Stop Playing the Game
This isn’t a snowflake thing…
I want to take a moment to talk about sensitivity. This isn’t a snowflake thing or some kind of request for you not to feel exactly how you do in any given moment – it’s the opposite, actually. Let’s say, for example, that you’re sharing with a healthy friend about how you’re feeling unwell in some way. It’s not a great feeling when that friend retorts with some comment about how sick they feel. It’s definitely not the same and feels really crummy, even when it’s coming from good intentions.
So why do we do this to others? Sometimes even to those in our own PI community? Why must it be a competition between laundry lists of diagnoses and ailments, coupled with some judgement of whose is worse? We only see a brief peek into the lives of others, but we’re quick to assume our experience is just so much worse. I’ve done it and, if you’re honest, you know you’ve done it, too, whether to other PI people or to the healthier people in your life going through a difficult time.
My Tips and Tricks
I’m going to offer something that has helped me re-frame how I try to respond to people. Am I perfect? Absolutely not, but I have been working on ways to be more supportive while also acknowledging my own feelings. One of the best ways to do that is to admit that what they’re experiencing is crappy for them. Whether or not you think it’s to the level that your thing is, it’s important to realize that other people have valid negative feelings before you pile on with how much worse your situation is. You may begin to realize that you have more in common when you first stop to think, “How is this other person experiencing this?”
Even that little piece of empathy makes a big difference and can reshape your conversations with others, reducing your level of loneliness in the process. PI can be a lonely thing, so it’s best if we can find ways to stop isolating ourselves and building our own barriers. The first step is to focus on the other person, before focusing on yourself, because that engenders more sympathy at the end of the day.
It can also be really hard to see other people with happy news. How do you respond when a friend tells you they got a promotion and you’ve been out of work for months or years? How do you find a spark of hope when it seems like life is going so much better for everyone else? I can’t really tell you how to do that, but when I’m in that situation, I apply the same method as above. I try and focus on the feelings of the person I’m interacting with. They’re not sharing their news to make you feel worse, but because they want to share their happiness with you. Can’t we all use a little more happiness? Even if you’re faking in the beginning, a simple response of, “Having a hard time lately, so it’s great to hear your wonderful news. Thank you for sharing it with me.” You are sharing your difficulty (which may mute your response to some extent) while also acknowledging they are sharing something wonderful with you. Embrace the bright spots where you can, as much as you can, because those are the things that are the most life-affirming.
I’m not saying to fake happiness or hide your own feelings, merely suggesting that embracing the feelings of others as an initial response is a good way to garner more support for your own highs and lows. I have found those are the people in my life that embrace me more when I have my highs and lows.
Are there other things you do to help you get out of your own feelings and support others?
We are not doctors, everything we write or share on Immune Competence is from personal experiences, and should not be taken as medical advice. Having a rare and chronic disease can be a lot to handle by itself, adding the additional things that come with it can make it overwhelming.
If you find that you are in distress or crisis, please call the National Suicide Hotline 1-800-273-8255. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.
We are big supporters of seeking professional help if you ever need to talk to someone about what is going on. You are stronger and better for asking for help.
If you ever just a need a Zebra buddy, you can always reach out to Colin or I!