Do you have people in your life that, the day you told them about your diagnosis, started relating to you as if you had (your diagnosis: diabetes, arthritis, cancer, HIV, etc.) tattooed on your forehead?
There are people in your life who are going to take it in stride, and relate to you as they always have though, at least initially, with some extra concern about how you are feeling physically and emotionally. Often this is temporary, and just requires some patience and reassurance on your part as they adjust to the news, not unlike the process that you have gone through.
And then there are those people who for some reason, can’t seem to move past your diagnosis, as if everything you say or do is somehow connected to it.
There are a lot of reasons why other people behave this way. Their concern can be the result of feeling like they need to fix you or take care of you and not sure how to do it. Trying to tell you what you should be eating. Drilling you on whether you are getting enough rest. Asking if you are getting check-ups. They want to help and they feel helpless. And so they may try to make their own helplessness go away by trying to manage your life. In other words, projecting their own helplessness onto you.
On the other hand, you may have people in your life who assume that you want them to show their concern. Or who want you to assure that – no problem – they’re willing to talk about diagnosis (over and over…).
So where does that leave you? Well, in control, for one thing. And here are some steps you can take to establish the role you want diagnosis to play in your relationships.
Be a role model. Yes, your friends and family are keeping an eye on you. You can show them that you are dealing with your diagnosis by taking good care of yourself. For example, signs that you are taking care of yourself, having an optimistic attitude, and staying compliant with treatment may help to reassure them that, while your condition has presented new challenges, you are managing just fine. Actions speak louder than words, as they say.
Try some “patient” education. Encourage your loved ones to ask you questions. Give them information that you think they can understand and that will also provide enough information that they will have a sense of what you are facing. You might want to offer answers to the questions that you suspect your loved ones have but are afraid to ask.
Look for teachable moments. When an issue arises, address it in the moment rather than saving it up as material for your next lecture. If a loved one says or does something that shows lack of understanding or insensitivity, or treats as if you can’t take care of yourself, use that moment to gently let them know how their behavior makes you feel. Some humor can help. “My name is still ___________. I didn’t change it to (insert your diagnosis here). Even though it does kind of have a ring to it.” (smile).
And don’t forget to take care of yourself…
Be your authentic self. When things don’t feel all that rosy, don’t pressure yourself to pretend otherwise. Let the people you are closest to know when you are having one of those days that we all have from time to time, when the challenges of life, including but not limited to your diagnosis, are just plain frustrating. And then let them be there for you, as they have been in the past.
Be gentle, but firm. There is a fine line between being micromanaged and being made to feel disempowered. Set limits by letting people know that you are taking responsibility for your health, that you appreciate their concern, and that you will let them know if you need their help. Some people may need to hear this more than once before it sinks in. Keep in mind that the people who care the most about you can also be a little flat-footed at times, but that they are acting out of love. Patience can go a long way here.
Be optimistic, but don’t expect miracles. We can’t control how other people choose to think or feel or behave. To assume otherwise is a losing proposition. People come around in their own way and in their own time, or, sadly, sometimes not at all.
And so, at the risk of repeating myself: Take care of yourself. And don’t forget that you are a multi-faceted human being. You are not a diagnosis.