My journey into life with chronic pain and mental illness is long and, perhaps, a bit of a snooze-fest so I will get right down to brass tacks.
I have difficulties with my left leg and ankle due to a severe break and subsequent nerve damage after 3 surgeries. I also have disc problems in my low back, si joints problems, as well as mental health struggles.
Also important to note is that I have been unable to work and on disability benefits on and off for the past 10 years. Currently I am unable to work and desperately miss my position of Head Curling Pro, my ultimate dream job. I gritted my teeth and held on for about three and a half years but almost four years ago the injuries kept getting worse and I had to go on disability leave again.
Here’s a social situation I deal with frequently and it’s a double whammy because it involves both chronic illness and social anxiety. I know, riveting stuff right…
So, here’s the setup – I am invited to an event of some sort…and there will be people I know and people I don’t know at said event. Horrors! No seriously, Horrors.
Here’s why; in my experience, the most common conversation starters are, “so, what do you do for a living?” and “where do you work?” or “how’s your back doing? Are you back at work yet?”
I know, I often asked these Pandora’s box style questions before I came to understand the uncomfortable dread it inspires in me now.
When these questions are lobed in my direction I literally begin to tremble, my throat constricts, and tears prick my eyes. I usually stutter something about being injured and off work.
The next questions are invariably, “where did you work? What is your injury?”
So I mention I was Head Curling Pro at a sports club, my dream job, perhaps a job I’ll never be able to return to and my heart breaks at the mere thought of this.
Once they know the basics they want to fix me. And I know they mean well but being interrogated about all the zillions of treatments I’ve tried, and Dr’s offices I’ve sat in, and all the tests I’ve had sucks. I feel like sinking into the floor in a puddle of tears and flowing quietly from the room.
I try to hold it together until they’ve suggested some treatment which worked miracles for Great Auntie Nelly and simply involves sacrificing a goat and three chickens simultaneously during a blood moon while naked in a circle of crystal skulls imported from Morocco.
I take the advice as graciously as I can as I know the intentions are good. Then, I reiterate all the things I’m already working on and promise to look into the goat thing.
Getting into situations as described are terrifying for me. I have even cancelled, with great guilt and regret, attending events because I fear this so much.
One of the many psychologists I’ve seen had a great suggestion for an alternative conversation starter and it’s so simple and perfect.
“How do you like to spend your time?”
I beg you to change to this as opening dialogue. Please understand there are many invisible and visible reasons why the former questions make many people uncomfortable.
I hope this glimpse into my perspective is of some help and value.