Resisting the urge to be totally defensive
This month I got a really upsetting note from an acquaintance who aired some grievances with me. I appreciated him/her taking the time to try to establish a dialogue with me, but I knew from past experience that engaging in the conversation wouldn’t truly resolve anything. One of this person’s frustrations with me was that I claim to care about things (especially community involvement opportunities) but that I don’t actually put my money where my mouth is by showing up.
Boy oh boy, that got my blood boiling. I talked to my friend HT (someone who appears in my articles nowandthen), who is quite wise and who I knew would steer me in the right direction. I ended up writing the person back to acknowledge his/her note and to say I respected his/her opinions. I kept my answer succinct, saying that I wasn’t sure anything I could say would resolve things in a way that would make us both happy, so I was going to just be as polite and understanding as I could and close the conversation.
It was hard. REALLY hard. Do you know what I wanted to say, even though I know it would be pointless? I wanted to list all the things I am involved in. I wanted to mention how many hours I work in an average week. I wanted to give counter-arguments for every point he/she made. Above all else, I wanted to say, “DO YOU KNOW THAT I AM A CHRONICALLY ILL PERSON WHOSE LIFE IS IMPEDED BY MIGRAINE EACH AND EVERY DAY? DO YOU KNOW HOW DIFFICULT IT IS FOR ME TO DO ALL THAT I DO? Don’t you know I already beat myself up sometimes for all the things I want to accomplish but simply can’t due to health and time constraints?”
Listen. I know that this is an anomaly. I am really fortunate to be surrounded by a supportive community and people who are appreciative of what I do. I’m sure there are plenty of people who feel I and my business have a LOT of room for improvement—I’m not saying this person is the only one who feels that way, he/she was just the first to speak up so strongly. I also know that it would’ve been an exercise in futility to take the time to argue with this person and explain that, in my heart and in my head, I have good responses for his/her many points.
One thing I learned from this hurtful and frustrating letter is just how defensive I still feel regarding my migraine. I am (obviously) an outspoken health advocate who champions the cause of migraineurs and is no longer in the closet about my illness and the effects it has on my personal and professional lives. But my instinct in this case was to defend myself by outlining all the ways in which I am impeded by my health, all the ways in which I am limited by the migraines that show up and interrupt my day with little or no warning.
Have you ever had a situation similar to mine, where someone has pointed out something that is all too obvious to us: that we say we will do something and don’t, or that we claim to support something but then don’t show up 100% of the time? I think even if I were a totally healthy person I shouldn’t feel forced to be involved with every single thing that is meaningful to me. But as a frequently sick person, I feel even more like a rock in a hard place.
Have you taken our Migraine In America Survey yet?