So, I'm sick. In that vague "we don't know what's wrong with you and there's no visible symptoms! You can see a neurologist... eventually" sort of way. It sucks, but it could be worse. It's very much an on/off sort of situation. I'm either fine, or I'm not, and I can usually tell when I'm about to cease being fine (or might be, anyways) and can escape to safety (what ever that means) and decide if I want to take the (only slightly scary) prescription pain killers that live in my purse or just curl up in a ball of pain and fuckthisshit. This has been something I've been evasively describing as "migraines" to those who need to know something is up, but the situation has gotten to the point that I'm on disability at work now (well, will be. I think? Paper work is being processed. They may have fired me via paper work? I'm having a hard time getting any sort of answers about what the hell is going on). All in all,
I held off on telling my family what was going on (I still haven't told most of them) and dread getting into it with friends (sometimes I mention I'm on disability now when people ask me about work, other times I just lie and say I'm still working) because I keep having to go through the exact same shit. So, if you're like me when faced with a loved one who is sick and desperately want to help even if you have no idea how to do that here are some tips on what NOT to do from someone who has now been on both sides of that fence!
If you find out someone in your life is sick/dealing with some huge scary thing/insert shit storm here, do NOT get upset at them for not telling you sooner.* I don't care if it's your grandparents/kids; they're adults who get to decide when and what to share, and making them have this conversation will make them want to tell you less in the future. Instead just reassure them that you have their backs, which brings me to...
"Hey, is there anything I can do to help?" Listen, I feel you on this. I've been on the other side of the fence, and I get that you just don't know what to do, so you ask, but there is a very huge chance that the person doesn't know themselves. So if you're going to ask, maybe in the future offer specific things like "Want me to pick up some groceries? Need a lift? How about I come over and make you dinner? Need help researching X? Want me to take the kids for an afternoon, need a distraction and want to go blow off steam?" and don't pressure them to say yes. If they DO accept an offer, do it cheerfully and without a single complaint, and never mention what a huge favor you're doing. People are proud and it can be really hard to say yes to these offers, if they feel they may be taking advantage of you, it can be damned near impossible to say yes to them.
"Are you allergic to gluten?" If one more person asks me this I might punch them. I'm not even joking a little bit here. Unless you are a doctor, you should not be trying to diagnose people. You are not a doctor, and I have been dealing with this in some capacity for years (and its current one for months) and have been seeing a doctor! Anything you come up with off the top of your head is something that I have already thought of, as has my doctor, and as you pepper me with questions about my health/diet you are being as patronizing as you are invasive. It's also an unwanted and frankly cruel reminder that I don't know what is wrong with me, or what can set it off. **
"Well maybe it will all just magically get better! Just stay positive! It's all part of God's plan! Etc" I want anyone who says this to know it takes great effort for me to not just say "Fuck you" and walk away when you say this to me. What I am dealing with is very real, and you are implying there is a reason I am in so much pain that I am liable to puke at any moment? What, was there not enough tension so the great writer in the sky decided it was time to throw some shit at me to keep things from getting stale? Again, I get that you mean well and just don't know what to say, but "Try and stay positive, want to talk about it/a distraction?" is less frustrating and just as well intentioned. It also doesn't feel like you're just trying to shut me up because you're uncomfortable hearing about it. Guess what, I'M UNCOMFORTABLE FEELING IT!
"I am so upset about you being sick!"*** Rather than go on about how this is making someone already dealing with an issue (I keep using sick as the example but applies to most shit storms. Lost loved one, financial difficulties...) have to stop and waste mental energy and spoons on you, I'll just link to the wonderful kvetching circle. "I'm worried about you" expresses a similar thought but is less about you and more about them/their illness.
"How are you?" Okay, I admit this is probably about the extent of what I want people asking me (as I said, it's mostly an on/off switch for me, so this is a reasonable thing to check on) but try not to act like I'm about to shatter on the spot. I'm still a person, not an illness.
Don't tell me I can't be angry. Okay, this one might just be my Mother but when I started ranting about how frustrating/patronizing/invasive it was for people to constantly ask me about my medical history because apparently everyone around me has a secret medical degree? Her response was to tell me that they meant well and I couldn't go around talking like that to people and admonished me for sounding "pissed off". I am dealing with a lot already, and these people are making me deal with more. I get to be pissed off, and I get to vent.
Listen to them. Sometimes I want to talk about it, and sometimes I don't, and while it's fair game to check in at any point at which I am, some people check in because they want to talk about it and don't really listen to what I'm saying. If it's the type of medical issue that offers some very real restraints (can't walk far/stand/deal with loud noises) and they tell you that, remember it and don't make them repeat themselves. Again, people have limited time and energy and being sick cuts into that in ways you probably don't think of, you asking them to repeat their limitations repeatedly cuts into that. It's hard to remember everything, but there's a difference between making them say "Hey can we park closer? It makes a difference to me" instead of checking in on how far they can comfortably walk.
But I want to help and I need to ask them about gluten/whatever so I can make sure they are taken care of! It isn't about you. If you are doing this you are more concerned with feeling like you're helping than making the distressed person less distressed. Being sick is so much worse than I had ever thought. There is so much fear and frustration with not knowing, so much more than I had thought there was. I get it, you mean well! You only want to help! But intent is not fucking magic. And if there is only one thing you take from the list, let it be this: stop suggesting I'm allergic to gluten.
This list probably sounds bitchy, or ungrateful, but I've been on the other side, and been desperate to help and baffled on how to do so. I'm writing this now from the side of the person you so desperately want to help. I don't speak for all sick people, there are a lot of different kinds of "sick", but I will say this. Being on this side of the fence is different than I thought. It's scarier, more confusing, overwhelming and so frustrating. I'm writing this both as someone who's earnestly wanted to help, and who would earnestly like those around me to be able to.
So, readers, is there anything you'd add to the list?
For those of you wondering, 50 Shades will return next Thursday, and Cat's Cradle will run this Sunday. Hope to see you all then.
*Spouses exempt from this one.
** Will, being Will, has started saying things like "Good thing they figured out it was the stress-gluten in your birth control!" when I rant about people thinking they are entitled to my entire diet and medical history. I'm pretty sure he was nicer when I first met him and that I've gradually been breaking him.
***Spouses also exempt from this one.