"I'm going to stop you there"

    Yesterday a woman I know slightly from work said I looked great and asked me how I was doing. I knew what she meant—that I didn’t look sick with Crohn’s—and she started to try to say something about Crohn’s, about how awful it is, and I glanced away, trying my best not to listen. The offhand, ill-informed comments that people make tend to terrify me. Their intentions are always good, I assume, but that doesn’t mean shit.
    A couple of months ago, I was at the chiropractor, a new guy filling in for my usual, more experienced chiropractor, who was gone for a week to Cabo. This substitute chiropractor, young, gangly, and a bit insecure, made fun of my neck for being so out of whack even as his hands shook when he demonstrated an exercise to strengthen my back. Something he said made me mention Crohn’s, and he started to regale me with tales of woe collected from his patients. He mentioned the specific version of suffering each one experienced—the one who has a flare every January, the one who… I jumped in.
    “I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to stop you there,” I said apologetically, twisting my head out of the face cradle. “I don’t like hearing stories about other people with Crohn’s disease, because they scare me.” I put my head back down.
    He paused a moment, then resumed pressing my back and changed the subject.
    I walked out feeling victorious. Unlike so many other times when my ears twitch back like a cat’s and my breath catches and my thoughts speed up at the moment when I sense someone is about to carelessly mention a terrifying possibility, a friend of a friend who has Crohn’s and is in pain every day, or a cousin who had 14 surgeries and whose doctor removed her colon without her consent, and I just bear down and take it—instead, this time I spoke up—without even really thinking, and rather smoothly, I thought. There was an awkward moment, but I really didn’t care—and I always care about awkward moments. It helped that I didn’t really like him. I didn’t appreciate his crack about my neck. But still—I did it, which suggests I might be able to do it again.
    I called my mom as I walked home, pleased also to notice that I didn’t carry the weight of it with me; it didn’t drag down my mood for hours as I contemplated the mysteries of my future with this disease, as the fears shook themselves awake like stretching cats and pawed insistently at my brain, scratching out visions of unknown sufferings to come.
    So that’s something.


questions to prompt writing:

  • Can you remember a time that someone said hurtful or scary things with the intention of expressing sympathy or understanding?
  • Have you ever spoken up even though it was hard--and felt powerful as a result?