By Maureen DeGarmo
When I am in a group of people, I try my best to wear a smile despite my chronic vertigo and frequent pain. This may seem disingenuous, but I do this to protect myself. In my experience, an event with a large group of people is not the time and place to share details or to provide an accurate response to the question, “How are you?” Here’s why.
I need a break from focusing on my illness. Most of the time, I am at home where it is difficult to focus on outside interests. If I am having a flare, then it is impossible to do so. Leaving the house for a fun activity of any type provides me with a welcome distraction. If friends ask me how I am, I know that they are doing so because they care about me, but I may not feel like talking about it in that setting.
I took the time to do my hair and make-up and I want to enjoy myself. Let’s be honest, there are days when I don’t really want to be seen. I may have what I call “sticky-up hair,” which means that I let it air dry and it is sticking out in an odd shape. My clothing is the most-comfy, least-flattering styles that I own. So, if I have taken the time to be proud of my appearance, then I want it to be worth the effort. I want to have fun just as much as my “normal” friends – perhaps even more so, because it happens less often for me.
You might judge me, and I can’t take that chance. Some friends will understand what it’s like to have a chronic illness, and some won’t. Loving, supportive people may see the physical and emotional pain that I am experiencing and try to suggest ways to fix the problem. This can do more harm than good, since not only have I probably tried their ideas already, but I feel like I have to defend myself. When I am attending a fun event, this can take more energy that I want to expend.
What is the solution? Start by ensuring that you are speaking to a supportive friend (read more about that, here). If a friend truly sounds interested, and you trust them to be supportive, then suggest a get-together on another day. If they don’t pass the supportive-test, then try having a couple of phrases ready in advance, such as “I am just happy to be here!” or “I am managing.” Remember that deflecting their comments is a way to protect yourself from negative comments or intrusive questions. Keep your voice light and move the conversation forward.
For more information on identifying your support system, check out the seminar recording that is included in our Personal Package.