I got my antibiotics, along with a mild narcotic, strictly for sleeping purposes. And there was no pleading or crawling down the hallways, weeping or gnashing my teeth; all my practice was in vain. The doctor’s exact words were, “There’s no reason to torture you any longer.” I squeaked something polite and unfitting like, “Thank you,” meaning, “Thank you for not torturing me,” or, “Thank you for using your powers for good and not evil.”
She started out the door, then turned, and looked squarely in my sleep deprived face.
“Yes, I am.”
“You have a very stressful job.”
So, just like that, just to make sure that my blood or thyroid isn’t sabotaging my energy supply, mental clarity, and general capacity to act like a human being, I’m off to another doctor.
But not before I tell you that it was the second most pleasant doctor’s visit I’ve ever had. First place still goes to our pediatrician, who, despite negative points for always having cold hands, told me and my sister sixteen times per checkup that we were “beautiful, just beautiful, both beautiful.”
And second place goes to a doctor I didn’t know who said, in not so many words, “You’re a mess and your only hope is drugs.”
Maybe the psychologist or the super spiritual can explain that I am inflicted with an unhealthy appetite for compliments and undue sympathy. Or that my Words-of-Affirmation love language is imploding on me because I work endlessly for a dozen little toddler bosses who don’t say, “Thank you,” or, “Sorry about that diaper.”
Whether I am an affirmation monster or these are regular human issues, I think there are other people in the world who like baring their souls, airing their problems, and hearing a friend affirm, “Yes, life is hard.”
But we like to be stingy with grace, and we withhold acknowledgement that someone else’s life might be a different sort of hard, even if they work fewer hours, have fewer kids, are still in school, are not in school, are married, are single, can afford vacations, milkshakes, new pants, and cars that run.
I hear this and I do this. Siblings complain about their high school workload, and I sneer, “Just wait till college.” When we adopted the dog and didn’t sleep for a few weeks, people said, “Just wait till you have kids.” In the midst of dating problems, the older and more experienced seemed to enjoy telling me, “Just wait till you’re married.”
The theme is, “You do not have real problems because you have not achieved a phase of life worthy of my empathy.”
I think it’s important to be thankful people (‘tis the season), to be known for our gratitude for good and perfect things in the midst of darkness and chaos, for contentment in our grossly imperfect lives, for our faithfulness in little things.
But I think it’s a shame that we compare trials, roll our eyes, and pretend that our imperfections end at falling behind a socially acceptable laundry schedule. Can we just, for once, weep with those who weep without telling them why they shouldn’t have wept in the first place?
Whether we disclose the particulars of our broken lives to neighbors and strangers and clients and doctors is up to us, I suppose, but I am thankful for friends and family and coworkers who listen and empathize.
Yesterday a friend of mine drove an hour to sit and listen to me share my struggles, and all the while I shrugged and sputtered, “But it’s ok, I’m really ok, it’s not as bad as it sounds.” At the end of all my qualifying, she voiced the simplest, most freeing idea: “You don’t have to act like this isn’t a big deal.”
Whether you’re surrounded by people like me or by people who don’t need a personal cheer squad to get out of bed in the morning, I think that loving well means being humble and gentle enough to utter the words, “I’m sorry. This is hard. I don’t understand why this is happening, and I may not have any good advice, but I’m here and I’ll listen.”
Or some variation thereof: “Let’s get coffee,” “You deserve a nap,” “Here, have my chocolate bar,” “You are fatigued.” Any of these is far easier on our hearts than “Just you wait.”