by Carolyn Thomas ♥ @HeartSisters
The directors of the 85-year long multi-generation Harvard Study of Adult Development have a new book out called The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness.* In it, authors conclude that most of us “underestimate the beneficial effects of human connection.”
One of their key findings about fostering these connections seems directly aimed at those with chronic medical diagnoses like heart disease – especially as we get older: .
“Talk about what you’re struggling with, wherever you are in life.”
This study began in 1938 to understand human health by investigating not what made people sick, but what made them thrive, now following three generations of descendants of the original study group.
The Harvard study director and book co-author Dr. Robert Waldinger reports that “it’s important to make space in your relationships to talk about your troubles.” He adds that as our life stages change from from adolescence through to late life, what we need from each other can also change over time:
“We move with our life stage. Our big concerns change. And it’s okay to talk about that, and to be interested in other people’s big concerns.”
Dr. Waldinger explains:
“I used to think, ‘I’m never going to complain about my health the way my parents do!’ But now I find, because I’m getting old, when we’re with friends who are our age, we talk a lot about our health, and I don’t censor that.”
Although I’m impressed by longitudinal research over decades, this statement doesn’t sit well with me. Here’s why:
I grew up in a big family where talking about your various problems – health or otherwise – was barely tolerated, as this house rule suggests (from the U.S. poet Arthur Guiterman in the mid-century years just before I was born):
“Don’t tell your friends about your indigestion. ‘How are you?’ is a greeting – NOT a question!”
My Santa Barbara friend Dave has a name for a long-winded response from those who believe that every “How are you?” demands a long-winded response: he calls it “the organ recital”. I feel a bit like Dr. Waldinger used to feel long ago when he announced he’d never complain about his health like his parents did. And yet one day, Dr. Waldinger turned into his parents. Will this happen to all of us? And should it?
My own hard-working parents rarely if ever complained about medical woes, and paid little attention to the complaints of others – unless those people were very sick or very pregnant – in which case my mother would start making soup and her famous home-baked Chelsea buns for delivery to neighbours or friends in need.
In 2009, the year after I survived a misdiagnosed “widow-maker” heart attack, I learned about Dr. Barbara Keddy, a teacher of nurses, professor emerita at Dalhousie University in Halifax, and author of the book Fibromyalgia: Unravelling the Mysteries of the Dis-ease. Fibromyalgia is a debilitating chronic condition that Dr. Keddy has lived with for over 50 years. And as if that’s not enough, 10 years ago she also survived a heart attack. Meaning: she knows about pain.
I’ve been quoting her wisdom since 2009 because so much of what Dr. Keddy has written rings true for heart patients, too. For example, she wrote about a support group of Toronto women living with fibromyalgia who get together regularly – not, as you might expect, to discuss their shared illness but wellness only. Dr. Keddy explains this unusual group etiquette:
“Reliving recent or past injuries of a physical or emotional nature only reactivates the nervous system. Instead, it is more important to recognize our reactions, rather than the specific events related to the trauma.”
In other words, sharing our specific health struggles with others as we get older may not make us feel better after all. I learned similar lessons in my Pain Self-Management classes, which encourage us to shift focus away from our chronic pain symptoms toward distractions that can help to calm down a jumpy nervous system.
For years, I’ve been reminding heart patients here on Heart Sisters, and in my book, and in my Heart-Smart Women presentations that it’s not a legal requirement to share every personal health update with every person we meet. See also: “I Don’t Want to Talk About It”
Remember that for the freshly-diagnosed heart patient in very early days, it is completely normal for us to want/need to tell our stories, and for those who care about us to want/need to hear every detail. That’s not the kind of sharing we’re talking about here – but even then, you have the right to talk – or not to talk. If all of this seems too overwhelming, you can always tell family and friends that you suddenly feel really tired and need a nap right now (nobody ever argues with heart patients over that request).
My grown kids tease me that my stock answer to every “How are you, Mum?” question has always been “Just peachy!” The only exception might be if I’m in bed at death’s door and need groceries (as I did for four awful weeks last fall when I had influenza. NOTE FROM CAROLYN: please get your flu shot!) I’m not talking about pasting on a fake smile here – just a neutral resting face will do – and you don’t have to face the burden of fake smiling, or what psychologists call emotional labour – which can in fact worsen our outcomes.
Many sick people are shocked to learn the hard way that close family members might not be their best support people. For example, as I wrote in Choose Your Listeners Carefully:
“Spouses, siblings or grown children may appear at first blush to be the most logical people to count on when we need to express our fears, worries, symptoms or needs after a serious diagnosis.”
“But in fact, those closest to us might actually be the least appropriate listeners once the acute crisis stage has passed. Families want and need us to be ‘better’ in order to lower their own anxiety so they can stop worrying about us. But the freshly-diagnosed may be understandably disappointed by a lack of suitable response from those they turn to. I regularly hear from readers who feel hurt after their close family members ‘were not there for me’. ”
It’s not that I don’t care about what others are going through. When those closest to me are the ones going through it, I do care intensely. When I need to know more, I ask them: “How are you, REALLY?”
Self-focused ruminating about health issues can exhaust even the most empathetic listener. As the late psychologist Dr. Susan Nolen-Hoeksema once warned:
“When patients ruminate for an extended time, their family members and friends become frustrated – and may even pull away their support.”
That pulling away can be tragically ironic, because the attention the patient is seeking is the very thing that may end up being withdrawn because of that rumination.
Each day, I experience episodes of distressing chest pain and other ongoing symptoms of coronary microvascular disease, yet I rarely mention my symptoms to others. One day, for example, while out walking with my daughter Larissa, my chest pain became severe enough that I told her I’d need to sit on a nearby bench and take my nitro spray (which I carry with me at all times). She was very frightened. It was the first time she’d witnessed her mother doing what I do almost every day when she’s not around. She wanted to call 911. (Believe me, if I called 911 for every episode of refractory angina, I’d be camping out in Emergency every day).
So I had to reassure Larissa that this episode was actually quite “normal” for me, and that I’d probably be okay in a few minutes. But that event is an example of why I rarely mention my pain. I need to focus all of my energy on getting through that pain, instead of trying to comfort worried family or friends. Yet this is what Dr. Waldinger tells us will make us all happier – to talk about what we’re struggling with.
Honestly, I just don’t feel the need to report my own health updates, setbacks or medical appointment results – even to my own family.
So what happens if we do feel a need to talk about these things – but now hesitate to share because we’re scared about reactivating our nervous system or worrying our family members?
Consider instead seeking talk therapy (something that absolutely saved my own sanity in the early months post-heart attack) especially if you are depressed. This can be found with a professional therapist, a peer counselor, a pastor, or a trained community help-line volunteer. Start a daily journal to write down your private thoughts and struggles. (You don’t have to ever show this to anybody else if you choose not to). And every newly-diagnosed heart patient should sign up for cardiac rehabilitation. If your cardiologist has not specifically referred you, ask for a referral.
But wait (she asked, furrowing brow): What if Dr. Waldinger and his Harvard colleagues are absolutely correct about the need to “talk about our health struggles” – and what if I’m absolutely wrong?
I can’t even imagine sitting around a big table at the Seniors Centre some day with a group of other seniors, all of us talking at the same time about our latest medical news. I’ve watched these seniors. Most are not even listening to other people’s stories. Each update they hear simply serves to remind them of their own far more interesting struggle – which now must be shared.
Yet according to Dr. Waldinger, after they’ve finished their coffee and enough stories have been told around the table, they will go home feeling more connected to other humans, which will help them feel happier in their old age.
Sometimes I wonder why “Fine, thanks!” isn’t considered a good-enough response any more.
Q: Am I missing out on future happiness if I don’t share my health struggles?
NOTE FROM CAROLYN: I wrote more about both getting and offering support in my book, “A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease”. You can ask for it at your local library or favourite bookshop, or order it online (paperback, hardcover or e-book) at Amazon – or order it directly from my publisher, Johns Hopkins University Press (use their code HTWN to save 30% off the list price).
Image of sparrows: Susanne Jutzele, Pixabay
30 thoughts on “Sharing our health struggles: too much, or not enough?”
Really beautiful! 🌹
Hi Carolyn, it really is a tricky balance on how much to communicate (or not).
I’m still in the early days (widow-maker on Jan 2). I have a close circle of family and friends who check in on me regularly (some daily, some every few days). I did share my detailed ‘story’ with a broader group of people in the hope that it would help someone or save a life. Some just want a general update and some want to know “how are you really?”.
Sometimes I get asked questions that imply I should be getting back to almost normal already and that upsets me. Sometimes it’s hard to know if they are just trying to motivate me, or just want me to feel better so they feel better, or they truly don’t understand what it feels like.
In one case I’ve had someone suggest that I should try to put a smile on my face as a gift to others when inside I feel awful. I know you wrote about that in your book. I am a positive person by nature but I’m not about to put on a ‘fake’ smile. So I am trying to be more ‘selective’ about what I share and often turn the conversation to ask them what’s new with ‘them’ (some of that’s from my experience as an executive coach and a focus on asking others questions and being a deep listener, and sometimes it’s just to get off the subject of me when things get uncomfortable ).
I am very grateful you started your blog Carolyn, wrote your book and created this supportive community.
In gratitude. . .
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Hello Kathleen! You are indeed in very early days yet (under a month since your heart attack) so you must remember to be kind to yourself while you navigate “how to be” in this new world. It is very common to want/need to tell your story in early days, and it’s very common for those who care about you to want/need to hear every detail. Both wants/needs are based on the same thing: a desire to make sense out of something that makes no sense. “Sense-making” is actually an entire field of study among medical researchers.
Oh! I cringed when I read that “try to put a smile on your face as a gift to others” comment” – clearly coming from a person who has never survived a heart attack. There’s a big difference between over-sharing and shutting up completely to spare your listeners. Again, choose your listeners carefully! I like to quote what Dr. Stephen Parker (an Alaska cardiac psychologist and heart attack patient himself) once wrote about what he calls the “swirling emotions” that are so common after a cardiac event:
-relief at survival
-disbelief and anger that it happened
-grief for everything that was and will be lost
-gratitude to those who helped
-extreme vulnerability in a previously safe world
-fear of what the future might bring
What I love about this list is that all of these responses are NORMAL for freshly-diagnosed heart patients. Some people experience all of these reactions (on the same day, day after day!) and others may experience them only fleetingly, or off and on for weeks. Both scenarios are “normal”. It’s only when your “organ recital” becomes rumination that it might need revisiting.
Brilliant strategy to flip the questioning back to the person who’s asking. People love to talk about themselves, so often it just takes one question from you to distract them. . .
I can tell that your coaching experience will likely help you a lot as you heal and progress. Thanks so much for your persistence in getting this comment to land here!
Take care, stay safe. . . ♥
Thanks Carolyn 🙂
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Oh, my goodness! You are in the very early stages of recovery. I had triple bypass surgery in 2010. I was in my early 60’s and was told that the younger you are, the more pain you suffer. I’m not sure if that’s true or not. One of the things I learned was that no two recoveries are the same.
I had so much sternum pain that I was on oxycodone for almost 2 months. For several weeks, I couldn’t lean forward or back more that 20 degrees without having severe pain. Extra strength Tylenol wouldn’t touch the pain. I also have a high metabolism and process medications quickly; so, would often need another pain medication before the 4 hours were up!
How dare someone ask you to “put on a happy face” when you’re in pain! That person has absolutely no idea what you’re going through and people like that need to be avoided. I’m generally a very positive, smiley person who puts others’ needs before my own, however, I was very grumpy and snappy when I was in pain. Fortunately my family knew that it was the pain talking, not me!
I wish you a speedy recovery; but your body will simply take the time it needs to recover. Be kind to yourself!
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I agree 100%, Linda. That “put on a happy face” remark is all about that responder – NOT about what the patient is going through. Fake smiling is known as “emotional labour” described by psychologists as “the suppression of feelings to provide a welcoming outward appearance to others.”
Fake smiling can in fact be downright dangerous to our own recovery, as I wrote about here: “When Heart Disease Wears A Smile“.
Take care, Linda – stay safe. . . ♥
Thanks Linda; I’m learning to be a much better listener to what my body is trying to tell me.
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I have mixed feelings about both approaches. It’s a horrible bore to hear long winded complaints every time you speak with someone, and that behavior can make you less eager to respond to their needs.
On the other hand, I think loved ones need to know where you stand medically on a regular basis. I send joint text “updates” to my children every couple of months or when something changes.
Before I did this I found they took it for granted that I was as robust and capable as when they were children, and my basic needs were not met. At my age, they need to be more attentive, and to achieve that without turning them off can sometimes be tricky.
If I need their help I try to be specific and concise. If there is a person who is a health proxy, they should receive more complete information.
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Hi Pat – I like your idea about the joint text messages every couple of months. I’m going to start that with my family too! And of course the person assigned as a health proxy should be right up to speed, just in case. I started a new folder on my laptop called “Medical” in which I update meds, appointments, or test results in case anybody missed any of that. We don’t want them to say “I had no idea!” on the day we keel over, right?
This week was a weird week for me (one GP/2 specialists appointments back to back) so rather than calling the family two days in a row with appointment highlights, the updates (if not critically urgent) could be listed on that joint message. I think that’s precisely why my daughter reacted with shock and fear when she watched me taking my nitro during our walk. It’s almost as if once the acute medical crisis passes, Mum is “fine” – and life goes on. They DO take it for granted! I’m basically a cheerful person and that’s what they see. Good ol’ Mum, same as always. Many chronic conditions are invisible – so no wonder.
I also like the joint update idea because it’s “just the facts” – not endless “he said, and then I said, and then he said. . . ”
I’ve observed that my grown kids offer to help out far more with tasks that they know are hard for me due to my recent arthritis diagnosis (because they can see with their own eyes how my gnarly knuckles and knee brace are actually different now) than they are to even think about offering help for cardiac symptoms. And I’m also more specific, as you suggest (e.g. “I need your help changing these light bulbs because I don’t feel safe up on the step ladder anymore.” ) We might also have a regular conversation about ‘down the road’ basic needs changing BEFORE they change.
Thanks for this, Pat. Take care, stay safe. . . ♥
I’m finally making a comment to your posts. I started reading your blog 4 years ago when I had a major heart attack at home at the age of 64. I had a 100% blockage in the ‘widow maker’ artery.
My symptoms were a quick onset, nausea, sweating, chills, and the most crushing chest pain. I guess I was fortunate that I knew something was not right and my husband called EMS. Describing my symptoms, they told him to give me aspirin. Within minutes the EMTs arrived and performed some tests and an EKG. I knew by their facial expressions that I was having a heart attack. Within minutes I was in the ambulance, administered nitro spray and a pain medication. I was taken to the hospital about 29 min away and directly into the cardiac emergency unit who were ready for me. I had one stent put in place.
The process from home to being monitored in my room was 2 hrs. Grateful I am to the quick response of the local EMT and cardiac team.
I do talk about my experience to others, more to educate them to be vigilant, not to ignore their bodies, and that nothing is insignificant.
What I find 4 years later is when others ask me how I am, it’s always relating to my heart attack. I feel fine and don’t think about the heart attack daily. I’m living with my experience.
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Hi Maxine – I appreciate the way you describe how you now share with others: “to educate them to be vigilant, not to ignore their bodies, and that nothing is insignificant.” 🙂
This advice should be followed by ALL women (and men). Yet researchers continue to warn us that women are significantly more likely than our male counterparts to ignore such advice, to minimize or dismiss their cardiac symptoms, or to assign non-cardiac reasons for cardiac symptoms. The disturbing results of the last American Heart Association survey on women’s awareness of heart disease reported that almost half of women do NOT know that chest pain is a cardiac symptom! We have a long way to go!
There’s even an entire field of study on what doctors call women’s “treatment-seeking delay behaviour” !
Your experience was such a great example of how women SHOULD be diagnosed and treated, and here you are four years later feeling fine! Newly diagnosed heart patients are always relieved to meet heart patients like you!
Take care, stay safe. . . . ♥
I’m a follower of yours and I’ve often heard you mention that you had the ‘widow maker’ heart attack as did I, but that you were turned away from the hospital.
Something has been bothering me about that scenario (well, actually a lot bothers me about it as I was given the choice by the EMTs to go back into the house or to the hospital). They say they can tell by blood work if we are having a heart attack or have even had one. Did they not do blood work? Did they just do an EKG or did they even do that? It’s very concerning.
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Hello Donna – this scenario IS concerning, but sadly not uncommon in female heart patients. First, paramedics should NEVER require a patient in mid-heart attack to self-diagnose as you were told to do! (Would they ask a male patient if he wants to go back into the house or be taken to Emergency?)
During my heart attack, Emergency staff did all standard cardiac diagnostic tests (blood tests, EKG, treadmill stress test) but reported that all my tests were “normal” and that my symptoms (central chest pain, nausea, sweating and pain down my left arm) were just acid reflux. What I’ve learned since then is that all cardiac diagnostic tests and procedures have been researched and developed for decades on (white, middle-aged) men. So they work pretty well in men, but not always in women. Here’s why:
The blood test you mention is a good example: what doctors look for is a cardiac enzyme called troponin (normally undetectable in the blood, but a standard indicator of heart muscle damage caused by a heart attack). Cardiac researchers like Dr. Karin Humphries have studied why these tests are less accurate in women (more on her work and other researchers here.
Her conclusion: “Setting a LOWER female-specific troponin threshold would improve the diagnosis, treatment and outcomes of women presenting to the Emergency Department.” Yet the high test result numbers doctors look for is set for males, not females – whose blood tests would be interpreted as “normal” (as in my case).
The other likely reason my troponin blood tests were interpreted as “normal” was that although guidelines require these serial blood tests every 3-6 hours (it takes time after the heart muscle leaks troponin to show up in a blood test; some hospitals require blood tests up to 12 hours apart just to be safe), my first “normal” test was repeated back to back with a second “normal” test – with virtually no wait between results. High troponin levels caused by a heart attack stay elevated for two weeks, which is why my second visit’s blood tests in Emergency were positive by then.
I only learned about this and Dr. Humphries’ research (among others) months after my own misdiagnosis.
Sadly, my case is NOT unique!
Take care, stay safe out there. . . ♥
I think Jill’s “most people open their mouths and speak to another without much thought of what they are trying to convey, why they want to convey it and who they are conveying it to” needs to be embroidered on a wall hanging! So true!
I also agree with you, Carolyn. I’m not sure talking about our problems helps much and it does keep them front and center, reactivating the nervous system as Dr. Keddy noted.
And I know it’s very different for heart patients and others living with debilitating, life threatening illnesses, for whom there are no easy solutions, but for this rest of the people I know I get tired of listening to them “vent” when I know they have no intentions of DOING anything about their situation.
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Hi Denise – I often threaten to embroider my reader’s especially brilliant comments (like Jill’s) on a pillow or wall-hanging! 🙂
I can understand how tiresome it can be to hear people with comparatively minor problems going on and on – especially when they’re complaining to somebody living with severe symptoms (who is likely not complaining).
I was a distance runner for many years in a running group at the Y. (Our motto: “No course too short, no pace too slow!”) Our group had what we called the 10-Minute Rule: for the first 10 minutes of every training run, we could complain as much as we wanted to while we ran along – about our aches and pains, blisters, shin splints, sore ankles, too hot, too cold, too rainy, too tired, etc. etc. BUT at the 10-minute mark, the rule was: NO MORE COMPLAINING. As one of my running buddies explained: “The truth is that none of us are that interested!” And the Rule worked! Maybe we should institute a 10-Minute Rule as we get older: we’d each get a short time to vent at will every day – and then we’d have to change the subject!
Thanks as always Denise for weighing in here today. . .♥
NOTE TO READERS: Please visit Denise’s wonderful site, Quitting The Sitting
– her simple mission is to help people with “sitting less and moving more”. She describes her site as “No funding, no staff, not selling anything. Just one person amplifying the message that chairs will suck the life out of you if you let them!”
When I had my heart surgery, I communicated with friends via email. I asked for people to pray for me. Often I had only enough energy to talk on the phone for 5 minutes, and I certainly didn’t have the energy, physically or emotionally, to repeatedly tell my story.
When I was first diagnosed and learned I would have surgery 8 days later, I set up 3 groupings of friends and family with a “lead” in each group.
That way, my daughter Carolyn only had to update 3 people who would then share with the rest. Once I was home from the hospital, I updated people myself. It would take me a few days to compose an email. That way, when I spoke with one of my friends or family, I didn’t need to update them and we could spend my 5 minutes of energy talking about other things.
In 2020,my husband was diagnosed with a serious health issue. Then in the August, he developed what we now think is long COVID which was made worse by the treatment for his previous health issue and has also exacerbated a couple of other medical issues he has.
Being a very private, shy introvert, he didn’t want people, other than our immediate family and siblings, to know as he didn’t want to talk about it or have phone calls or emails about it. The problem was that I needed people to talk to other than family!
I had to convince him to let me tell my closest friends and members of my church choir, who were meeting via ZOOM at the time, and more recently a small Church ZOOM coffee hour group of women. I needed people praying for us and I needed to be able to talk about what was going on. I also needed people to know what stress I was under and that there would be times that I couldn’t initiate phone calls – but always appreciated it when others took the lead.
I struggle with responding to “How are you?” with more distant friends and family. I always feel like I’m lying when I say “Fine, thanks. How are you?”. It is helpful to think of “How are you?” as a greeting not a question, but I’m not sure that I can simply not answer the question. Perhaps a response could be, “As good as can be expected.”; but that might evoke further questions which could make it worse.
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Hello Linda – I’m very sorry to hear that your husband is facing a number of serious health problems, but I am grateful that you mentioned his experience here. Being a family caregiver to a seriously ill spouse is so often an underappreciated role. All focus is understandably aimed at the patient and what the patient needs (“Don’t tell anybody!”) but distressed family members may have conflicting needs (“I need to talk to people other than family!”)
Sounds like you have arrived at a compromise that respects your husband’s need for privacy while still allowing you to have support and comfort from your friends.
Caring Bridge is the modern-day online version of the old-fashioned telephone tree. A friend of mine used this free site last year when her husband was ill in order to post his medical updates in one central place, and share other communications with friends, neighbours, co-workers and anybody else in the community without having to keep repeating the same updates individually. Very helpful. . .
Take care, Linda – I hope your husband (and you!) will feel better soon. ♥
There is a fine line between dwelling on our concerns and worries too much and becoming a hypochondriac that others avoid – and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and sharing with those closest who genuinely care.
I know how much I appreciate our conversations Carolyn and always come away feeling better for the connection.👩❤️💋👩
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So true, Kit – it’s a fine line indeed. I think it’s mostly about an overall balance – and being selective about choosing which people genuinely do care. The “hypochondriac that others avoid” is not what anybody ever aims to become, but might be viewed that way because they’re unable to accurately tell the difference between close friends who do care – and strangers who don’t.
And yes, connections with old friends are the best! ♥
Wow! So spot on for me today. I learned last week that I have breast cancer — again — 13 years after a lumpectomy on the other side. One of my favorite responses came from my son, who said, “Good thing you don’t have three breasts…”
Well, I did tell my friendship network and was exhausted processing their reactions. I wound up wisecracking that this means cancer treatment but I’m not hearing the grim reaper calling, “Sara. . . I’m coming for you.”
Seriously, I’m contemplating how to manage the upcoming medical process, getting the support I need and keeping friends informed without this becoming overwhelming.
The image of seniors gathering for the organ recital haunts me.
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Hi Sara – I felt like laughing AND crying at the same time reading your words this morning. So sorry to hear about last week’s diagnosis! After 13 years, I’m guessing you might have even started to relax about this potential possibility – although my friends with breast cancer say that even with “successful” treatment in the past, there’s often that niggling “other shoe dropping” fear in the background.
I hope your upcoming procedures are uneventful and seamless,and that you do NOT hear that grim reaper’s voice for a long long time yet.Hang in there, and take good care. . . ♥
PS Your son is hilarious. . . 🙂
Sara – Oh my God, your son’s answer was priceless! There are so many situations in life where we have a choice to cry or laugh. . . When you need to cry, cry well and get it out, and then laugh whenever you can!
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Dear Carolyn. . . I feel exactly as you do.
I have absolutely no need to share my latest and greatest medical story. Being an RN for 50 years, I was a walking magnet for people’s health stories and vowed not to become “those people”.
I also remember going to lunch years ago with a friend, also an RN, and saying, “When I get older if I spend an entire lunch talking to you about my bodily functions, just shoot me.”
The entire situation of when to share and when not to share is really a question of self-awareness and awareness of others.
By this I mean, most people open their mouths and speak to another without much thought of what they are trying to convey, why they want to convey it and who they are conveying it to.
As you mentioned, very often those who talk at length about their symptoms are really just seeking attention. They might do well thinking before they speak: Why do I feel such an urge to tell another person about my medical issues? Do I think they have a remedy that would help? Am I lonely? Do I feel some pride or pleasure in being more physically challenged than the person I’m talking to? Is my illness some sort of badge of courage and I feel I should be noticed?
As you mentioned, journaling and talk therapy, and an interest in our own behavior can unravel the motivations behind our actions.
I haven’t done a formal study on this. . . but I believe that people with a solid sense of self, a feeling of life purpose and a Spiritual sense that they are much more than their bodies, probably engage in less medical sharing than others.
A long time ago, I read somewhere that the main difference between humans and animals is that humans are able to think about their thinking. Thinking before we speak, understanding the power our words have on other people and thinking about our thinking is a life long adventure!
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Hello Jill – In fact, I was thinking a lot about nurses while writing this post, specifically my many nurse friends during years working in the hospital together who were, as you say, ‘walking magnets’ for others’ health stories – 24/7! Not just at work with patients and families – but out grocery shopping or getting a haircut!
The other remarkable observation during those years was that although “those people” assumed nurses were eternally on-call to listen to their stories, they seemed to have zero interest in the nurses who were doing the listening! NONE! It was ALL about THEM.
Thinking about thinking – a lifelong adventure for me, too!
Take care, stay safe out there, Jill. . . ♥
While working in the hospital I always listened to patients and families and never felt burdened because it was part of being a nurse and I loved my job.
However, I didn’t really understand the energy it took to actively listen for 8-10-12 hours straight. I couldn’t figure out why, coming home, listening to my husband complain about his head cold annoyed me to no end!! I felt like saying “You want to know about pain and suffering? Try having open heart surgery or having your leg amputated!”
I never said it, but I felt it. As always, trying to change how another person acts is a pretty futile endeavor. What I needed to do was to look into why I was feeling the things I was feeling. It took me a long time to realize what a HUGE self-care deficit I had built up, and begin to reverse the deficit.
Thanks for being such a compassionate listener and remember to always fill your Self up!
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Hi again Jill – such a good point about recognizing that “self-care deficit”. The more stretched-thin or exhausted or overloaded or unwell we feel, the harder it is to really listen to others – particularly to problems we judge as relatively minor ones. That’s sure true for me, too. . . ♥
Just wrote a blurb here, and it went before I was ready. It was long and rambling…. I hope that you actually got it.
I think you are great. I’m a big fan.
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Oh, no! I didn’t get your blurb, Anne. Pour yourself another coffee and please try again, okay? ♥