My best friend is having a holiday party and I would really like to go. On the other hand, I am kind of dreading it. All those people dressed up to the nines, carefree, without any problems in their lives. My daily pain, food allergies, broken down feet, all make a simple party rather dreary. I always feel like I need to explain why I am not real social. My friend says just to come and not worry about it, but I am not sure. Should I go?
I understand it is not an easy decision to make. There are benefits to getting out and meeting new people, even when we don’t feel all that great. But that doesn’t mean we should sit around at the party and explain to people how hard it is to have some fun. Would we want to make the effort to have a night without worries and then hear ourselves talk on and on about our aches? Be honest. Not necessarily, right? Even I get tired of hearing about my own aches and pains sometimes!
Here is an example of what a conversation could sound like.
As the holiday parties start to happen for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve, so does the dilemma of deciding if you are going to be honest with other people, or just let go and do your best to have a good time. There is no right or wrong answer and it’s different for each person and situation. But let’s look at it from the perspective that your intent is to have fun.
Do you want to go to this party?
Illness is not any fun, right? The whole idea of having a good time is to put on some shoes that do not include fleece inside of them and get out of the house for a couple of hours. If your intent is to have a good time, make a conscious decision to make choices that reflect this. You are not attending a counseling session, a support group meeting, or a place to have all your fears validated. Keep perspective and avoid having expectations of other people.
Faking it is not betraying yourself
Someone asks, “So, how are you doing? You look so nice tonight.”
How do you reply? “Pretty good, thanks so much!” or. . . “Well, I am obviously pulling it off, because I feel absolutely terrible, but I did my best to hide it.”
Too many people with chronic illness feel a huge quandary that if they do not explain all about how badly they feel they are two-faced. Just because you get to the party and look decent does not mean that you are in not pain. You may actually experience pain twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. I personally know that choosing to have fun when you are hurting is a choice, and not an easy one! By choosing to not discuss this with everyone at the party, however, does not mean you are not lying, betraying, deceiving, or being invalidated. You are putting the pain aside as much as possible and having conversation with people.
Are you looking for a thrill or a therapist?
When we have a chronic illness it can be a natural tendency to want to talk to someone about what we are experiencing. But your friend’s holiday party it not the place to do it. Everyone there has their own challenges in life too, yet they are attending to have a light-hearted night, not hear about your aches and pains. It is not that they don’t care–they just don’t know you! And if they did know you and care, a real conversation, one-on-one, in a quieter place would be much more ideal than trying to tell your story over the loud music.
Don’t explain yourself
You may need a chair to sit down in. You may avoid food filled with gluten. You may not be able to drink alcohol. The medications before you came may be making you drowsy. You may only be able to stay an hour so you can function tomorrow. That is all okay. So, just do it! Find a chair, grab a non-alcoholic drink, excuse yourself by 10 PM. You don’t have to explain why you do what you do. If you are afraid of offending your host, explain a few days before the party that you may slip out early since you are trying to pace yourself, but don’t worry about what others think. Honestly, most of them won’t even notice.
If you open that can of worms. . .
So you did it, you mentioned your illness. Maybe it just slipped out or perhaps you were trying to explain to someone why you aren’t training for the Ironman triathlon like everyone else seems to be. Before you know it someone is telling you she sells this special water that would make all your pain go away, or that his mother’s neighbor’s daughter tried this special extract and now she has been able to stop taking all of her medication. It’s painful to listen to. It hurts. It makes you want to throw a drink at someone and run screaming from the room. But you opened up this can of worms by revealing you have an illness. Be polite and walk away as soon as possible. Go hide in the bathroom and take a few deep breaths. There is little you can do to change someone’s opinion so don’t waste your energy.
Be real friends with . . . real friends
“But all of this is so fake!” you may say. “I feel like such a fraud! I can barely walk through the room without limping, my back is killing me, I don’t even know why I came if know one here knows the real me!” That’s understandable. The “real you” likely is someone who deals with a great deal of chronic pain, doctors appointments, and side effects of medications. It is a juggling act to keep up with friends, career, family, an illness, and still have a social life. No one there knows about the rash that is under your clothes or that you can’t eat most of the food presented. That is okay. Real friends know the real you. This is an outing where you can get to know people and see if there is anyone you “click” with who you may like to become better friends with in the future.
Illness is a very intimate thing. To those of us who live with it, it can be the underlying foundation of our choices, attitude, and moment-by-moment moods. As much as we try to not have it define us, the disease fights to control us. For those who do not live with illness, however, it is a very personal topic. It is a problem to be solved–and maybe solved within a few minutes if they give you the right advice. They do not see illness as a lifestyle or as a filter for your priorities, but rather as a weakness, a surrendering you are making to something that has power over you.
Parties are meant to be casual, fun, and light-hearted. They are meant to be places you discuss the weather, sports, current events, and the Kardashians–even if it’s about how you refuse to talk about the Kardashians any longer. They are not a place where chronic illnesses can be discussed in a way that will make you feel better. People do not come to parties to be informed about health issues. If you bring it up, you likely will only be frustrated, not validated, nor shown the understanding or compassion you crave.
So, do you want to just skip the party? You may! These kind of get togethers can be seen as superficial gatherings where no one talks about anything important. If you feel that way, you may find more comfort in just staying home and inviting a friend over to watch a DVD. But if you decide to go, remember to do your best to put aside your personal needs and just choose to mingle and get to know other people. Who knows what they may be going through that they aren’t sharing! And if you can smile and have a conversation with people, you may find out who you have something in common with and form that real friendship in time.
Lisa Copen is the founder of Rest Ministries and she lives in San Diego with her husband and son. She is gradually learning how to balance motherhood, family, illness, and ministry, but she still knows it will be a lifetime lesson. You can see the books she has written, including, Why Can’t I Make People Understand? at the Rest Ministries shop.