Let’s Talk About; Other People
Discussing people in your life when talking about an illness is a really tricky business. On one hand, you want all the help you can get – on the other, you don’t want to burden other people with that knowledge.
I know this; I’ve been there. Hell, I am there. Recently, I put up an Instagram post on my illness. It was the hardest article I’ve ever had to write in my life. Not because I didn’t know what to say – in all honesty, I didn’t want to say anything – but because I didn’t know how to express myself without being relatively angry, particularly graphic or my usual sarcastic.
Why are we talking about coping with people?
I posted the explanation because I found that I was lying to old friends. I’m fine, I would say, I’ve just had a few issues with my health. The reality of this is, I’ve had more than a ‘few hiccups’ with my health. I really struggled with this lie, that I was telling just to save face. I decided that honesty, about myself, my work, my study, and my illness was the best way to go. I’m yet to see how it turns out; I’ve three twenty firsts coming up, so maybe I’ll find out then.
The thing that I discovered was that I would rather that people knew the truth rather than the lie I told to save face. Yes, it’s going to lead to some awkward encounters, about 12 likes and the loss of some friends. However, if my friends cope with the fact that I’m chronically ill – not contagious, not cured, just in limbo – then I don’t want them in my life anyway.
Am I qualified to help you?
Not really. As I constantly tell you, I’m not a doctor, nor am I a therapist. However, I have seen a lot of psychologists, psychiatrists and therapists over the last few years. One of the things that I’ve learned is that mentally, I’m fairly strong, something I genuinely didn’t think would be the case. When you have as many appointments as any sick-person does, you tend to develop that ability.
Although I do not have the educational experience, I do have the field hours. And, I do have a few tips and strategies that I’ve picked up that I thought I would share. Sometimes it’s hard to communicate what you need to people who are trying so desperately hard to understand what’s going on. This specifically includes immediate family, like parents and siblings, and close friends.
The first thing you need to do is identify the problem.
Start by doing a brain dump; write down all the things that are bothering you. Let them spew out – you’re annoyed that your brother for not taking the bins out, frustrated at your best friend for assuming you’d happily cancel plans so she could hang with her boyfriend, angry at your parents for constantly using the pronoun ‘we’. You won’t always have to do this; my therapist calls this ‘clearing away the sludge’; things you’ve been holding onto forever that have been bubbling over in your stomach, filling you up with more emotions and anxiety than you can control.
So make it a mind map. Make it a mess. Make a poster, make cue cards – do whatever you need to do to get all of the gunk off your chest. Then I like to start to highlight all the adjectives and verbs you’re using; annoyed, frustrated, angry. Usually, there are a few core emotions that drive the feelings of being overwhelmed; frustrated, hurt, sad. Angry in generally a defence mechanism for being sad or hurt, so do analyse feelings of overwhelming rage.
With another colour, highlight the people.
Your brother, your best friend, your parents. If they’re close to you, most likely there’s some kind of root issue. If they aren’t (e.g. You’re annoyed at the lady in the post office) then there’s got to be some other explanation.
I used to find that I would just continuously get frustrated at people in positions of authority; teachers, parents, doctors. After a soul-searching, I realised – I felt like I wasn’t being listened to. It was just assumed that I would go along with whatever they suggested. This didn’t come easily – I think it took me months to figure out why I was really feeling so bottled up. I promise the work is worth it.
Hence, comes the next part of the process; what do you need?
What exactly is going to make the root situation better? For me, I was feeling like I wasn’t being listened to. Everyone used plurals, everyone was a part, but no one was feeling the pain I was in. No matter how involved they were, I was at the centre of the issue. So I needed to express that I needed to feel like I was being heard.
There are always, of course, unrelated issues to the core problem. Not everything gets back to your deep dark hurt! Once you’re understanding how you really feel about being sick, you need to find ways to deal with all and any other conflicts with people in your life.
It’s a really, lovely, easy math problem.
Once you’ve identified your emotion and who it’s directed at, you have a semi-solution. Then, you sit down with that person, and you say something along the lines of ‘I’m finding it really frustrating that I have to keep doing your chores. I would really appreciate it if we could make a schedule so you do your half, and I do mine’.
HOWEVER ‘I need you to do your chores’ is not a solution. That’s what’s supposed to be happening and already isn’t. Something concrete, enforceable and material is always a good solution.
However, if that can’t happen, having a few lines that you repeat to people is a good coping mechanism too. For me, especially with doctors, I said things like ‘I understand, but I don’t feel like you’re listening to what I need’. Need is a keyword; not want. If I’m being honest, sometimes I snapped, especially when male specialist spoke over me; that particularly peeved me off.
I had a therapist – a very good one, who helped me a lot in the beginning – who told me ‘you can apologise for how you say something, but not for what you say’. It’s my favourite saying. She was very good at helping me get the root of the problem, at helping me understand feelings I’d just squashed down for so long.
I’m not saying this is an easy process; it hurts, you, your friends, and your family.
For a few months, you’ll feel like you’re nitpicking everything your family is doing. ‘Mum, I feel upset because’ was a common phrase in my home. But once you get all that old gunk out of the way – the grudge you’re holding onto from year 7, the irritating placement of the chair in the corner – it’s much easier to express your feelings, and ultimately leads to fewer arguments.
I will say, however, that this only works if your family and friends are in on what you’re doing. Don’t just start nitpicking; tell them the process. Tell them you want to start expressing your feelings in a different way, and although it might be hard for a while, you hope it’ll ultimately work. Show them the formula. Encourage them to do it too.
For more information, you can look up the actual therapy, and not just my modification of it. It’s called Mickle Therapy and is practised as an alternative therapy worldwide. I will say this way of thinking changed both my life and my health drastically.