Tuesday, March 1, 2016

THE BATTLE OF HEALTH CHALLENGES — PART ONE

To clarify the title, this is something I’ve known inside myself I need to write about publicly for a long time, but it feels very overwhelming and self-exposing. I’ve worked up the courage to do it, with the hope that SOMEONE out there might actually find something valuable in what I have to share. Make a comment if you’re listening. But it’s complicated for me, hence must be divided into parts . . . 

Part One: Human Interaction

I’ve never been one of those people who lies in response to the question, “How are you?” If someone asks the question in greeting, and they are merely acquaintances—or even strangers—I usually answer with something simple like, “I’m okay.” It’s truthful, even if mentally I’m adding clarifications like: “I’m okay even though my head feels like it weighs three hundred pounds.” Or I’m okay in spite of the sensation that I have a spike poking out of my brain.” Or: “I’m okay even though my body would desperately prefer to be in bed.” If I say “I’m okay,” I really am okay. Okay is relative, but I’m not socially naive enough to think that every person I encounter who politely asks the question should know—or even want to know—the whole truth. I consider my answer to be in keeping with social discretion.

When someone asks how I’m doing, and that person is within certain social circles where I know they’re aware of my health challenges, I tend to give a more open answer while still attempting to keep it simple. “It’s a struggle but I’m managing.” “I’m very blessed in spite of the challenges.” “I’m just taking it one day at a time.” These are a few of many typical answers I might give in response to the question. I don’t want to really get into an oratory about my health in a brief encounter with another person. It’s very complicated, and I’ve found from vast experience—and much regret—that trying to explain an iceberg in the time available to barely expose the tiniest tip of ice, ends up giving people the wrong impression, or thinking they know the whole story from that small piece of information, which often follows with people giving well-intended advice that is something my medical journey crossed off the list years ago. So, I try to keep it brief and as positive as I can manage, and quickly try to turn it around with, “How are you?” I often hear myself saying in conversations: “Enough about my health; it’s boring.” And to me it is. If someone is genuinely interested in the details of my medical issues, they’d better be prepared for a lengthy oration that could likely benefit from a Powerpoint demonstration. So, we’d better be sitting someplace comfortable, because I can’t stand up very long. 

I’ve had a few well-meaning people come right out and tell me that I should just tell people I’m fine, I’m great, I’m wonderful. Even if I’m not. And if I say it and believe it then I will be. This never felt comfortable to me. I’ve observed those people as I know they’re in pain or suffering—whether emotionally or physically—and they smile and pretend it’s okay and lie to even the people who sincerely want to know and would like to help. What kind of humanity are we if we’re not here to help each other, to offer compassion and kindness even if we can’t solve the problems? Ironically, I had a conversation with one of my sons about this, since I was wondering at one time if there was something wrong with me in wanting to be honest in answering the “How are you?” greeting in our culture. He was working on a psychology degree at the time, and we had many fascinating conversations about psychological principles. He told me that this very thing had been a recent topic of one of his class lectures. This attitude of being dishonest with yourself and others about your own physical or emotional state had actually proven to be a common precursor to suicide. Whoa! Okay, I’m just going to try to keep being honest. My opinion is that if you don’t want to know how someone is doing, don’t ask. Say “It’s good to see you,” or “I hope you’re doing well” or “That color looks good on you.” But don’t ask someone how they’re doing if you don’t want an honest answer. That’s life according to Anita.

While I’m still up on my soapbox, I must admit that I’ve given an enormous amount of thought about how physical and emotional ailments are treated within our culture. Even though I’m well aware that people have their own issues, most of which they would also keep to themselves, I’m also aware that my challenges are extreme in contrast to the average person, and it takes more than a sentence or two to give someone even a glimpse into the reality of what I deal with day-to-day. Casual greetings don’t offer opportunities to delve into the realities of true human drama—but that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. One of my points being that we can’t express—or get insight into—the real struggles of people through Twitter, Instagram, and texts. And Facebook was never intended to be “Dear Diary.” Now, I love all of these technological marvels of social media. I love to share little things and I love to get glimpses into the lives of others. But when it comes to facing and dealing with the BIG things, I believe we truly need more face time with people who really care about us, and people we really care about. If miles or situations prevent face time, then get on the phone and talk. It’s the next best thing to being there. Something happens in actual conversation that doesn’t happen through social media. When I’m able to talk and cry to someone about how it REALLY is, I feel validated and comforted (depending of course on how they respond, but then I usually have discernment enough to not delve deeply into conversation with someone I don’t trust). The wonderful thing is that I can do the same for others. When I hear about the real-life struggles of another person, I want to be able to offer encouragement and perspective, I want to be a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on—whether figuratively or literally. This interaction of human compassion is at the heart of true love and pure charity. Coming from someone who has become extremely isolated and downhearted due to excessive health issues and depression, I cannot express the value of such interaction. And yet life is crazy and full of busyness, and it’s so easy to just send a text or ask in passing, “How are you?” without really listening to the answer. I’m as guilty of it as anyone else. But I don’t want to be. I want to listen more, care more, and be heard more. I believe it could be a huge step in the quest to help alleviate human suffering. 

6 comments:

Readbookworm said...

So well said Anita. I feel I really understand where you are coming from, starting with Celiac Disease to my other autoimmune stuff going on, what you have said sounds a lot like me. Thank you for expressing yourself, for sharing your personal experiences, as well as your talent. I think you are an amazingly strong person for going through everything you have and still written all you have. I'm not saying it's easy, because I know it isn't. Keep hanging in there. Know you are loved and included in prayers.

whenDisneymeetsAnime said...

Amen to that. I myself am guarded when asked the question, "How are you doing?" If it's someone I trust and love and I know they will listen, I explain. Otherwise I just keep it to myself because it seems too exhausting to do otherwise. Thank you so much for your posts. They are a bright spot in my week, and are usually things that are helping me in my life right now. The best to you and your family! You are in our prayers.

The Writing Wizard said...

Your posts lift me up so much, Anita! Thank you for sharing your experiences with us even though I'm sure it's not easy. You're an inspiration to me. God bless!

Amanda Wilhelm said...

So - how are you? (I'm a menace. I know.) I miss you so much. I miss hearing the answer to that question. I always want to know how you are. I have so often wanted to answer that question truthfully, and so rarely have. I know the question was asked in politeness or in place of "Hello," and I don't want to shock them. I don't want them to run crying to call their spouse or to HR. I am afraid to burden anyone with the truth. So I say fine, and from time to time, it is true. (I suppose I have a more casual relationship with truth in this area.)

I always know someone wants my truth when they ask, "How are you . . . really?" or they give me the under the eyelashes look. You know that look. That I'm not going anywhere until you talk look, and by the way I love you. When confronted with that look, I still have a choice - do I have the energy to tell the truth? The truth takes energy. "Fine" is so much easier.

Alas, you've got me thinking again, as you always do. I love your blogs. You are so dear to me.

Strawberry Girl said...

You are brave Anita, I read the Emily and Michael series when I was a young teenage mom struggling with an abusive relationship. I listened to the Jayson Wolfe series when I was going through a divorce, folding my babies clothing and giving it away because I had to move on. You’ve helped me cry when I needed to and I’ve found strength in your thoughts, in your stories. I was sad to hear that you had been diagnosed with Celiacs, also sad to hear that you struggle with depression. The two were related for me, the one brought on the other I think.
It's true, there's only so much that can be said in the flitting interactions between people, the short time that we allot as we walk past each other in the hallway or interact with them in a break room or foyer. It does feel disingenuous to answer that you're doing well when really you are not. Sometimes there are so many things going wrong for such a long time that it feels so melodramatic to explain what's going on. When you can't eat something because it will make you sick... that's really weird to people. Food is such a social thing, people feel invested in food, they feel good when they share food with others and feel offended (it seems) when people reject the food that they are trying to share. There's almost nothing that I can eat that other people commonly eat (glutenous foods, milk, tomatoes... etc. etc.) I'm rejecting food all day long and it is so isolating because people feel like I am rejecting them. I have to make an effort in other ways to connect, it’s hard because my thoughts don’t seem to connect well with the words that I speak (or I just feel too darn vulnerable when I speak). Living, and learning how to live, without giving into despair is the human condition. Loving even when we've been hurt, giving even though we feel like we've got nothing to give. "If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew, to serve your turn long after they are gone, and so hold on when there is nothing in you, except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!" That’s what I admire, the human spirit, there are so many hidden battles taking place that I think we would all be shocked if we knew how brave other people have been.

Anonymous said...

Amen! Thank you for your bravery and openness. You have so much wisdom and I'm grateful that you share it with us.