Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Lie #5: “I can’t handle this right now” and going on.

I’ve been hit by one of the most painful lies from a few different sides over the last few days.
When I listed the lies the other day, I missed this lie, a lie the person saying it tells themselves, to excuse what they are about to do to you. It hurts me the worst, and hits at the lowest parts of my life. Variation are “I just can’t read your letters/blog because I can’t handle any more bad news right now.”, “I just need time to step back and ‘process this’”, “I don’t know how to handle this”, or “I just can’t deal.” These statements come from AB people, probably you thought of as friends, people you may have been there for in the past. But when your time of trouble comes, when your illness comes, when your diagnosis comes, when you start getting visibly ill THEN like shaking a tree for rotten fruit, friends fall into two groups: those who stay (the few) and those who run away (with a lie to make it a virtue).

Those who are burnt-out can’t even survive really by themselves. I can understand that. Someone in a deep depression is just hanging on and surviving is all they can. I understand that (in fact, this person usually will have the ‘I can’t handle the negative place you are’ bailout of friends also when most needed).

People will decides that they do not want to face the facts and consequences of a friend/partner/mother/father/grandparent/child who is dying/has chronic condition/has chronic invisible condition or is going through burn-out/unemployment. And let us not delude ourselves, it IS a decision: they come up with an excuse and run away.
For those who act that way, I still care for them as a person. I find their acts despicable.

Why? Because that child, or friend, that mother, or partner who is dying, who has a chronic condition like depression, or other visible or invisible ones: they CAN’T run away. Oh, they want to. Some days they might pretend for a while that they can, but in the end, the requirements of living with these conditions means that if not managed, if not resisted, if not maintained, if medication is not taken, then the consequences are extreme. So no, they can’t run. And so they watch the back of a so called friend or family as they run off.
Running away is easy. It is always easy. It also makes the burden harder for those who stay, and for the person who is struggling.

Okay, hands up anyone who WANTS to get a diagnosis of cancer today? Okay how about ALS/MND? CFS/M.E.? Bipolar disorder/Unipolar Depression? Lupus? Lymes? Who wants an accident which will affect their spinal column and thus the nerves below that point? How about a layoff and unemployment? Come on, I can’t see any hands raised! What, no one wants a nice terminal illness today?!

No, nobody WANTS those things to happen to them, which is why when an AB friend tells you that ‘they just can’t handle it’ explaining why they will be/have been ignoring you, then it really puts the boot into you. You think, “What, because they thought I could?”

Be honest. Say, “I am self centered and cowardly and while you might be there for me, and care about me, if I CARE about YOU, that means that I might get depressed and when I go out to dinner, start my exercise program, go to movies or when I am on vacation, that CARING could make me feel…..bad. And I don’t want that.”

Yes it could make you feel bad. Because when you care about someone who has something bad happen to them, then you feel bad too. And sure, people have their own lives and issues and need to take breaks and can’t be there all I time. I can’t. There are more I would like to be there for, but I can’t even control or predict my consciousness. I try. That means trying to read blogs once a week, or two, or sending emails back once a week, I try.

Why, beyond the cruelty of a ‘me, me, me’ generation does this matter? Because this is the lie that will hold you in a prison of isolation. Because every person alive will go through a dark time; their period of suffering. And if all you know how to do is run. Then you have no friends. Because every time a ‘friend’ has bad news, isn’t cheerful or funny anymore because their child died, or they have a Flare, or an MS diagnosis, and you ran, who do you expect to be there for you? Who will care about you? No one.

And you will face that darkness alone.

If you are reading this, commenting, then this isn’t about you. In fact, you are probably one of the people who have been ‘gifted’ with those things no one wants to raise a hand to receive.

I have been ill, coughing up bits of aspirated food and other particles. Apparently last night I was delusional and telling Linda that the ‘radio in my stomach’ was telling me to do things. Pain, exhaustion, fatigue will do that. Make you curl up for some time.
But then you get up again. Not because you want to, not because it is fair, but because whether you can ‘handle it’ or not, no one will save you but yourself. Today, a doctor who said last time that this had become ridiculous and they would take me as a GP told Linda and I that “Well, I can’t really take on the responsibility.” What is that? #30? So we suck it up and go on. I went to badminton tonight. I will post the pictures tomorrow. Because keeping me healthy and alive is my job, my full time job. Whether I am ready to ‘take on the responsibility’ or not.


Raccoon said...

I think I tried this one once, a long time ago. If I remember correctly, I felt really guilty.

It's amazing what you can handle when you want to.

yanub said...

First, it must be said that the blankie bunny sleepyhead picture is adorable.

Now, as to people who run away. I suppose everyone runs out on someone sometime. Sometimes it is just selfishness. Sometimes it is life taking us in directions we weren't planning. But whatever the reason, an email or a card or phone call or a surprise gift even after a long, long time, if genuinely offered out of a good spirit, is still acceptable.

Elizabeth McClung said...

I am sure I have done this, maybe, though Linda says that my problem was more of the opposite, that I could not be there for everyone. Still, I find it better to try than not. To care, than not.

I realized that from family members, to those who said, 'no, I've got too much of a social life' - those friends when I asked if I could call them when I was feeling suicidal (before finding a good medication balance), to now the number of doctors who say so many things, it all comes down to that it is not convienant. We had a colleague whose son committed suicide. We didn't say, "Sorry, you know, being here to support you is a big of a downer." - we were there. Because someone had to be there. And because hard things happen in life, and if the only response is to turn away when they happen to those we care about or even work with, then we are not seeing life, and how will we deal when it is our turn on the wheel?

So I realized that these statements had zero to do with making ME or LINDA feel better, they had to do with making the other person, the one leaving us, feel better - and that accepting it, accepting it as appropriate behavoir was the lie. Unless people WANT to wear a badge saying, "I don't slow down at accidents, I don't ever call 911!" - they want to be part of the social fabric of helping someone in need, but actually come up with phrases to make it okay and easy for THEM to, with full knowledge, walk away.

But then maybe that is why of the 13-15 people in the hiking group when the man in front of us collapsed of heart attack on the summit, only three, only three even stayed. To work on a person, to hold their head and have people trek by, or talk about having to go now to get ready for a dinner party. M. the one person besides us, who stayed took over and between her and Linda did 20 minutes of CPR - I guess for those who are mobile. Who would you want behind you on a hiking trail, M. and Linda...or the other 12? They all had 'good reasons'

Yes, a fresh start, I believe in that.

Yes, it really is amazing what you can handle when you want to (and when a restricted life or death in the alternative - wanting to becomes easier than I thought).

cheryl g said...

I think what makes lie #5 so painful is that we are usually told it by someone who we have been there for providing emotional support through a difficult time. Now when we are the one who needs the support, it is too hard for them.

I used to think that I wasn't strong enough to be there with someone through a crisis but I learned differently. Life throws things at you and you deal with them. Sometimes you get therapy but you do deal and each thing makes you more capable of handling the next thing. I know I would rather act and help than stand around wringing my hands and whimpering.

I am sorry to hear that the possible GP is not possible after all. That sucks.

Mira said...

I think that this lie is the worst of all. I agree that the ones that run away will eventually have no one there for them when they need it.

I'd rather be with you and Linda and M. on that trail.

wendryn said...

This is the one that was hardest when my brother was growing up - it hurts the most, you are right. I think it's hardest because it comes from people you thought you could trust.

I'm sorry you had to hear it again.


FridaWrites said...

You are right--people definitely run away from others. When I broke my hip at school, kids first crowded around me laughing, then all went home (it was right after school). No one even got a teacher. While they offered to give me a hand up, when it was clear I needed more help than that, they walked away. My sister and two of her friends had to come find me since I was still lying in the hall. No one even got a teacher--my mother didn't see a teacher at all in the twenty minutes or so between when I broke my leg and she got me out to the car. So no ambulance--I had to walk on a broken femur/hip.

That's the way I still feel sometimes--when I physically break, people walk away. I've been told, "I don't know how to deal with that much pain," even though I don't tell them much about it. I don't. Well, guess what, people. I didn't really know how to deal with that much pain either.

My relationship with my in-laws was better than most, but the more ill I became, the more hostile they became. They just think I need to try harder. My children and husband do see me trying far past when I should. They don't, because I can't get my scooter into their house and I have to sit in the one reasonably comfortable spot for me (which isn't even at the dinner table with everyone else).

Gaina said...

I'm sorry you're getting the 'backing away' t-shirt. It hurts, I know. When you can't do things that your AB friends want to do, when your nervous system is throwing the mother of all hissy fits because the weak spring sun is painful to your eyes and makes you feel like you're being electrocuted. When they can't understand that having something as simple as a hand flashing before your eyes send a message to your muscles that puts them in a spasm.

That shit people can never possibly hope to understand, so after trying to explain it for the umpteenth time, you give up. I hope you're like me and you have three, maybe four people who DO get it and will just respond to what you need on that day without having to explain it. They do exist and are worth their weight in gold. I've found that when you make new 'friends' - say 10 for a nice round number - two will really be there for you, firm friends who don't back down when it gets dark. Those two are worth risking the disappointment of losing the other 8.

I am going to write a blog when I get the words together about 'sucking it up' because I'm that kind of person too, and I think AB people have a hard time when we don't fit into neat criterea that they can get their heads around - so they bail. They don't understand why we can/want to do things despite the almighty kicking we are going to get the next day because the alternative is to do nothing. But that doesn't mean we don't have pain and fatigue or that we don't need people to be mindful of that, even when we are pushing through those pain/exhaustion barriers.

The doctor sounds as if he *wants* to help you but is scared shitless of being sued because he's not familiar with your condition. Can you go back to him and negotiate something?

Oh, and don't say things like 'radio inside my stomach' to an makes us run for the paintbrushes :P

Anonymous said...

My dear Elizabeth, I've decided that people in general are cruel and abandoning because you remind them of their own mortality and vulnerability, how capricious and cruel fate can be - if you, this brilliant, educated, talented super-athletic young woman in the prime of her life can be struck down, they have to play some heavy mind games with themselves to avoid thinking about the possibility that their own well-ordered lives could be forever altered in an instant...and the easiest thing is to turn away, abandon you, and try to put it out of their minds. If they don't see you, don't read about your pain, suffering, indignities, struggles and despair, it doesn't exist.

They go on about their structured acheivement-oriented days. They take their good health for granted, and can't even conceive of ever being diagnosed with some dread disease - it just couldn't and won't happen to them.

There are those too, who simply don't know what to say or how to say it or what to talk about, and are afraid of offending you or hurting your feelings, not realizing that total abandonment hurts the most.

The sick and the dying are left alone to bleed and scream in pain alone and forgotten. It is depressing and heartbreaking to watch human suffering of this magnitude, when they feel helpless to alleviate the pain and suffering. And so they turn away. You make them profoundly uncomfortable, and they feel this sense of "survivor's guilt" because fate thus far has been kind - their lives seem full of endless possibilities for the future, they look forward to realizing their dreams, and they believe that myth that we are all fed in grade school that "you can be anything you want to be if you put your mind to it and try hard enough." .

You remind them that life can turn on a dime, and that everything they have, which they feel is their God-given reward for being such great people, could instantly be snatched away.

The only way they can escape their discomfort is distance themselves away, with lie #5, or convince themselves that they are doing you a favor by staying away, because you will only be envious of their happy, blessed, AB lives.

To be able to live with themselves and the guilt that comes with the turning away, they must blame the victim for bringing this bad karma on themselves - surely you did something to cause these horrible things? And if this is the case, perhaps you are contagious, and just being around someone so contaminated and unclean as yourself jeopardizes their health and safety.

My former friends and acquaintences have disappeared in droves this past year, since all of the "horrible illnesses and problems" I have attracted into my life that they can't bear to be I must be shunned and discarded. Seems I am not much "fun" any more.

Only those who have been through these particular sorts of hell will understand...this is one "lesson" that can only be learned by living it. I admit that in the past I have turned away from people who are sick or dying or unemployed or having trouble with their kids because I was a coward.

I am now surprised at any act of kindness from anyone, and I don't ever have expectations of any acquaintance. It makes it easier for me put up the protective walls in advance. The truth is, I only relate to others like me these days, who have suffered and "been there" as I have. They are the ones with the comfort and wisdom, kindness and support...and we speak the same language. Happy, smiley, successful AB's just tire me out, and don't really have much to offer me. And on a bad day, I'll admit I resent the hell out of them. I think that is human - and then I get into that woe is me, how my life sucks mode, cursing my fate, and making myself more sick and depressed.

thanks for putting it out there so honestly! So often you seem to read my thoughts....

-Sherry in Ohio

Stephanie said...

Ah. For a moment I thought you were talking about me, because I haven't been around lately and am only coming back now, but I assure you, I have neglected *all* aspects of my online life, and am still neglecting many (for example - I want to catch up on your blog posts before I catch up on the environmentalist chatter in the last two weeks).

I don't know how to 'handle' (what an awful choice of word) it when someone collapses in front of me, (er.. which doesn't happen often), I do wish I had some kind of CPR training in cases like that but at the very least I feel awful that I can't do anything. I think about the times I haven't helped and it's hard to deal with *that*. So why are there so many people that find it so easy to look away?

I guess that's the deep-rooted problem of people in general. Too many find it easier to look away.

Shea said...

I owe you an apology for disappearing, but I have not stopped caring. I had issues, not with you, but the entire world, well my world, and yes, I had my come apart break down but have recovered. I need to be there more, for everyone.

SharonMV said...

I never got any spoken reasons - this big lie in my life was accomplished via entrenched denial. People didn't bother to visit or have much to do with me. I got so much hostility in the early years, that I rarely spoke much about my illness or pain.


Lene Andersen said...

I always figured that if you can live through it, I can bloody well read/hear about it.

Lene Andersen said...

And another thing... you're right. You stay because what other choice is there? Aside from the fact that this person who needs you is A PERSON and deserves compassion and help, how can you face yourself in the bathroom mirror in the morning if you leave? How can you call yourself an ethical person if you abandon when the need is greatest? How can you see a person in pain and walk the other way?

Joan K said...

I'm sorry people are running away.

I'm sorry the latest GP is an idiot.

I remember, when I used to be a catholic, I read somewhere that "the mark of every good Christian is to allow oneself to be remade."

Now (no longer catholic) I would say that everyone is made or remade by how they respond to pain, difficulty and adversity, their own and that of others. People who run away are saying something about themselves and those who stay are saying something else.

I'm sorry you've had so many of those folks who run away in your life.

JaneB said...

Hugs. I'm trying to be here, for you, for others.

My 'running away lie' is 'I'm no good at this. I'm clumsy and tactless and noisy and I wouldn't be any help and so-and-so probably doesn't like me much anyway so they won't want me around'. But I'm getting better - I've learnt that I can write a card which SAYS "I'm not sure what the right words are, but I'm sad for you, thinking of you, here if you need something I can help with", that little awkward gestures of kindness are very valuable to some people when things are tough, that I might NOT be good at this sort of thing, but maybe the people they seem to care for most are the friends who can't cope, and maybe awkward, well-meaning me is one of their few human contacts. That something is better than nothing - for me as well as for my friend or colleague or acquaintance.

But being the person watching the retreating back - well, that happened before I got sick and continues to happen whenever I have a bad patch. It's amazing how I keep finding myself spending time with people who do that. It's tough - but the friends who stay around are real friends, and they matter hugely.

"I was cold, I was thirsty, were you there, were you there?"

A. J. Luxton said...

What amazes me is, what the hell are doctors doing saying they can't take on responsibility? I mean... that's kind of what signing up to be a doctor is about.

Oh, hey, just wanted to leave a note: thanks so much for sending along the stationery, and the card with the LOVELY gothy stamps... I'm late this week with my mail-out since I was traveling, but I'll send it out with the mail tomorrow (well, today actually.)

Anna said...

A true post, so true. still, I can't help but thinking it is hard on thosewho back away. I personally has been on "all sides" I have been, am, the "sick" needing one, I have stayed, and I have made excuses and left.

I don't see it as all the time excuses. To blame somebody who is sick isn't right but sometimes you have to admit to yourself and the needing person that really, I can't take it.....I can't be around. I don't like that people have left me because they couldn't take it, but I do understand them in a way.

And it is true that the person who is sick hasn't got a choice.

It is so true.....and sad. But is it only me who has been in all three positions? The one who needs, the one who stays and the one who run away?

Elizabeth McClung said...

Anna: I think many people have been in one and two, I think those who have been in the position where they cannot leave, like someone has died, or they have breast cancer, and afterward, they tend to be a lot more fierce in their compassion towards others, particularly those in similar situations to their own.

For me, yes, I have been in or withdrawn, which I suppose is a passive form. But that is why I tried to write some examples of things like being overwhelmed and having a break-down - no, then you can't be there for others, you can only work on surviving. When you are in a depression same thing.

Have I knowing been a friend of someone, had them get ill and told them that I just don't have the time for them now, because they aren't as interesting to me, or we don't have common interests. I can't remember but I am sure I have. I mean, we were all young and self absorbed, and sometimes we are still self absorbed, I know I am.

I am not saying the person can't do it. I am saying if they want to use the word friend, then to put that under the act of friendship is the themselves. It is to make themselves feel good (the other person already feels like shit). Yeah, I have problems with people who are just crying, I never know what to say, if I don't know why they are crying, so under they can tell me I try to sit with them. But most of me just wants to take off, pretend I didn't see.

I will always understand it. And I will always try to care about the person doing it, even afterward. And I will find the ACT, the action, the choice (not the person, the choice), deplorable, despicable.

The famous incident historically where a woman was raped in NY, inside a courtyard where about 80 people heard her screaming for help, screaming over minutes, over dozens of minutes and no one did ANYTHING. Not even called the police. So it happens. But that is always someplace to grow FROM.

Elizabeth McClung said...

Jane: I think, since you quote that, that it is significant that the scream at the end was, "My God, why have you forsaken me!" - that pain, that seperation of the dependance of someone you thought would always be there is not just emotional but almost physical.

I think it is why so many times Linda found me with a fever, before I became ill saying, over and over, "I fulfilled my commitments, I did all that I said, I did all that I said" - it is extremely important to me to try and do that.

The thing is, despite all of this, I BELIEVE in people, I believe even when they walk away that it is a fall for them, something they will regret and I will try not to bring up once we have reconsiled, because I BELIEVE that people can do it. So what if most people walk by the person on the street, I BELIEVE they can stop, they can push past their comfort zone and stop and help, and do that with people in thier life, like you say, even if it is to say, I don't know what to say.

David said...

This post struck to the bone. About four years ago I lost someone who I thought was my best friend because of this...I had become too much of a downer, so they just....left. And stopped contacting. No more phone calls, or emails, or trips to the museum, or anything like that. Just nothing.

The hardest part for me was knowing that, in some ways, this was the "right" decision for them. I imagine they are probably happier now, though who knows.