Cowardly Lion scared in the forest.

Can You Really Not Care What People Think of You?

I don’t care what people think.

I’ve heard it plenty of times from plenty of people throughout my life. As a kid I said it myself when somebody was really mean to me, or if I didn’t actually say it, I thought it, hoping it would be true someday. When others said it, I believed them. At that tender age, I thought everybody knew better than me, so I never questioned them. After all, why would they say it if they didn’t mean it? They must have some inner reserve of steely mesh I lacked but could develop eventually. I too wanted to say it with conviction and honesty. I don’t care what people think.

I stopped lying to myself

I’ve forgotten at what point I stopped lying to myself and everyone else about that. I got tired of posturing, standing alone in the rain feeling miserable but covering it up—and for what?

Now I’m like the Cowardly Lion in the WIZARD OF OZ when he says “I do believe in spooks, I do! I do! I do believe in spooks!” Who can be stoic when you’re scared out of your wits standing in a forest of flying monkeys, talking trees and yes — spooks!

Spending no energy pretending

We make fun of the lion whenever he shows his fear. He doesn’t seem to care that those around him can see his feelings. He doesn’t care if they think he’s being a baby. He’s in the midst of his fear and spending no energy pretending it away.

Let them think I’m a baby. I don’t care. I’m scared.

Maybe that’s what I want to aspire to now. Multiple sclerosis is a chronic condition, a life sentence, the ole ball and chain. It’s impossible for me to pretend not to care that people are oblivious when my suffering has gone on for days, weeks, months, and years. Impossible to pretend I didn’t care that I had to keep it a secret from coworkers when I was still working outside the home. Then, when I did reveal something about it, some people responded in the most asinine, cold, or know-it-all ways and I did care. I wanted to say something to them and it wouldn’t have been a nice thing. I didn’t say anything. But I screamed at them in the car driving home. So much for stoicism.

Calm and reasonable vs. realistic.

Engaging in actual stoicism would require constant self-examination to keep myself calm and reasonable at all times. But that’s about as realistic as standing in a forest getting dive-bombed by scary things without flinching. No amount of yoga meditation will remove me from the moment. Atman cannot meet Brahman while flying monkeys buzz my scalp. Nope.

Besides, I’m a patient advocate. Not only do I write about what our pesky disease does and how it makes us feel and act, I also reach out to people that are hurting to give some understanding and comfort. But the hardest cases can be those we call able-bodied, the ones that provide plenty of obnoxious d*&k wad moments that cry out for me to educate them a little about invisible symptoms and how it’s a better idea not to judge people by how they look. We gotta admit we care what people think if we’re gonna help each other, for goodness’ sake. To comfort patients and heighten the awareness of not-patients. I know I can’t set the whole world straight. But I can maybe get through to three people. It gets me down sometimes. What should I tell myself in those vulnerable moments?

I don’t care what people think.

Dulling the sting

Okay, I’m starting to engage a version of this. It’s more along the lines of stepping back and detaching myself and it does dull the sting. For example, when an uninformed not-patient walks up to me and insists I swallow hydrogen peroxide to cure my MS, I can take a deep breath and quietly tell them that it’s not a good idea to walk up to a chronically ill person and tell them to swallow poison to cure their incurable disease. If they’re stupid enough to argue that point, I can smile and walk away.

I do care

That’s not the same thing as not caring what they think. It’s more about not feeling responsible for their ongoing cluelessness. It’s not as though people don’t have access to disease information. They choose to be ignorant. That kind of wild assertion can come from cynicism about conventional medicine, laziness, or narcissism, and emerges ultimately in the form of controlling behavior. I do care what they think and that they’re causing MS patients confusion and irritation. But online MS sites are there for us to defuse the misinformation and confusion for patients when this happens.

I do what I can, as we all do. But we can’t, as they say, fix stupid.

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