Friday, January 2, 2015

"As Thyself"

Jesus Christ taught that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves.  I have often thought this to refer to quantity:  we should love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves (and also the reverse, make sure we love ourselves as much as we do others - but that is a conversation for another time).

I recently came to the realization that this could mean something else:  that we should love others in the same way that we love ourselves.  Sometimes we have a tendency to be too hard on ourselves, true, but at the same time we often give ourselves the benefit of the doubt a lot of the time.  We understand ourselves.  When we fall short, we recognize the mitgating circumstances (sick child, emergency, etc.) We see what is going on the background, behind the scenes, instead of just what is in the front on center stage.

As a society, we are often too judgmental of others.  We get frustrated when someone cuts us off on the road, saying how rude they are, instead of giving them the benefit of the doubt - maybe they didn't see us, or were in a hurry?  Perhaps the person sloppily dressed at Walmart was up all night with a sick friend and simply did not have energy to put on a fresh set of clothes.  There is a chance that the child at the library who ripped your child's toy out of their hands has a special need that can't be seen as opposed to lazy parents who don't enforce good manners.

Having an "invisible disease" has often put me on the receiving end of judgments.  Many are simple ones that I can blow off, like getting a dirty look when I use a handicap parking spot (I do have a sign) or hearing, "You don't look that sick!"  (I choose to take this latter one as a compliment.)

There are some judgments, harsh ones, that are more difficult to shake off and not take personally.  The biggest one, perhaps, can be summed up in the following conversation:

"Tiffany, hi!  It's been a while!  How are you doing?"
"I'm doing well, thanks.  It's been a bit busy lately."
"I heard you were sick.  What was going on?  Are you feeling any better?"

*****And this is where I stop.  More often than not, if I answer anything more than, "I was just under the weather, but I'm better now," eyes start glazing over, watches are glanced at, and vacant expressions look back at me.  People ask because they care, but at the same time, they don't really want to know.

I've learned this the hard way.  I can't count the number of times I've heard people tell me the following:
"You let your disease define you."
"You talk about your health too much."
"Maybe if you didn't focus on your health so much, you'd get better and not notice it."
"What's it like to be sick every single day?  I mean, really?.....Yeah, that doesn't sound too bad - no worse than being pregnant or being a mom."  (For a good analogy of this, see the Spoon Theory.)

And this last, very painful one:
"You should really talk to Sister So-and-so.  She has so many hard things in her life, real trials, in addition to her health.  But you'd never know it from talking to her."

I have heard this many times.  It seems as though in our society, the quality of "suffering in silence" is one to be admired.  These individuals are viewed as having an internal strength, with no need of confidences or outside support.  They are held up as an ideal.  Every time I have heard someone speak highly about someone else, I promise myself that again, I would start keeping things to myself. But this is very, very wrong.

Yes, it is admirable to not complain.  But talking about something and complaining are two very different things.  How are we supposed to serve someone if we don't know that they are going through a trial?  How are our burdens supposed to be lifted if no one knows to lift?  How are others supposed to get blessings of service if we do not allow them the opportunity to serve?

Most importantly, how are we to learn empathy if we cannot relate to another's experience?

How can we truly love someone the way we love ourselves if we don't know them the way we know ourselves?

Every time someone has rolled their eyes at me when I answer their questions about my health, I promise myself that I am not going to do it again.  Yet each time, I feel the Spirit tell me that I need to inform, I need to share.  My Patriarchal Blessing is also very explicit about this.  It can be painful for me to be so open; others see my vulnerabilities, and I know that I am being judged.  Judged for "complaining" too much (when really, I promise I'm not - I'm actually very grateful for my trials).  Judged for "not doing enough."  Judged for being "too weak."  Judged for any number of reasons.  It's painful, and yet I feel strongly that I need to

I've had a few experiences over the years where I've needed outside help - especially after having Lizzy and not being able to just go into the hospital without coordinating her care.  It's a big reason why we moved to CO - to have help from family.  One experience stands out to me where I asked a friend to go with me to the hospital while someone else watched Lizzy (my husband had an important work deadline).

I tried to talk about how I was feeling, but each time I did, she brought up another example of someone who never complained about their health.  I eventually stopped, and tried to just carry on a conversation.  I've learned when I feel that sick and hurt that badly, I can either laugh or cry about it.  I choose to laugh - it makes the time go more quickly and doesn't give me a headache.  :)  She eventually just started making phone calls to other people and did not participate when the nurses or doctors came in.

Later, I found out this person has told a mutual friend that she thought I was pretending to be sick on purpose, that I was addicted to pain medication (because I asked for it once and she happened to hear it, but she did not hear the half-dozen times I asked about tests), and that I just didn't want to take care of my daughter and was looking for a way out.  I was heartbroken.  I was trying to so hard to not "complain" to her during her visit and talk about how I was really feeling (because ).  Yet in doing so, she was unable to relate to what I was going through at all and even think that I was doing on on purpose to get attention and out of responsibilities.  She had known me a long time, was someone I considered a good friend, and yet was so quick to judge.  I am still working on not being offended by this.

On the other hand, the other day a friend came over to visit after one of my surgeries.  I apologized that I wasn't feeling up to doing what we had originally planned because I was having an allergic reaction to the pain medication.  She looked at me in astonishment and said, "Tiffany, you are the strongest person I know!  Every time I think that I have it hard or that I'm in pain, I tell myself that if Tiffany can do it, so can I!"

And THAT, my friends, is why I am open and honest and share what I am going through.  Not to complain.  Not to get attention.  But to help people see that if they are going through something difficult, they are not alone.  There is someone else who understands.  And through that, they can hear me share my testimony of the Savior, who understands all of us.  I want people to consider another way of life, to see it from someone else's perspective.  I want people who are hurting or who are scared to know that they are not alone.

Some of the most rewarding experiences I have had come from a phone call or an email where someone is having a trial (most often health-related) for the first time, and they are scared and don't know where to go or what to do.  I am grateful for the opportunity to point them in the right direction (call this type of doctor, etc.), so they don't feel so helpless and lost.

All of us have difficulties.  Some are different, some are similar - but in sharing them (not complaining, but sharing) we can help others who may eventually have to walk through similar paths.  We can act as guides, and we can bear testimony of the times that the Savior has helped us on our walks.

My whole purpose of sharing what I go through is so that someone who is struggling with something similar can remember my struggle, get strength through it, and then go on to further rely on the Lord through the rest of the journey.  In turn, I try to seek out others' stories.  I gain strength from hearing about what they've conquered.  It causes me to love them more, which is the second great commandment.  I am less likely to judge, less likely to be offended, and less likely to resent someone who I understand.

3 comments:

  1. The second paragraph seems unfinished...

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  2. My true an honest reaction: 1) I am always amazed by your strength. 2) I rarely feel you are complaining (though I would complain with 1/10 of your struggles--I complain about those people who cut me off in traffic). I actually feel like you put a humorous spin on your troubles and are just keeping those of us who are too far away to see regularly up to date on all that goes on in your world. 3) That being said, I think what you share helps me understand the silent struggles other friends have with fibromyalgia, Crohns, Lupus, arthritis, etc. have. 4) If other people make you feel that they believe you aren't in that much pain, just remember that they probably don't understand that you are plastering on a smile to keep them from worrying too much. *hugs* They still love you even if they can't understand unseen issues.

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