Why small talk is so important in chronic illness (& why I neglect it!)

A while ago I read a fascinating article about phatic communication, or ‘small talk’. Phatic communication is speech which serves a purpose other than that implied by the words used. An example would be the question, “how are you?”

What this question is actually asking is, “how are you physically/mentally?” Yet how many of us actually answer this? And why don’t we?

It’s not because we’re being rude or ignoring the question. In fact, often askers are surprised when someone lists their current physical health in response! It’s because we understand that in our social context the question is often merely a greeting, a social nicety which has to be used before the ‘proper’ conversation can begin.

An example of phatic communication (small talk!)

Often when I run I call out a (breathless) ‘hi!’ or ‘good evening/morning!’ as I pass someone by. About 3 times out of ten, someone will reply. Out of that 30%, at least half reply with ‘good thanks’ or ‘I’m well thanks’ – despite the fact that I never asked if they were!

This is because they are so used to ‘how are you’ being part of ‘hello’ and other social niceties (or nonenties!) that they assume I’ve asked and thus reply automatically.

Continue reading “Why small talk is so important in chronic illness (& why I neglect it!)”

Why you should attend your loved one’s doctor’s appointment (and how to be prepared)

A while ago someone I know was diagnosed with a chronic illness. After the initial diagnosis, she had to make an appointment to see yet another doctor. Before this appointment, I was chatting with her daughter and realised something rather abruptly: there is an art to accompanying someone to the doctor.

I’ve been to many doctors’ appointments in my life, both for myself and others. I’m neither proud nor ashamed of this, but I AM used to them.

And perhaps, not everyone is.

As a Watcher, a doctor’s appointment raises several questions: If it’s not for us, should we go? Is it important that we be there? What is our role? Are there reasons we shouldn’t attend?

Every situation is different and so is every person. I don’t think there are right or wrong answers, but I also think we can be a valuable asset at a doctor’s or specialist’s appointment. Here’s why:

Continue reading “Why you should attend your loved one’s doctor’s appointment (and how to be prepared)”

Talking about suffering: When we miss our chance to have the conversation

I know I should talk about it,
I want to talk about it,
I planned to talk about it,
I prepared to talk about it…
But I missed my chance.
Am I a failure?

When we miss our chance to talk about illness

Why is there suffering? My friend asks. Does God care?

I open my mouth – but don’t reply.

Perhaps I was afraid. Perhaps I couldn’t find the words in time. Perhaps someone interrupts, or I misjudge the situation and think it would be best not to respond.

Has this ever been you?
If so, you know about the disappointment and guilt, when you later realise that you’ve missed your chance to speak truth with love.

Continue reading “Talking about suffering: When we miss our chance to have the conversation”

Talking about suffering: Why answering ‘That Question’ is so difficult

Are you a chatterbox? Bring up ‘Sherlock Holmes’, the latest book you’ve read, or something God’s been teaching you… and chances are, I won’t be closing my mouth for a while.

Although I’ve written before about thinking before talking, and even (on occasion!) not speaking at all, the truth is…

I rather like talking.

Yet there are other topics which are less guaranteed to set off an avalanche of words. I suspect it’s the same for you.

I also suspect that one of these might be: ‘why does God allow suffering?’
It’s an important question – so why do we find it so difficult to talk about?
Continue reading “Talking about suffering: Why answering ‘That Question’ is so difficult”

Talking about suffering: When NOT to answer The Question

Some questions should not be answered.
This is not because they are silly or childish (there’s no such thing as a stupid question, remember?)
Or because they are too difficult.
Or even because the answer is too scary.

No, the only reason you should not answer a question is when you have something to offer that is more important.

But what’s more important than an answer?

Talking about suffering: When not to answer the question

Let’s go back to my friend from the last post. She’s struggling from a mental illness which invades her days and eats away at her personality.

Upset and tired she asks me,
‘Why does God allow this?’

Now there is an answer I can give to this. It is a theologically sound answer.

It is correct in every sense of the word. And there’s nothing wrong with my motives – I love my friend, and want to see her comforted and at peace with God and herself.

All the boxes are ticked… and yet depending on the situation my answer could be extraordinarily hurtful to her. And yet, it might not be!

How do I know? Continue reading “Talking about suffering: When NOT to answer The Question”

Talking about suffering: Why pure motives don’t always make things right

Why am I sick?
Will I ever get better?
What am I supposed to be doing with my life?
It can take courage to ask these questions. But sometimes, it can take even more courage to answer them.

Today’s post is the first in a series of articles called ‘Talking about Suffering’…

Talking about suffering is hard! (how do you know what to say?)

Figuring out the truths about illness, suffering and the big problems of life is difficult.

It’s a different sort of hard when you are not sick yourself. How often do you feel helpless in the face of such questions? How often do you feel ill-equipped to answer your sick friend’s frustrations?

Even if you ‘know’ the right response (whether that’s an answer, rebuke or piece of advice) you might not know ‘how’ to say it.

Is this you? It’s often me!
Continue reading “Talking about suffering: Why pure motives don’t always make things right”

What to do when our wider supporters hurt us

Wider supporters will hurt us at times

I think it’s important to acknowledge that either directly or inadvertently, wider supporters can sometimes make life harder rather than easier. It’s part of being human and living in a broken world.

They may:

  • Brush away your complaints or concerns. “Ah well, sickness is part of life, isn’t it? We all have burdens.”
  • Ask you to take up ministry opportunities when your life is full of caring for your Loved One
  • Compare your suffering to theirs, “Oh I know exactly how you feel”
  • Tell you exactly how they feel – without asking how you are
  • Assume they know what you need, or what you ought to do
  • Treat you differently because you are a Watcher
  • Treat you exactly the same, as if being a Watcher has not affected you.
  • Treat you as a walking newsletter, rather than an individual in your own right

Continue reading “What to do when our wider supporters hurt us”