Dear Carolyn: I live in a small town, and am being treated for cancer. I’m an extremely private and sensitive person. I don’t want pity or to have to explain my situation to people when they see the little hats I wear. In the beginning I’d just say, “I have a little cancer thing happening, it’s all going to be fine, I’m fine.” But now, the news has spread. The less I say, the more these folks want to know.
I have started staying in more even though I’ve responded very well to treatment, have not had nearly the side effects most have, am going to be fine, and feel well most days. I think about it all enough without having intrusive questions thrown at me when I want to go out socially – how many more treatments, does it run in your family, how sick has it made you, what kind is it?
In fact, if I wanted to tell “my truth” (I don’t) I’d say it’s one of the best things that ever happened to me! I’ve handled it all well, and mostly alone except for a few close confidants who know details. It’s taught me to see what really matters to me. It’s brought back my natural self-confidence and boosted my creativity.
So, what do I say when people want to engage me for 20 minutes about something NOT their business? This is no way to treat someone who might, say, be out and about on her best day that week. – Not a Hermit!
Great point. I’ll be quick with my feelings: I’m sorry; glad your treatment is going well; good for you!
Here’s a script that’ll work if you’re merciless with it:
(1) “Thank you for your concern.” They may just be nosy, but you’ll like humanity a whole lot better if you give it the benefit of the doubt and assume its best intentions.
Then, (2) “It’s tiring to talk about, though.” This clear boundary is about you, not them, and shows them how they can help you – without your having to specify, “By shutting up. Immediately.”
Then, (3.) “I’ll bring it up when I’m ready.” Think of this part as a little favor your today self does for your tomorrow self, when you run into this person again. It’s also a huge, welcome assist to those trying to read your words and body language for clues about how to treat you during your illness.
In all fairness: That’s not something people just automatically know, nor should they. One small-town cancer patient will come home annoyed that everyone asked about her cancer, and another will come home annoyed that no one asked about her cancer. It’s personal, it’s hard, we try.
If you can offer brief, honest, gratitude-oriented, not-too-aggravating-to-repeat instructions for concerned townspeople – your own words, if mine don’t feel right – then soon you’ll have no trouble leaving the house.
Dear Carolyn: I am severely disabled and have very limited energy. I have a “friend” who constantly wants to go to things with me, and frequently asks what I’m doing. She is also disabled, but she has all the energy in the world and is frequently gone all day doing things with various groups.
Often I just don’t have the energy, or the desire. I have a 14-year-old and husband to care for as well. I try to tell her that, but she won’t take no for an answer. Whatever I have wrong with me, she tries to tell me she has the same thing and how she just powers through it.
I used to enjoy spending time with her occasionally, but now the pressure is getting more frequent and much less pleasant. It’s hard for me to flat-out say no, I don’t want to do that. Is there a nice way to discourage her and still have an occasional cup of coffee? Unfortunately, she’s my neighbor. – Anonymous
The nice way to discourage her and still have an occasional cup of coffee is to flat-out say no.
But if you were socialized to believe “no” is a dirty word, then you were given really bad information.
Saying no is generous here, because it gives your “friend” clear instructions for securing your companionship. The alternative – what you “try” to say – has left room for her to do over and over and over again something you find so obnoxious that you’ve considered ending the friendship over it, without her even knowing she’s crossed that line.
The true kindness is in giving her a chance.
You: “Thanks, but I’m not up for a day trip. I’d love to have coffee, though.”
She: [some form of pressure.]
You, kindly: “Please take ‘no’ for an answer. When I want to say yes, I will say yes.”
And if needed: “I am through discussing this.” If she refuses to receive that message, then, alas, the air-quotes around “friend” are well-placed.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com.
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