The short answer is that anyone can ask me anything, and I truly mean anything. The long answer however is slightly more complicated but vitally important to any relationships that I have with anyone. The “ask anything” basic still applies, but I am starting to realise that not everyone who asks actually wants to know. Let me be very very clear, that is perfectly fine with me too, I am not laying any judgement on anyone, and I have no problem with those who aren’t interested in what goes on in my life or condition. However, for those people it would be a whole lot easier for me they save us both a whole lot of time and energy if they stop asking.
How do you know if you are one of these people? Simple…
1: If if you have read this far then you are probably not going to get any push back (and I guess that that means that I will be preaching to the choir here… it is those who don’t take the time to understand that need pushing back on).
2: You may like to ask yourself a couple of quick questions, like
“am I asking this because I want to know the answer or because I am being polite?”
It may well theoretically be polite for you to ask me something but I would actually rather you didn’t if you don’t want to know, aren’t interested, don’t care, don’t have the time, or you simply don’t understand anything. Let me share a little story about the husband of a friend of mine. About eight years ago when I was going through a really bad patch he approached me one day and asked if we could have a chat. I was a little perplexed but said sure, and he proceeded to explain to me that he really has no understanding of anything medical, doesn’t have the time or energy to find out, would get queasy at any answers anyway, and that anything that I tell him would simply go in one ear and out the other for one reason or another. That is his reality and he was not apologising for it. He went on to say that that this is different to the fact that he cares about me, would do anything he humanly could if he knew how, and told me that if I think of anything that he can do, all I have to do is ask. But in the mean time he is sorry that he can’t be there for me in any other way.
I was soooo touched and thrilled with this little ten minute (if that) conversation. It was real, it was congruent, it was perfect… for him and for the nature of our relationship. I knew where he stood and I also knew that his not bringing up my health issues was nothing personal and had no bearing whatsoever on how much he cares for me or my family. We could say hello and greet each other warmly, he could genuinely ask me “how are you?” and I could genuinely say “well today thank you” or just as comfortably say “terrible today thank you” or whatever, and he could give me a smile or a sad face and a hug me hello either way and we could both move on and be normal for the rest of the visit…
The alternative would have been for him to be too afraid to ask me how I am, to avoid lots of things, and an uncomfortable space to grow between us. Instead I know that he genuinely cares and I also know that if something should happen that I suddenly need help with and it is an area that I think he could practically help with, he would be one of the first people I could phone in the middle of the night with absolute confidence.
In general when anyone asks me how I am I give them that short answer depending on how each day is. It is important for me to be real and to be honest, but I also don’t need to dwell on everything all the time, and I am sure that few people want to have a longer answer than that anyway. But other than the normal “how are you?”, please don’t me anything deeper than that if you don’t actually want to know the answer… and it’s perfectly fine if you don’t! Truly.
3: Another question you could ask yourself is:
“Am I asking what I actually mean?”
Most of my life is spent at home or in other people’s homes where I am seated or “safe”. In public however most everyone else only ever sees me in a wheelchair or with a crutch. Reality of life means that without any wrong doing whatsoever some of them forget what is wrong with me or don’t understand …which is just fine too. However, for all kinds of very valid reasons no doubt, there appears to be an assumption that the problem is with my leg. And now that I have explained at least once to everyone who has actually asked so far and wanted to hear all the details, that it is not my leg at all but my whole body, asking me how my leg is, is not actually a question that makes sense to me. When they sit and listen and show such interest and ask more questions, I assume that they care or are listening. So the next time I see them when they ask “how is your leg?” I don’t know how to answer. What do they mean by my leg? I can’t say that I don’t have a problem with my leg because I do. But I have the same problem with every other square inch of my body. Is it back to only asking because it is polite? Or did they not understand anything that I said and should maybe be like my friend’s husband who can congruently have no interest in the details? I spent an hour or two or more of my valuable precious energy answering all their questions last time and quite honestly I don’t have enough of anything to go around to do it all over again every time I see them. Firstly because I would rather talk about “normal” things and secondly I am not sure that they will listen this time either.
So if you ask me how my leg is going then you probably fit into the category of not being safe enough to ask me anything you like…
4: Another question you could ask yourself is:
“Am I asking her a question or do I actually have another agenda?”
Many people ask me what sound like genuine questions but the look on their face tells me that they are actually just opening a door to tell me something that they want to talk about and I look like an easy target. It isn’t just the look on their face, they often either interrupt my answer or at best jump very quickly to their own agenda. Please don’t get me wrong, I love to hear what is going on in your lives and have heaps of empathy to give, but there needs to be balance and you probably don’t realise it but being in my situation seems to have opened the flood gates for people to think that they can dump all their own Uncle’s cousin’s daughter’s problems onto me as well. We all have crosses to bear and we all have friends and loved ones with all kinds of awful illnesses and conditions. I promise you I am not callous, and yes I do have a deep level of empathy seeing as I walk a similar path, but I don’t have the strength to carry all those burdens on top of my own and truly, if I don’t see you often then aren’t there other things that we can talk about that we would be chatting about if I wasn’t in a wheelchair or on a crutch? If you genuinely want to share with me a story about your aunt’s health or whatever, then please be open about that up front and ask me if you can share a story about your sick aunt. Please don’t ask me something else about me as a door to your own agenda. (…and please don’t be offended if I say no, as there is a good chance that you are the umpteenth person that day to come to me for empathy about a loved one’s health, I get that you need it, but I would much rather catch up with you and talk about “normal” things.
So if there is genuinely anything at all that you are interested in or would like to know, then please feel free to ask. Any time. I may not have time or energy to answer you immediately and it may not be the best time if we are at a big function with lots of noise and we are all trying to have fun, but if you really want to know, then by all mens ask 🙂