We used to tell our children that an act of omission is as bad as an act of commission. That is, leaving out salient details is still not telling the truth, especially when we’re asking the questions…
I find myself committing acts of omission every day.
I had to cut short a get-together with a friend not too long ago, explaining that I hadn’t slept well the night before. It was absolutely true: I had slept fitfully and maybe 2 hours. What I left out was the reason: I’d had a flare-up of my rheumatoid arthritis.
Now, that doesn’t sound so bad what I left out does it? Let me tell you why I think it matters.
There are days, weeks even, when I am able to do less than usual, certainly far less than I would like, either directly or indirectly because of my chronic disease. It’s difficult enough to admit this to myself, let alone someone else. Add in that I may inconvenience or let someone down and I think you’re getting a glimpse of what I’m getting at here.
On the surface, people can be extremely gracious (we are Canadians, after all), and accommodating, given the reason of insufficient sleep for less than par performance or participation. I don’t need people to be polite. I want them to tell me when I’ve put them in a difficult position and then brain-storm together how to handle it.
Consider if I had a broken leg and that’s why I had trouble sleeping. I share this with people and they immediately get where I’m coming from. In fact, we’re likely to exchange stories of people we know that have been in similar situations. If I slip, I’m clumsy and we share a laugh. If I attempt an ambitious snowboard stunt and almost make it, I may get an approving nod and again we share a laugh.
However, I explain that I couldn’t sleep because I was in pain and … instant silence.
People aren’t sure what to say. Maybe we say “sorry” (we are Canadians), suggest ways in which I could “deal with” the pain … and the list of polite, yet distant, responses continues. I don’t want people to feel awkward about asking me or talking to me about my health. I want them to ask me straight out if I feel it’s under control, or being managed, just as they would ask who the surgeon was that set my broken leg.
I don’t know if it’s because one is a physical and temporary condition and the other is a physical / mental and chronic condition, or what, but it does make you stop and think, which brings us back to what else is going on in our heads.
For me, I’m wondering if the person I’m speaking with will think I’m unreliable, weak, fabricating or embellishing my condition, or worse, wonder why I didn’t just tough it out. I want a world in which it is not mutually exclusive that I have a chronic disease and am reliable.
There’s a reason people are reluctant to discuss a chronic condition: we don’t know how to manage the conversation. We have no script.
I can hear the argument: You don’t have to tell people everything. It’s absolutely true. I don’t have to tell them that I am less reliable due to a health condition because I don’t know when there will be a flare-up. I can do what I’ve done for years and manage my health as best as I can and give acceptable reasons for when I am unavailable. But is that really the best we can do?
I want people to see me as capable of managing my health and my life as anyone with a physical and temporary injury: because I am. And, if someone calls me out on something that they believe I’m not managing, I’ll just call them a true friend. I don’t want people to “fix” me, but just like the person with a broken leg, I want to be able to ask for a little help now and then.
Either way, what we leave out of a conversation can be more important than what we include and that’s something we should talk about.