I called someone today with whom I have a standing appointment. They didn’t pick up at first. I called back a few minutes later when they didn’t return my call.
They picked up on the second call back. They didn’t seem entirely healthy. I found myself scared. My inner child dove immediately into a pattern of abandonment and distance as I tried to cancel and give them a way out. I blathered on about how it’s usual time and I hoped I wasn’t invading their privacy but if they were sick I could rescheduled as it was obviously no big deal.
“Julie” they said to me firmly but kindly. “Stop telling me how I am.”
I sat back on my heels at that. I hate it when people make assumptions about how I feel. Rather than listen, people will simply make assumptions about how I am and what I can or cannot do. If you hate feeling pitied then this will probably seem quite familiar to you.
It’s not uncommon for people to work through their own issues on illness, pain or disability when talking to me. While I have an invisible disability from a chronic disease called ankylosing spondylitis I do make it known that I have this diagnosis. I even treat it as a part of my edge at work. But it’s just a fact that I’m in various degrees of pain because I have swelling in my spine. It’s arthritis basically just inconveniently located.
But despite it being a public part of my identity, most people have no idea. I don’t look sick and I mostly don’t act like it in public as it’s kept under control with modern medicine. But I’ll have bad days. Or I’ll have to ask for an accommodation like sitting down.
And that’s when I learn a lot about a person’s relationship to illness. I’ll get pitied. I’ll get babied. I’ll get pep talks. I’ll get praised. I’ll get ignored. I’ll get written off. It’s never about me but entirely about the other person. It’s a little bit like seeing someone’s tell in poker. Most people have got one.
In the past I’ve let myself be invaded by these feelings from others. And it made me sad. I felt abandoned by all these people around me who couldn’t see me for me but instead saw their own feelings mirrored back to them. I felt invisible. I got treated like a cipher for disability or illness.
But underneath that little drama, an the actual person names Julie would be left alone to watch them play out their emotional theater. But I am done feeling abandoned by it. I don’t have to let anyone else tell me how I am. And it’s entirely up to others to decide if they can manage around me. I don’t need to make it my problem. I’ve got no need to abandon myself for them.
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