Most of the people reading this have some sort of chronic illness. Those reading this that do not have chronic illness are likely trying to gain understanding. So either way those reading this should benefit from this blog post. I know we have all been a part of this dance; the dance of one upmanship. What do I mean by this? Let me explain. Most of us have a plethora of friends who share the same pain issues that we do. In most cases we have met these friends in a social networking scenario. Sadly in many situations instead of getting support, we end up hearing stories about fellow warriors’ woes at times when we are trying to vent and reach out. This leaves the person who shares and needs support feeling unheard. When we vent, we need to feel heard and validated. We do not need to feel like someone thinks our story is unimportant and feels their situation is more important than ours. They hijack our vent, so to speak. We are all fighting a battle. We must be kind and let each person who needs to vent have the floor, allowing them to feel heard. I have worked hard on my listening skills over the past several years. Because we tend to be a society of talkers, this is something I have made a deliberate decision to improve on. As the song says, “Everyone is talking and nobody is listening”. I do not want to be that kind of person. I want to be the kind of person who hears. I want to empathize. I want to help if I can. All I ask is if, occasionally, I need to vent, I am able to do so without it being a contest of platitudes or who has it worse off. There is always someone who has it worse off. If the truth be known, lately my vents only reveal a small portion of my frustrations. I often repeat I feel alone. Now let me explain something: I know there are many who care deeply for me and perhaps I should tweak this statement. On the flip side there are some who have said they love me only to leave me high and dry. That is not love. To say you love someone who is trying their hardest to be what you want them to be (basically jumping through the hoops set in front of them) only to have it never be good enough, high enough, long enough, _____ fill in blank enough, that is not love. It is sick manipulation. So what happens is this: when I have listened time and time and time again to friends only to have them one up me, I just retreat and hide. It does not mean I do not care about my friends, it means I just want to be able to have my turn once in a while to vent without being told that they have it just as bad or worse. I spent hours listening to them and even helping them at times when in crisis. Yet when I need a shoulder, I cannot get one without one ups?
The dance of one upmanship usually goes like this: I will be in a horrible state and vent about my neck or Fibromyalgia. It has been especially bad lately and believe me, I do try not to do this often. I will then get a variety of replies. Most are kind, such as prayers for you or thinking of you. However, many are short essays telling me about said person’s journey with their lower lumbar or knee and how they need surgery too. They need to have L-5 fused to L-6 or a Cervical Spine Transplant or a double knee replacement while having a spine fusion while being suspended from the ceiling as a team of specialized surgeons film it for a super surgery docudrama. I know that my many friends in illness have extended issues. And when they vent I am the first one to offer a prayer, hug or any support I can give. However, the one thing I refrain from at all cost (unless they flat out ask questions about my experience) is T-boning another person’s vent with my issues. If a person is venting whether it is me or a friend, the last thing anyone should do is write a short story about their problems. It is inconsiderate and makes the person venting feel like they are unimportant and their problems are viewed as superficial. Instead of talking about our issues, why not try to really read or listen to our friends and tune into what they are saying. Are they frustrated? Are they scared? Do they just need a hug (even if it is a virtual hug)? Maybe they want prayers or good wishes. Perhaps they are crying out for help. Of course if they ask people to share their experiences with a surgery or illness then of course that is an open invite to jump in and share!
The best gift we can give each other is to be good friends and good listeners. We all have enough friends and belong to enough support groups that if we need our turn to vent we can. I am going to be honest, I am retreating into myself more and more because I feel less and less safe these days to vent. Each and every time I do I regret it. I feel like a chump much of the time because I have been front and center for so many people. Sadly, right now, I need friends more than ever. Yet lately I have been hibernating more and more. I hope as a society in general we can get better at listening. It is a great gift you can give someone and they will hopefully want to return it by listening when you need someone. Until next time. K.