Chronic Snarkopolist: Being Strong is Balderdash
Hello my loves!
When we are sick or worse, when we are caretakers to someone we love, the last thing many of us want to hear is “how strong we are.” That is the biggest insult I have ever heard. Maybe later – maybe 300 years later – you can tell me I am strong. Until then, roll up your sleeves and come over and DO SOMETHING. LISTEN. Call up and be a voice on the other end of the line if you are out of state. Send cards. BE THERE THROUGH IT. Be present. DON’T GO AWAY. That is what happens all too often. Stick around.
When I was very ill, I didn’t want someone judging my household for being untidy. I wanted someone to help with the laundry or mow the lawn or push a freaking swiffer around. If you notice it needs done just come over and DO IT. Or if you have the means but not the ability, ask me if I have a cleaning person and if I do not, tell me you would like to have one ordered. THAT would be a load off my mind.
Things like cat boxes still need changed, groceries need purchased and brought in, and even little things like garbage needs taken out. People with children often cannot pick up their little ones for a while and it brings in ENORMOUS GUILT. One mother grieved during her entire treatment because she couldn’t lift her two year old and felt she was depriving him of her love. Later he told her he didn’t remember her without cancer and she felt even more heartsick that her youngest child had no memory of a mother without illness.
Families need vacations. Their dogs needs walked. Practical things need done. And people who do it are no more or less strong than the people who do not NEED to do it or do it sick or during hardship.
Just as no one NO ONE “loses a battle with cancer” – the endurance people bear during difficult times WEARS on people. It does not come from STRENGTH. It is our human endurance and it requires us to do what we do. We cope, we fuck up, we cry. We lose and gain and lose again.
There is no “right way” to do illness. Not as a caretaker and not as a patient. And there is no “right way” to be a good friend. But there are a million ways to be a shitty one. And there are a million ways to insult people.
One woman said to me, “Saying you are so strong going through all that says to me, “I am so glad I am not you. It doesn’t make me feel stronger or any better.”
Another woman said to me, “I find it worse to judge how people cope badly or fall apart under stress and call them weak than to say they are strong.” So that is another perspective. I can’t decide if I want to deal with judgeriffic bullies or paternalistic people who don’t help but pat you on the back and say, “GO TEAM!” It is harder for people to understand my anger at the “cheerleaders” who don’t give REAL SUPPORT than the assholes who criticize how well or badly I cope when they themselves haven’t gone through it themselves.
Some friends don’t know what to say. I try very hard to be generous with them. I try very hard to understand if someone hasn’t been THROUGH illness or caretaking, there is no such thing as “knowing the right words.” It is more important to know how to listen and share and heal or just “be a friend.” I work to give them understanding and compassion for even trying to reach out. After all, it is awkward to reach towards what we do not understand or fear. I tell them sometimes, “Telling me you care, or telling me you are thinking of me, is the exact right thing.”
Many people say, “How can I help or how can I be in your life.” THIS is where it REALLY matters. People don’t know. People want to be kind but don’t know how. To them I say, “I would love you to do THIS specific thing if you can.” This allows them to know I want them more actively in my life. It is far more difficult if you are new in a community. You don’t have as many friends or people you know. It is harder to connect and reach out or have that. And it sucks. Helping people and letting them help us- THAT is real strength. That is REAL human power.
We need human connection. People matter. WE MATTER.
What do you think? Do you like being told you are strong? Some people enjoy being told they are a warrior. Is being a warrior the same thing as being strong? Is it different to consider myself strong or a warrior than being told by someone else I am strong from a distance? Am I oversensitive about this? What are other strategies for dealing with people who say they will help? Can something be an insult if it is unintended? Please tell me! I must know!
I will see you same time next week! Kiss kiss!