Chronic illness and being strong

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Strong.  As in ‘You’re so strong’.

I used to think this was a compliment.  I used to take it that way.  I liked the sound of it. Strong!  Hells yeah!  Damn straight I’m strong.  Rheumatoid Arthritis and the rest of the mess is NOT for the faint of heart.  Yep.  I’m strong.

Slowly I realised what ‘You’re so strong’ really  means.

Often it means someone just doesn’t want to talk about your problems. Your disease. Your pain.  The want to talk about themselves.  So when someone says:

“But you’re so strong. I know you’ll be OK.”

What they are often saying is “I’m tired of hearing about it. I want to talk about ME now.”

I don’t actually talk about my problems that much.  I play it pretty close to my chest.  Which sounds ironic, because I post it to the world all over my blog.  Originally I didn’t tell anyone that Arthrtic Chick was my blog.

Truth? I wanted a place where I could complain about the horrible way people were treating me.  I had been diagnosed with a really nasty disease, and all I got was ‘suck it up’, ‘It can’t be that bad’, ‘You don’t look sick’ and ‘Aren’t you over that yet?’ and ‘Yes, but my knee hurts more’.

So I stopped talking about it very quickly. I only tortured a few, select people who were kind enough to put up with me.  I’m a good judge of character.  I can see a kind soul through beautiful eyes.  Or maybe it’s the kind soul that makes the eyes beautiful.  Either way, I pursued a few friendships because I needed a kind person in my life, who would listen for five minutes.

When people told me to think positive and ‘be strong’ I reacted badly. I DO think positive.  But I also need to be honest.  I am not drama queening.  And am the anti-drama queen.  I had walking pneumonia and still attended my friend’s party, so she wouldn’t be upset with me.

That was ‘strong’.  Right?

It wasn’t strong. It was stupid. It was weak.  I was afraid of the backlash. Afraid she wouldn’t be my friend anymore. And she wouldn’t have!  But what kind of friend is that?

I put my health at serious risk for a friend who was so selfish that she didn’t care that I was coughing up blood.  She needed BALANCED numbers at her dinner party and I ALL I HAD TO DO WAS SIT THERE!  Really!  Is that too much to ask???

Yes. It was.

But I’m strong.

So I have learned over the years that ‘strong’ is not a compliment.  It’s a way of manipulating me into doing something other people want me to do. I’m strong, right?  So of course I can do that thing they want.

And the crazy thing?  I used to do it.

But now I’m not so strong. I really am quite sick.  I have multiple health conditions. And no, none of them are cancer, and I am extremely grateful for that.  But I am very sick, most of the time.

So people don’t get strong by choice. They don’t get strong by having loving, caring people around them.  They don’t get strong by having had a gentle, happy life. They don’t get strong by having people who love them look after them and care for them.

Being strong is not a personality trait. You aren’t born that way.

You get that way.

You get strong out of necessity.  You get strong out of having been abandoned.  Rejected.  Denied.  Bullied.  Ignored.  Dismissed.  Betrayed.  Superceded. Left. And forgotten.

And it’s true.  You’re so strong.  You will be OK.

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