October 29, 2007
A friend with a very sick husband complained to me that some people were driving her crazy with unasked for advice, intrusive sympathy and just dumb, self-centered comments. Still, she didn’t want to be rude or hurt their feelings. I encouraged her to make sure to take care of herself, and to try to be clear with people on what she needed and didn’t need. The important thing was for her to save her strength for herself, her husband and her family at such a demanding, difficult time.
She asked me to again post the suggestions we had online a few years back, from "Lessons Learned from My Husband’s Illness". Here are the three points that I think apply to her situation:
- Be really clear with friends and family what you need from them and what you don''t need from them. Again, it''s not fair that you have to do this at a time when you have no energy for it, but the price of not doing it is too high. If you want visits and calls and cards, tell them. If visits, cards and calls feel like an assault, tell them that. If they insist, tell them "It''s out of the question" (for some reason, this phrase stops them cold!) And let trusted family and friends help out with setting limits with others and clarifying what would be useful to you. There''s no better resource and they''ll feel good about contributing; and it will deepen and enrich their relationship with you at a powerful time.
- Also, be smart about asking people to do what they''re good at. Some friends are great listeners. Others are terrible listeners but great cooks. Still others have a talent for efficient errand running, or internet database searching. They''ll be glad to have an assignment they can actually perform well for you, and you''ll be very glad for their excellent help.
- When people start giving you unwanted advice, or sharing their own illness story with the hideous outcome, or, out of their own anxiety, implying that this terrible thing would not happen to them because they eat right and exercise (oh, puh-leeeze!), you need to be at the ready with a firm, fast response, preferably chosen in advance, because these things have a way of taking your breath away. So, "That is not helpful" is a good one, as is "I really don''t need to hear that right now" or "We need to change the subject" . If all else fails,"This conversation is giving me a stomach ache" is a sure-fire winner. Again, you''re not going to be in the mood to be this assertive, but if you have the line ready, you can use it. It''s necessary protection from well-meaning but clueless people.
And all you well-meaning friends and family out there, take heed from this!! Tread lightly and sensitively, and, if in doubt, ask how you can help.
On another note, if you have a minute, check out the pilot study in this week’s Hot Research, showing that aerobic exercise is helpful for reducing the symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). And yes, I’m still working on that new OCD guided imagery CD. OK, take care and be well.