If you’ve ever known someone with a serious health issue, chances are that person lied to you at some point. It might not have been a major lie, but they might have sugarcoated their feelings in one conversation or another.
Since I shared my diagnosis with in my social circles, people have connected me to their friend, family member, colleague, or other contact who has dealt with breast cancer. When I talk to the connectors, they emphasize how strong, resilient, and inspiring their contacts are.
Then I talk to their contacts, and I realize how much those contacts have lied or sugarcoated the truth for others in their lives.
I’m not here to do that.
As mentioned in my last post, I still go to my full-time job. Although I have been transparent about my health with those who work most closely with me, I’m not announcing my diagnosis on any billboards.
When most colleagues and leaders in my workplace ask me how I am, I still reply, “Okay,” “Fine,” or “Things are crazy, but I’m doing alright,” whether or not those words are completely true.
Leading presentations and advising individuals are among my major responsibilities at work. Today I held an advising appointment with a student and facilitated a workshop for a class. I had no choice but to act like I was as good as could be to get my job done.
If I’m not at work, I’m likely running errands. Whether I’m riding the train, shopping for groceries, or out doing laundry, I’m doing my best to manage my tone, facial expressions, and body language for strangers all around me.
So if I want to have an outlet where I don’t have to manage my tone, facial expressions, and body language, I have a right to that experience. I have a right to a space—a public one—where I can fully voice my opinions.
I am a strong believer in meeting with a therapist, chaplain, support group, or other source of support, but I also recognize that those spaces are meant to be private and confidential. Not every healing space is private and confidential.
I have met people who go to therapists for years and years, but their closest friends and family have no clue how much they struggle behind closed doors.
The ex-partners that I dated the longest were thought of as the responsible ones in their respective families. They were ambitious and determined to pursue levels of education that their parents never had, and they ended up in well-paying professions because of their intelligence, persistence, and work ethic. I had such mad respect for them, but I also got to see the downsides of those same qualities that I loved in them. They were so busy accomplishing goals and making others proud that they didn’t prioritize nourishing their souls with love and support.
To this day, I respect their hustles despite whatever differences I had with them during our relationships.
Also to this day, having a front row seat to their hustles changed the way I approach my own goals, aspirations, and priorities.
I saw how much pressure—both internal and external—was placed on them to play particular roles and uphold their reputations for being responsible, reliable, and successful.
I don’t want to play a role. I want spaces to be strong, vulnerable, solemn, hopeful, and joyful when they feel most true to my spirit.
Since I started reaching out and doing informational interviews with breast cancer survivors, I brought up how jarring it was to note the differences between how the survivors saw their own situations and how our mutual contacts had communicated their circumstances to me. The survivors admitted how they sometimes felt an instinct to protect the emotions of those around them. For instance, they would acknowledge to others how tough their diagnosis had been on them, but they were sure to include a “but” clause afterward to qualify what they had acknowledged just a minute earlier.
I completely understand why they do that because I do it too. For this reason, I’m intentional about finding relationships and communities where I don’t have to manage my tone. Survivors spend so much energy making others feel comfortable that we need to build capacity to build ourselves up again.