The Kindness of Strangers
I can’t believe how long it’s been since I posted here. I was absolutely shocked when I saw the date on my last post. The last years have been completely nuts, and I couldn’t juggle all the things that I wanted to do. As much as I love all of you, something had to give for a while.
Rapid Recap: I started a part-time MBA program. The affordability of an employee discount for university employees made the program viable for me, but it also meant that I was juggling both a full-time job and a challenging educational program. Work and schoolwork took up all of my energy, time, and brain capacity. I finished the program and took a consulting job in an effort to get my career back on track. I usually travel to client sites Monday-Thursday and often work 10-14 hour days. Weekends tend to consist primarily of recuperating from the work week. Somewhere along the way, my list of topics to post about started to largely outpace my actual posts, until both my posts and my tweets dwindled away.
Then a month or so ago, I was sitting at the airport after a pretty rough week. At the table beside mine was a woman who was telling the waitress about a disappointing medical appointment that she flew in for. Somehow we were suddenly ordering more wine and discussing the challenges and frustrations of the diagnosis process. She was still coping with the changes to her “formerly bad-ass” lifestyle. I gave her some ideas about where to look for medical and social support resources. She was kind enough to take a moment out of her stressful day to chat about how I’d lost track of a lot of my online friends and my presence in this world. Next thing I knew, our flights were boarding and I had just enough time to give her my email address and this blog URL, but didn’t get a chance to get hers. I may never hear from her, but I hope she gets the answers and support that she needs. (If you read this, you should know that our conversation helped me start to find my own way back to the online community just like you hoped it would.)
As I’ve mentioned before, I hate watching people shrink away from me and our friendship, so I never mention the chronic illnesses until I think they won’t run away. Of course, the shocking reveal of the elephant they didn’t even realize was under the rug never goes well, and some of them run away anyway. Or pretend I never said anything. I’ve recently resolved to try and be more open earlier in a friendship. I tried this out with a new stranger recently, when I thought maybe he might become a friend. Maybe he’s just a great actor, but he was kind enough not to scream and run out of the restaurant so I’d call that a win. Unfortunately, I’ve gotten pretty rusty at how to express myself when new people learn about the chronics.
He’s been dealing with a temporary but frustrating injury, and I failed to be as supportive and understanding as I should have been. I get so frustrated sometimes when people get upset about transitory illnesses because I forget that for most people that’s what illness is. This doesn’t combine well with the fact that I’m not accustomed to explaining when and why the chronics are affecting the tone of my response to situations. Sometimes I don’t even realize how much the chronics are actually affecting my reactions and interpretations. The people that are well attuned to my life with the chronics are adept at the interpretation without needing excessive explanation. When I realized what was happening, and why he was so upset, we talked through it. I apologized and he was understanding and accepting of my reality – once I told him where I was coming from. (I haven’t decided whether I’m going to send this to you yet, but if you read it… I really am sorry.)
People don’t understand the way chronics can tentacle into all the different aspects of a person’s life if you never tell them. It was a humbling reminder that however long I’ve been dealing with the reality of chronics, I can never stop being mindful in how I interact with those who might be new to the reality. I didn’t anticipate how much harder repeatedly opening up like that would be with a stranger versus an established friend. Revealing the chronics to a stranger doesn’t end at the big reveal if that person sticks around and becomes a friend. This is especially true of real-world strangers as opposed to the support of strangers in the community who are already united through the experience of our chronics.
Was it worth it? Yeah, I think so.
Would I do it again? Probably, but I’ll be much more aware that the big reveal is actually level one of a conversational game of whack-a-mole.
I’ve heard from many of you through email or twitter over the past few years, but I’d love to hear what’s been going on with you the past few years. What did I miss?