In the Celebrations edition of the MLWT enewsletter, I introduced a new column “Community Sharing.” I will be announcing three topics that come into my email inbox on a regular basis and I am asking those of you who receive the enewsletter to send back your responses so that I can post them here on the site.
Here are the three community requests and the responses I received – thank you to those of you contributing to the discussion!
Request #1: Some suggestions on how to respond to family/friends who question the inconsistencies of our symptoms (for example, “You were fine a half hour ago!”)
A few people recommended The Spoon Theory, a familiar tool using something tangible to reflect a measurement of how much energy it takes to get through a day. Although not everyone with lupus experiences challenges with fatigue, using spoons (or I’ve also heard people use other things like tooth picks) is a good way to express loss that others can relate to.
On a similar note, I recently learned of a communication tool that a dear friend, and organizer for the Portland-area Fibromyalgia/CFS support group , Tamara uses to give her husband a signal for the day regarding how she’s feeling. When her clear jar is full of the polished pieces of glass, she’s doing great. As the day goes on, she removes pieces as needed and, without saying a word, he ‘sees’ where she is at a given time. What makes this a wonderful way of communicating is that they both developed this language together and by taking out the need to exchange words taxes her less and strengthens their relationship more. Co-creating a communication tool that speaks clearly and compassionately is something maybe to ask your friends to take part in.
Of course, there is the standard communication tool of “I feel…” messages, as I was reminded by a graduate of the Living Well with Chronic Conditions workshop, Laurie. These messages, with practice, help take some of the defensiveness out of a situation by focusing more on how we feel or the concerns that we have when something is said or done. In the situation that prompted this question here, the member who sent me the email felt defensive immediately when her sister-in-law couldn’t understand what happened within a half hour that changed her energy levels. She snapped back and wished that she had a better, and cleverer, response that wouldn’t have led to hurt feelings all around. Here is an example of how a conversation might happen and how using these types of messages can make the same conversation go a little better for everyone:
Without an “I” message –
Sister-in-law: “You were fine a half hour ago!”
MLWT member: “So, what are you saying? That I’m making it up? Thanks for the compassion…”
With an “I” message –
Sister-in-law: “You were fine a half hour ago!”
MLWT member: “I feel like I need to defend myself when I can’t explain how much my body puts me through. I really want to figure out a way of telling you how I feel so that we could understand each other better.”
The key here is that the MLWT member focuses on what she is feeling, thinking and wanting without using those dreaded “You” messages that feel great in spewing to others, but cause emotions to get away from us… leading to defensiveness towards everyone. Whether the sister-in-law commits herself to actually help figure out a way to better communicate is out of the MLWT member’s hands. First, and foremost, the MLWT member gets what is on her mind off her chest and maintains a sense of calm (managing stress) while coming up with an idea to ‘fix’ the situation (proactive and constructive). These messages may not feel very natural at first, but taking that extra minute to focus on taking care of you gives more opportunity for positive results than there would be otherwise.
Finally, MLWT member, Janice, simply stated: “Tell her to just smile and nod – people will never really understand what we’re going through.” Good point, Janice.
Request #2: Kitchen products that have good grips and are light weight
Here are some responses I received to this MLWT member request:
-Kitchen Kaboodle sometimes has great little tools, or any senior living source (Gladys)
-Arthritis Foundation website sometimes mentions products (Laurie)
Request #3: Any books that help mothers be supportive to their children who are struggling with chronic health challenges (preferably non-clinical)
I’m still compiling, but Universityof Michigan offers a great website that covers some really important points that you may be interested in. It isn’t easy to find sources covering illnesses like lupus or fibromyalgia, but consider seeking out books and websites that cover areas like cancer (LOTS of books available). Even terminal or hospice sources that discuss caretaking for communication tips. Of course, the National Lupus Foundation is always open to hearing your requests, offers topics like this in their webinars and has a book recommendation list you may want to check out.
If you’re on Twitter and have some additional resource ideas, use #CIbook within your tweet and I’ll find it! You are more than welcome to share them here, as well.
The Winter/Spring MLWT Musings enewsletter will be out in late February, so if you have any thing you want to put out there to the community members to help problem solve an issue, email me here and I’ll get it into the next edition.