I’d like to think of myself as very British and reserved, not burdening others with my trials.
I’d like to be the person that only after meeting them do you find out that they lost a leg in a war, and recently won a humanitarian award. “But they’re so down to earth!” you then cry. I know I’m amazing – let’s not go on about it.
I’d like to, but that’s just not true. At one point I had this cross-British-Indian sensibility about not talking about your problems, but that’s gone now.
At some point it cracked. At some point not talking about problems felt like there was something shameful going on, and that just wasn’t true. I wasn’t going to shoehorn it into conversations, but if it came up what else was I going to say?
“Oh, you’re not working? What have you been up to?” they ask.
Um, organising things ahead of my mastectomy and reconstruction? I can’t say that! That’s too depressing! Quick, think of something else! What else would take up the time?
“Um, watching The West Wing?” I offer, lamely.
Crap, I’ve never watched The West Wing! Why did you say that?
“Oh, brilliant, what season are you on?”
So, impromptu lies are not my thing. And not talking about it made me feel like I had some shameful secret. And it seemed too large a topic to talk around.
So straight after my diagnosis I began telling the people I talked to regularly. Mostly by text/FB or email. As details of the operation became finalised I would periodically update people. I wouldn’t wait for them to ask questions, I wanted to be in control of what information was out there. I wanted no awkward moments when I would misspeak in company, realise that they had no idea what was going on, and have to painfully go through the details from the start. I didn’t want to be pitied. So, yeah, maybe I still have some of that British-Indian sensibility.
And what happened? Yes, we might chat about it, but more often than not we would move swiftly on to chat about our usual, joyful nonsense. I didn’t have the prickly social fear anymore, terrified of personal questions.
And, again, more often than not, I would find incredible support and admiration from others. I got a chance to see my situation from the outside, and began to appreciate what they said they saw in me.
It takes so much energy to pretend, to lie, to avoid subjects. When things get tough, and energy is at an premium why bother to waste it? There’s nothing to be ashamed of, and if there’s nothing to be afraid of – you’re open, you’re honest, and you’re free.
It feels wonderful.