Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Carolyn: I’m in my mid-30s with two kids out of infancy, husband, good job, nice house, etc. Finally felt like all the hard work paid off and then I developed a lot of worrying health issues and have been diagnosed with a rare, painful and disfiguring autoimmune disorder.
It has been about a year since all of this began, and I’m still undergoing tests to figure out the several other things that are also going on (newest issue seems to be food allergies, so I eat a crazy restricted diet that limits going out and doing all the social things people do over food). I feel a bit consumed by the health stuff and unable to spend time with my friends and not talk about all of it.
I think after this much time no one wants to hear another word about my complicated and miserable health stuff, especially because to all outside appearances I seem perfectly fine, have a great life, and have lost a bunch of weight eating salads. I have a therapist. I’m just wondering how much of this health saga I can share with my friends without being totally self-absorbed and no fun to be around?
The short answer is that you read it on your friends’ faces. They can love you and be maxed out; they can recover from maxing out and want an update; they can be grateful for some past listening you’ve done for them and appreciate the chance to return the favor occasionally. Also listen for follow-up questions, because when those dry up, that means your companion’s interest usually has, too.
If it helps to think of it this way, people max out on anything that’s a “saga,” good or bad. Most people aren’t satisfied unless there’s some give-and-take, so while good, loving friends will certainly have some saga to their interactions as they keep each other updated, you’re going to run into trouble if balanced, mutual exchanges don’t make up the bulk of your time together.
Of course, friends can have such exchanges over something only one of them is experiencing, if it’s on such common ground as major life changes, mortality, feeling like an imposition with diet restrictions, having a one-track mind when no one else is on that track with you all of these are part of a human experience much broader than any one diagnosis.
In addition to a therapist, please consider a support group. That will allow you to have such mutual exchanges about your illness and the way it has affected your life with people who are in your same position and can really understand.
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