I’ve always tried to make myself available and approachable to anyone who needed the extra support. Whether it be my friends going through a hard time, a stranger crying in a bathroom or someone posting a sad status on Facebook – I always offer genuine support and make it clear that I am happy to listen to them when they need to talk. Lately, I’ve noticed a huge change with my friends though, and I need to put a stop to it.
A lot of my conversations lately seem to be going a little like this:
Me: ‘How are you?’
Friend: ‘I’m ok, I’ve just been so busy with work and I had the flu last week.’
Me: ‘Oh no! That’s not good, how are you feeling now? Have you caught up on work?’
Friend: ‘I’m sorry, I shouldn’t complain. It’s nothing compared to what you’re going through!’
I get where you’re coming from, I really do, but I want you to stop it. Stop invalidating your problems because they’re not as ‘bad’ as mine. I haven’t forgotten what it’s like to have ‘normal’ people issues like work and study loads, relationship issues and whatever else you may be dealing with. I know these are genuine problems you face in your life and it’s okay to talk to me about them. In fact, I’d rather you talk to me about them instead of pointing all the attention to my issues all the time. We’re friends, our relationship should have a mutual complaining ground – none of this ‘you’re problems are worse so I won’t talk about me’ BS!
I’ll admit that sometimes when you tell me how tired or sore you are, I want to roll my eyes and tell you that you don’t even know what those things feel like; that is a flaw of mine that I am currently working on. But rationally I know that you are legitimately tired and sore because I have been a ‘healthy’ tired and sore myself and I know it’s no walk in the park. You have every right to tell me you feel these things. If anything I understand how hard it is to function while feeling that way and most of the time I genuinely can empathise with you.
I’ve always held the belief that it’s not the problem itself that defines how ‘bad’ a particular issue is, it is the way in which the affected person copes with said problem. For me, most days I cope extremely well with my chronic illness – despite the constant presence of my symptoms. I could, in fact, be coping better with my illness than you are with your work stress, therefore making your issues ‘bigger’ than mine. We all cope with things very differently, that’s what makes us human.
Putting all the focus on me and my problems is also not healthy for me. Sometimes I just want to sit with you and listen to you talk about your life for a while so I can stop thinking about mine and pretend for a little while that I am ‘normal’. I understand you have a genuine concern for my health but it doesn’t need to be at the centre of every conversation we have. If I feel that I have a pressing health matter to discuss with you, chances are I will bring it up without prompting anyway. If we are talking about me, try and throw in a non-health related question about what else I’ve been doing, what TV show I’m watching, what I ate for dinner or anything else you can think of. I really appreciate when my friends encourage me to talk about non-health related aspects in my life because it reminds me that I still have a fraction of control left and my life is not totally dictated by my chronic illness.
I don’t want to be a victim of chronic illness, so I don’t want you to treat me like one. Instead of saying things like ‘I feel so sorry for you,’ you could say ‘that’s so shitty, but you’re doing a great job.’ The second statement reinforces positivity and makes me think ‘fuck yeah I am awesome,’ whereas the first makes me sink in my chair and think ‘wow, yeah my life sucks.’ While I do a good job of staying positive on my own, at the end of the day the people I interact with play a big role in shaping my attitude too. It’s okay for you to empathise with me but constantly reinforcing negative statements is not good for me and it’s not what I want to hear. I will eventually elaborate on this more in a later post because I feel like this is a bigger issue on its own.
I am in no way saying that you are being a bad friend by putting all the focus on me and my health, so please don’t think that. I am actually saying you’re being too considerate. A friendship needs to be mutual; I know you’re happy to sit there and hear me talk about my problems so let me sit here and listen to yours too. Your problems are just as important as mine.
Next time you stop yourself from telling me about your shitty day at work or the cold you had last week just remember that you aren’t doing me any favours. I genuinely care about you and what’s going on in your life, the last thing I want is for you to feel like you can’t talk to me.