Tuesday, January 26, 2016

"Short" is not a Deficiency

A few weeks back, someone told me off for calling myself short. She said I should never say that, because it implies a deficiency. I was quite taken aback by this - one because it’s really awkward to be told off by a complete stranger and two, because I didn’t even kind of agree with what she was saying. To my mind, the only way calling yourself short can imply a deficiency is if you actually believe being short is a deficiency, and… well… honestly? If you think that, it is entirely your issue not mine. To give you some context to this situation, I’d called myself short while accepting an award (because I couldn’t reach the microphone) so I really had no reason to be feeling deficient in that moment. I’ve never seen my height as a negative, and I think trying to avoid using the word “short” would make me start to have issues about this, rather than resolve any imaginary ones she felt I must have.

This conversation did make me think about some of the other language things that come up. Sometimes people will try to tell me not to say I have a disability, and give some waffly explanation about how we’re all unique and that it doesn’t make a difference. After the “short” conversation, I had a bit of a light bulb moment as to why these kinds of pronouncements leave me feeling worse about myself, not better as I’m sure the person making them intends. Firstly, this is actually incredibility patronising. Having a disability makes quite a bit of difference to your life - it changes the way you do... pretty much everything - but not necessarily all in a negative way. While I do have some self-esteem issues about my health problems (which I'm working on!) I’m not putting myself down when I say I have a disability; it’s just a description of the situation. Secondly, people telling me not to say this implies that they do believe that “disability” is the equivalent of “deficient” and something that should skirted around or kept hidden. The message I come away with in this situation is “Disability does make you deficient, but let’s not talk about it because I, the benevolent able-bodied person, am kind enough to treat you as an equal anyway”. That's probably not what's intended, but it's how it feels.

Not using the word “disability” doesn’t make the disability go away. I should be able to acknowledge that this is a part of my life without the incorrect assumption that this is a derogatory thing to say about myself. I admit, some of the language I use towards myself probably does seem harsh. I’ll say things like “I’m a bit bung” and I have been known to describe myself as an “evolutionary f**K up” when the question of how many diseases I have comes up. After I posted about the problems I run into sometimes with talking to “healthy” people, a few of my friends told me that me saying “I should have been weeded out by evolution by now” made them uncomfortable. I kind of get where people are coming from with these ones, but again, I’m not actually saying these things to put myself down. I’m saying them because… well they’re funny, they’re true, and acknowledging that generally makes me feel less deficient, not more.

I guess a lot of this stuff comes down to personal experiences and preferences, and perhaps the relationships between people in these situations makes a difference too. I do appreciate it when friends call me on it if they think I’m putting myself down, especially as I do that a lot when I’m in a bad space and it ultimately feeds into negative feelings about myself. The key thing here though is that they are my friends, and know me well enough to be able to make that call. Deciding that you know what’s best for a complete stranger, especially when it comes to neutral terms like “short” and “disability” (which are only negative if you chose to view them that way) is interfering at best, and straight out offensive at worst. You can think these things if you like, you can even say them if really you want to, but perhaps turn them into discussions not lectures. After all, the person you’re talking to is the expert on what it’s like to live their life. Not you.

Thanks for reading,
Little Miss Autoimmune

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Not sorry, thankful

A while back, a friend told me off for apologising when I’m not well. He told me if I felt I had to say something, to instead just say “thanks”. This wasn’t the first time someone had told me off for apologising – in fact a lot of people tell me off for this. It’s something I do too much of, to the point that a group of my friends once got me to draw a dot on my arm every time I said “sorry” and I eventually ended up apologising for running out of room. This was the first time someone had suggested the alternative of saying “thanks” though. I did try doing this for a while (when I remembered) but I admit, without someone telling me not to, I’ve fallen back into the habit of apologising again.

I came across this cartoon the other day, about why you shouldn’t apologise when really you mean thank you, and it makes a lot of sense.

In the past, when people have told me not to apologise, it’s made me uncomfortable. When I say “I’m sorry” if I’m sick, there’s a lot that I’m trying to express in that moment, and while an apology is not a perfect communication of that, saying nothing at all feels disrespectful. The effects of illness can be inconvenient (for want of a better word) both for the person experiencing the illness and for those around them. Plans have to be rearranged with little or no notice, solutions to things like “oh look I’ve just thrown up and fainted” or “we’re a long way from home and I can’t walk” have to be found, and stress and complications are always a possibility.

When I say “I’m sorry” I’m wanting the person to know that I don’t take their support and understanding for granted, and I do get that sometimes the effects of my illness are annoying. After reading the cartoon, I realised that “Thank you” expresses all of this far better than “sorry” ever could. “Sorry” is a word laden with guilt. Unfortunately, when these things happen, that is often how I feel about putting my friends in a position to have to help me. But my friends don’t want my guilt. My appreciation, however, would I'm sure be welcome. “Thank you” is a much better acknowledgement of everything they are doing for me.

While I was thinking about this, I realised there’s another aspect to this. There's often a misconception that if you’re being understanding you’re not supposed to have any negative emotions, but I don’t believe this is true. I want people to know that they are allowed to feel frustrated or stressed by whatever situation my illness has just caused. Many of my friends also experience some form of illness, and so I’ve seen this from both sides. When my friends are sick, and have to cancel plans or whatever, I completely understand and don’t mind. It can still be frustrating or inconvenient though, and I'm sure that they feel exactly the same when I am the one canceling. The fact we can be open and talk about this, without making the other person feel bad for feeling that frustration, is generally what makes it okay.

By apologising I’m trying to acknowledge other people’s feelings, but perhaps instead I’m creating the opposite effect. While it’s not my intention to do this, apologising may make the person feel like they have to say everything is all okay, even if at times maybe it may not be. “Thank you” again still acknowledges the inconveniences, but avoids the unintentional emotional manipulation that may be felt with an apology.

Compulsively apologising is going to be hard habit to break, but perhaps if each time I notice myself doing it, I stop and thank the person for their help instead, it will eventually come naturally. A friend (who's also a compulsive apologiser) and I did try this the other day. We're both rather clumsy people, so instead of our usual apologies we thanked each other every time we bumped into, or knocked something over. While in this case it was just for laughs, it did make us conscious of exactly how often we make unnecessary apologies, and perhaps started the process of changing this. 

So... let me take the opportunity to say thank you to everyone who reads this blog – especially friends and family. Your support means so much to me, and gets me through all the weird things my body likes to throw at me. I value you all more than could ever be expressed in words, and I hope you know that.

Thanks for reading,
Little Miss Autoimmune