Most chronic sufferers usually begin to share less and less about their illnesses and their lives as time goes by because 1. No one truly understands 2. It takes energy that we don’t have. 3. It can be deeply saddening to have to constantly repeat what your life is now like compared to what you had hoped and 4. Many people treat it like a competition (“oh I am far worse off than you!”). So we don’t talk about it. I don’t anyway.
Over the holidays I summoned up the strength to make a few calls to people that I don’t normally get to speak to, but I wanted to reassure some people that they were still important to me and in my thoughts. So I called. Thankfully many didn’t answer as they were all busy enjoying themselves. Others… well… read on.
Call one: upon calling this person I was already preparing for what would be said. The constant complaining about their lives. The endless list of their problems throughout the year. Almost the entire call devoted to them. Thankfully this means that I get to mostly listen and occasionally make a sound confirming that I am still on the line. It’s really quite energy saving although very isolating. After 15 minutes I had simply agreed to everything that was said and hung up.
Call two: after surviving the veiled insults about not calling enough I was once again informed of the difficulties of their lives and how aging was too much to bare. Not one thought given to why I may not have called or how much pain I may have endured for so many years. Awkward silence. A cursory enquiry about me is made and then quickly spoken over to redirect the conversation again. 20 minutes and then over.
Call three: after the exchange of well wishes and seasons greetings there is an awkward silence. I asked how life had treated them this year and was assured that their success was thriving and their wealth and achievements had gone beyond their expectations. A quick mention of their plans for future success and then the question I fear the most… what about you? Sadly the only success I can claim is that I have somehow survived another year and endured things that I wished I never had to. Apart from this my days are very similar and had few highlights, or what others would call achievements anyway. Awkward silence and then another round of well wishes before closure. 15 minutes and another call ended.
Caller four: saving the last call for someone who appreciates the many challenges my husband and I have faced is a truly welcome relief. Someone who can handle the truth of our lives without judgments or competitive urges. Someone with whom I can make light of the suffering and still feel at ease about being myself. Someone who appreciates me for who I am and still sees the person beneath the declining health and the fears for the future. It is the gift I truly want at this time of the year! The only gift I could ever want. Listening. Sharing. Laughing. Relaxing. And then being able to say I am exhausted my friend and sadly I must go for now. Time is irrelevant and well spent. Such calls and people are extremely rare. Extremely. And priceless.
As I retreat to my bed I reflected the calls made and the relative merits of each one. I am reminded that this pretty much sums up a years worth of conversations and what people say and do.
Sometimes we don’t just have to survive the illnesses themselves but we also have to survive what people say to us!