It’s strange how when you share your views with another person, you end up clarifying your own thoughts. This is why when you teach something, you really appropriate the knowledge far more thoroughly than when you are a student. What provoked tonight’s rumination? A phone call from a patient! We talked for quite a while about support, and more importantly, the lack thereof. As I listened, I tried to really hear what this person was saying. I shared similar experiences. People with chronic illness often lament that “they just don’t understand.” No, they don’t. And no, they can’t. Even if people are around, ultimately, we each have to go on this journey alone.
When I was expecting my first child I was terrified. After five years of not using any contraception, I decided that I took after my mother and would have a hard time conceiving. But unlike my mother, I wasn’t obsessed with motherhood and certainly wasn’t going to go through all kinds of medical tests and procedures in order to have a child. I would turn my attention to my career. As soon as I made that decision, I got pregnant. It was then that I realized that each of us has to do the most difficult things alone. Someone “understanding” how I felt when I hurled in the morning didn’t change the fact that I hurled. My husband being with me in labor (22 very long hours) didn’t change the fact that I was the one having the contractions or that I was the one who had to push my son into the world. What was going on in my body was my experience and mine alone.
Back to tonight’s conversation…As we talked, I heard myself say, “I finally realized that they don’t have to understand. They don’t have to get it. Once I let go of the expectation that they understand, once I stopped trying to make them understand, I was free to get on with my life. I was free to make my peace with my illness. I didn’t have to waste energy explaining, describing or convincing. All that energy was freed up to create a new life.”