How many times have you jumped to a wrong conclusion about something?
How many times have you inadvertently assessed a situation from the entirely wrong angle?
How many times have you completely misjudged someone?
Without even realising it, we all easily do this on a regular basis.
Tiredness, busyness, listening to others views and opinions, are all factors that can colour our thinking, often in a subliminal way.
The Need to be Understood and Believed
One of our strongest themes on my chronic illness support forum, Medical Musings With Friends, is the desire for people with chronic illness, especially invisible illness, to be understood and believed.
The conversations are often about how others, who we deem “healthy”, have no idea of the pain and suffering someone with chronic illness deals with on a daily basis. The invisible illness so easily leads to misconceptions and hurtful misunderstandings.
In some cases we are probably right, others don’t understand what they haven’t experienced themselves, but are they being cruel for no “apparent” reason?
Everyone Has a Story
Let’s for a moment flip this thought on its head.
What if the grumpy person behind the coffee counter, questioning why you don’t work, or the person saying they wish they could lie in every morning like you do etc, actually were in pain too?
What if their pain was also invisible and they felt no one cared or understood them? What if they were suffering from depression, grief over the loss of a loved one or chronic fatigue?
What if they were undiagnosed and no one believed them? What if they felt resentment when they saw others who were acknowledged for their pain and suffering?
What if they were suffering domestic violence and felt helpless and hopeless? What if they were being harassed at work?
Every life, every person has their own story. It’s never simple. Even when someone appears to have everything and have it all together, they will still have layers of untold stories.
The Disgruntled Nurse
I had an extremely disgruntled nurse during one of my hospital stays. She felt more like a prison warden and she actually scared me. She was often on night duty which seemed to make her scarier.
On Day 3 of this particular hospital stay, I decided I needed to stop being so anxious about her being on duty. As I expected she was on night duty and she came into my room in her gruff manner. She was taking my obs and in order to break the wall of silence, I asked her how her day had been.
I got a grunt type answer.
I persevered and asked did she enjoy nursing? Wow, I found the key question!!
Within moments she opened up her life story. She loved nursing but she had just broken up with her husband…..she was grieving so much. Her story was a complicated one.
I asked simple questions to keep the conversation going and she stayed sitting with me for 30 mins and we chatted like old friends. Like me, she had also had broken bones but not as a result of a disease.
She told me she was so upset by my story she wasn’t sure how to talk to me about my disease and my non-healing fractures. It turned out it was why she had been so quiet, and seemingly gruff, over the previous days when she was around me.
I had no idea how deeply she cared. My own prejudices about her demeanor, had caused me to create a scary, negative persona for her. It couldn’t have been further from the truth.
From then on she would pop into my room every afternoon, before her shift started, to say hello. We would chat about how I was, but more importantly we’d chat about how she was.
My scary prison warden had softened. She still looked a little frightening but she was a scarred, flawed person…just like me, just like you, needing someone to take the time to understand her needs.
“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it”
Hebrews 13:2 New International Version (NIV)
Are You Ok?
If you are faced with animosity or misunderstanding from someone as you go about your daily life, try to stay calm and think about what might be going on in their lives. Ask them if they are ok? It’s the perfect starting point.
It’s amazing how conversations between two strangers, or friends and family, can evolve, full of genuine understanding, when we decide to turn our focus to caring for the other person.
By simply asking, “Are you ok?” when you feel someone is misunderstanding you, the real story behind the harsh comment might reveal a very real need, not dissimilar from your own.
If we assume the worst of someone, we can so easily miss an opportunity to connect in such a meaningful way.
We can miss the opportunity to educate others about invisible illness or our obvious disability.
We can miss the opportunity to help someone hurting and in need.
Of course, human nature as it is, some people will be so defensive and protective of their story, they may think you wouldn’t understand and they won’t open up.
You’ve tried, it’s not your fault. Walk away this time and get on with your day, knowing sometimes a person’s story is so painful, it will take a long time before they are ready to open up to anyone.
The fact you took the time to ask them if they are ok, might make all the difference to them long after you asked the question.
If you are prepared to share some of your story, it may encourage another person, who is hurting and feeling misunderstood, to eventually open up. Their shackles of emotional pain may even begin to fall away, all because you cared. All because you put your needs aside to care for someone else.
Don’t immediately think someone is not understanding you.
Just remember, we all need to be understood and we all have a story behind our reactions and assumptions. We can all so easily feel hurt due to misunderstandings.
We can also all help turn these misunderstandings around, by engaging in genuine, meaningful conversations.
Don’t be afraid to be the person who reaches out to someone who’s behaviour is creating a negative reaction in you. The rewards will always outweigh the risk of rejection.
“Are you ok?”
Remember to listen carefully to the answer, so you can continue the conversation and turn it into something meaningful for you both.
Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
If you’re looking for genuine support, care, understanding and friendship, you are so welcome to join my closed Facebook support forum, Medical Musings with Friends . It’s a safe place to connect with others living with chronic and complex diseases, who truly understand the daily challenges. A warm welcome awaits.
If you prefer an audible blog post, please check out my Podcast, Medical Musings With Sam