“Keep a stiff upper lip.” It’s a phrase most of us have heard in different forms since we were children and began to show emotion in response to whatever circumstances we were in: “Big boys don’t cry.” “Deal With It.” Shut up that noise.” “Bite the bullet.” “Keep your chin up.” “Nobody wants to hear about your problems.”
Now, I will quickly say that yes, the pendulum can swing too far over to the other side and everything becomes mushy and maudlin. Everyone is a victim. Everything deserves tears. But honestly, there IS a happy medium and we can make an effort to land on it. Does your friend hurt? Let them know you are a safe haven for them to be vulnerable. Do you see someone in need? Don’t assume someone else will minister to them.
This has been resonating with me since I read a post about loneliness. Basically the writer explains that everyone at some time feels lonely, because of separation, whether by death, divorce or distance. Artists have to deal with it a lot, especially when what they are trying to say is misunderstood. Many artists express their gifts from a place of pain. Then at the end of his blog, the writer states that loneliness is a choice – not being alone, but loneliness.
If only loneliness were just a choice. I suffer from a debilitating incurable disease which leaves me housebound most days and has taken my life and turned it upside down, from vibrant, full days with my antique business, travel with my husband and many side activities. When I was struck with this illness, friends drifted off, I was in a great deal of pain, and our lives came to a standstill. I began to play with art, and picked up an old hobby of photography. I cannot sell at art shows, my cognitive abilities are impaired, so it is difficult for me to do marketing because my brain tires, but I create art with any time I have where I have a bit of energy. I cannot handle people around me, so I am a hermit most of the time (with a loving and supportive husband). But yes, I am lonely. I am admired, I am praised, but I am lonely. I miss the opportunity to discuss things with friends, to go for coffee, to go out on dates with my husband. Creating art is fulfilling, but the business of art is exhausting. I cannot follow the suggested courses of action for marketing art. Most of our earlier friends have all disappeared, although I tried to keep in touch with emails and letters, but answers dwindled to nothing, which is very common with people who have invisible illnesses. I would be utterly devastated if there were no internet access – it is my connection to the world. We have a big art community in our area, but for the most part my participation is just a small inroad from the outside. I submit to juried art shows and have some success. I have been asked to put on shows and new friends help hang things, but they have their own lives and cannot be there all of the time. I have my work in a gallery, but cannot get there as often as I would like to change things out, because I have to depend on someone to drive me. Frankly, I miss people, and because I do not look sick, it makes it hard to build a rapport with the few people I do meet. I even get hard stares when we park in a handicap space. Lonely is not always a choice. It certainly hasn’t been for me in the past 7 years. Do I feel sorry for myself? No. But I can admit that it is very lonely being in this position.
But because of the “stiff upper lip” rationale, it’s hard for people in need to reach out. And the flip side is that it’s hard as a “normal” person to accept someone reaching out. We feel uncomfortable around sick people, we don’t know how to solve the problem, we doubt their veracity. We tell them, by our actions and attitudes – “Just keep a stiff upper lip.” We learned from childhood that vulnerability is a big sign of weakness, we are taught that there are agencies in place “for these people.”
Well then, I say that all of that is just a crappy excuse. Don’t know what to say? Say “Hi, thinking of you.” Don’t know what to do? Send them a card, postcard, or letter. We who are sick don’t need you to fix our problems, we just need to be remembered. I can’t be included in many things, but it’s nice to know I’ll be missed. Don’t be afraid to tell me about your day, or your vacation, I want to experience your joy, or your frustration. I can’t always answer you immediately, but I sure do appreciate the time you have taken. And if you are the one in need, no one can offer anything to you if you DON”T speak up!
Someday, you may need someone. Let people know you care, and give them some of your time. Nothing in this world is more important than giving a smile or greetings to another person, sick or well.
Enjoy your life one day at a time!