twice) the first two days and she finally let me know that she MUCH appreciated the love and concern but could only do them in small doses. 🙂 So of course I skipped a day. Then, I let her give me cues on what to talk about.