Dear Carolyn: I’ve gone through some health challenges. Nothing that is likely to kill me, but I’ve spent literally years in pain and my life is far from what I had wished it would be. It’s a grief process, and it blows.
However, I feel like I can’t express grief or give a realistic (but not gross) depiction of my symptoms without hearing that I should “stay positive!” or “be strong!” I feel brushed off or almost bullied into putting on this chipper exterior in order to make others feel better about my illness. Or, on bad days, I feel like I’m a drag, and maybe I am really just whining.
How can I diplomatically convey that sunshine and rainbows aren’t helping, and I’d rather have compassion?
Not a Game Show Host
Not a Game Show Host: To your closest friends, you say as much. “I realize it’s hard to know what to say to someone in my position. I respond better to [things you like to hear] than I do to [things you don’t like to hear], but I also feel whiny pointing that out.” And, most important: “Thank you for asking about me. I get discouraged sometimes, and your support really helps.”
To others who aren’t as close to you, you say as little as possible, because that’s what it means to not be close — you trade surface information, not the depth of your grief. Accordingly, people who are just trying to be polite should get just a polite answer: “I’m muddling through. Thanks so much for asking.”
At least, that’s what you do unless and until you’re invited to say more by someone who is making an effort to know you better. The extent of someone’s interest isn’t always easy to read in the moment, especially when you’re in chronic and preoccupying pain, but follow-up questions are the universal sign of concern. Answer questions minimally and then wait to be prompted for more.
Or, of course, don’t wait and instead just change the subject to something you’d rather discuss.
The linchpin? Getting your unburdening needs met outside of your typical social interactions. Support groups are made for this; many are online for people who don’t have one locally, they’re typically free, and they’re populated by people who have lived your exact complaint.
If you don’t have a named condition around which a support community has been built, then you can turn to a group based on chronic pain. Unload there so you can talk elsewhere about the weather without wanting to scream.
Hi, Carolyn: My husband and I are friends with “Brad” and “Connie,” an engaged couple. We have been invited to their wedding. Brad and Connie have been friends with my brother and sister-in-law, but due to a huge falling out, my brother is not invited to the wedding.
I can see both sides of the issue but am trying to remain impartial. However, I know Brad and Connie have been deliberately hurtful to my brother and sister-in-law.
My question is whether to go to the wedding. My husband says we should, since we weren’t involved in the fight and have our own relationship; my parents (who were also invited) refuse to go, saying it’d be a slap in my brother’s face for them to invite his family and not him, and for his family to attend. Thoughts?
Anonymous: Neutrality is a luxury. It is reserved for those who don’t know enough details to declare one side at fault or who know enough details to say with confidence that both sides share the blame.
If you know to a reasonable degree of certainty that Brad and Connie have been “deliberately hurtful” to your brother and that your brother and sister-in-law have not reciprocated, then neutrality is a luxury you can’t afford. It’s the same calculation you have to make when there’s a divorce in your inner circle: Stay friends with someone’s ex, sure, but not with an abusive ex. It matters how antagonists choose to behave, even when you love them both.
This raises another problem for you, though. If, again, you know Brad and Connie deliberately hurt your family members — or anyone, for that matter — then this can’t just be about wedding attendance anymore, either. It has to at least trigger a conversation on whether you can justify being friends with people who would stoop to that. That’s the face-slap. So, that’s the conversation you and your husband need to have.
Dear Carolyn: I have a good friend who talks about her job a lot. Both substance and office politics. It’s not just that it’s boring to listen to, but it also makes me think about my job, which I prefer to leave at the office. Would it be rude to ask for work talk to be more limited?
Too Much: Nope: “This is giving me work stress. Mind if we talk about something else?”