Why I’ve Decided Not to Explain Myself So Much

Why I’ve Decided Not to Explain Myself So Much

In most ways, my life this year will be very much like it was last year except for one thing: I’ve decided to pull a Mary Poppins and stop explaining myself so darn much. Here’s my source of inspiration:

Mr. Banks: Just a moment, Mary Poppins. What is the meaning of this outrage?

Mary Poppins: I beg your pardon?

Mr. Banks: Will you be good enough to explain all this?

Mary Poppins: First of all, I would like to make one thing quite clear.

Mr. Banks: Yes?

Mary Poppins: I never explain anything.

[exits]

_____________________________________________________________________________________

In my rather dim memory of seeing MARY POPPINS at the theater in 1964—and someone please correct me if I’m remembering this wrong– I think the above scene takes place after the children tell their father about several incredible-sounding outings with Mary and Bert, especially a tea party with Uncle Albert who gets them all laughing until they float out of their chairs and bump their heads on the ceiling. It’s an empowering moment when one takes control of a confrontation by bringing it to a sudden halt. Imagine what might happen if we did some version of that? Here’s a possible encounter:

HR to me, a temp worker with MS: “Kim, an employee has complained that you’re parking in a blue space with no apparent qualification to do so. Are you disabled? Talk to me about this.”

Me: “First of all, I’d like to make one thing clear.”

HR: “Yes?”

Me: “I never explain anything.”

[exits]

In this scenario it’s possible that Kim would exit for good at the request of the client. Despite the fact that the HR staffer has asked an illegal question, we all know that office dynamics and social politics are complicated and we have to make on-the-spot decisions whether to disclose our condition while quickly assessing the real—rather than the textbook–consequences. Obviously Mary’s control-via-dismissiveness tactic wouldn’t quite work here. What I’m going for is more along the lines of that old chestnut: Pick your battles.

This idea isn’t brand new to me; I’ve been putting it into practice for years and I’m slowly getting better at it. My ear is becoming more finely tuned to what lay behind the things I share in conversation. What motivates me to express myself the way I do? Am I merely being defensive? Is it ever at the cost of someone else’s feelings or dignity or self-worth?  Does what I share add anything of value to that relationship? Is what I say merely displaying my ego like a peacock fanning out his tail feathers? Am I reacting to my fear of not being believed, and worse, not getting taken care of? Am I perhaps heading off what I fear might be ignorant, cynical or condescending judgments about me, my disease, my intelligence, my emotional self-awareness?

Stoic though I am, I get angry very easily when, for example, a specialist acts callous, egotistical, or dismissive. But my angry reaction to that behavior has, in my experience, made everything worse. They don’t care about how they made us feel and we can’t shame them into being contrite and helpful. Not to put too fine a point on it, the same rules apply in MS treatment scenarios that apply in the rest of life: Know your audience and kiss up to it if there’s something you need that that particular a$$ hat can provide. It’s a hard one to put into practice. It’s not fair to us, but them’s the rules and I didn’t make them.

A rant of self-pity is a good thing in a multiple sclerosis forum. It’s done in a safe place that will ensure a sympathetic audience and serves as a cathartic exercise for the rant-maker. But because of how I’m made, I try hard to focus on controlling my own behavior and stay in thinking mode, realizing that I have no control over other people’s words, thoughts or actions. I know that I have a better chance at getting what I want and avoid a stressful confrontation if I do the counter-intuitive gesture of either flattering them—the best button to press if the doc (or whomever) is an egomaniacal narcissist–or its opposite, lowering the curtain of silence. Either way, we are protecting our vulnerable selves. It sounds as if it would be self-defeating, not to mention ass-backwards. How could we possibly get taken care of by not focusing on ourselves at all? It seems that the key is to focus on what we are there for and not on how we are being made to feel at the moment. In disease-related interactions, we offer facts in exchange for a diagnosis and treatment options, answer able-bodied people’s questions about how we are, give and take support on disease forums, and communicate with our loved ones so they can better understand and help us.

Brevity seems to be the constant in all scenarios. A recent study showed that doctors interrupt after the patient has spoken for only seven seconds. If you pay close attention, you could probably assess a similar lapse in everyone else’s attention span, too. And besides, how long do you pay attention when someone is droning on at you about themselves?

I’m not suggesting that we should grow a thicker skin and get over ourselves. That would be a dismissive, thoughtless thing to suggest, not to mention impossible. We’re human, we are going to feel something, experience a rush of adrenalin, get shaky and red in the face, and have to manage some very strong emotions. But hey, firefighters and law enforcement officers do that every day during a crisis, it’s their training. We’d have to train ourselves, but we can do it.

It’s all about compartmentalizing. About saving our soulful talks for those to whom we can confide our deepest feelings, and follow separate scripts for doctors, kind or cavalier strangers, and those stinkers who like to press your buttons just for the fun of it. You don’t owe anyone an explanation. But when you give one, best to treat it as though it is a gift of knowledge you spent many hours lovingly folding and wrapping in purple voile and sprigs of lavender. We can only hope they’ll re-gift it with the same loving care.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The MultipleSclerosis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (19)
  • J R
    3 years ago

    Totally off topic but does anyone no when the FDA is going to approve Provigil for MS?!!!

  • Kelly McNamara moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi J R. Thanks for the question and for being a part of our community! If you chance, we recommend talking to your doctor or healthcare team about Provigil. Provigil can sometimes be prescribed for fatigue. We have some information about it here: https://multiplesclerosis.net/treatment/prescription-nonprescription-medications/. Best, Kelly, Community Manager

  • AllisonJo
    3 years ago

    This: “Know your audience and kiss up to it if there’s something you need that that particular a$$ hat can provide.”

    Agree whole-heartedly. The ploy works wonderfully on both physicians and their office staff. I get what I want, they get flattered for a scant moment while I roll my eyes on the other end of the phone. Everybody wins.

    Love your stuff, Kim Dolce

  • fifilondon623
    3 years ago

    Kim,

    That is an awesome story, and a way to think of things. Thanks for some “2016” INSPIRATION. I will began practicing immediately, because frankly my Kim, I am starting not to give a dayum about explaining myself to everyone all the time. Especially about how I feel, when I look to be just fine. Well, I feel tingly, and pins and needles, and yes I put on makeup because I wanted to be cute today. Well said Kim.

  • DarleenM
    3 years ago

    Kim,

    Thank you for your thoughtful story & scenario. I have tried a modified version of what you are alluding to. My version relates more to family & friends. I often feel frustrated with the expectations that seem to be ever so present with such things as family outings, events, etc. While I am lucky to be able to walk and participate I try and pick my battles to keep myself well & healthy. That said, I don’t like to explain why I am leaving early or don’t feel like attending 3 events in one day. This past month when we were faced with travel, a funeral and lots of gatherings, my husband and I took that tack that we would attend, however, on our own terms. We didn’t try to be at every event for the entire time, but we were there and we managed to eat when we wanted to and left when we wanted to. AND, we didn’t explain – we just politely said we are off! It worked out just fine. So, in the immortal words of another Disney Character – “Have Courage & Be Kind.” Cinderella (it may just work most of the time)

  • Laura Kolaczkowski
    3 years ago

    Kim, Thanks so much for this thoughtful gift – you have well expressed Mary’s attitude toward debt to others in way of explanations. Fortunately, I have providers who do listen, and I know honestly care about their patients. What a difference in the experiences of each of us! Now off I go …. spit, spot!!

  • Rowan Eridani
    3 years ago

    Oh Kim, I, too, enjoy your writing.

    Many years ago a man telephoned me, at work, to challenge my right to park in the disability space, because he saw that I could walk. After all MS had put me through, it took a few days to get over feeling incensed. But when I did, I had an epiphany. When he called me back to “press his case”, I said, “There is a number on the blue tag hanging on my mirror. Turn me in.” I never heard from him, again.

  • aok802
    3 years ago

    Amen! You took the words rights out of my mouth. I realized years ago that I have to deal with different people in different ways if I am ever going to get what I need from them. In the past, I’ve moved round the country a lot and seen many different neurologists. I’m not that impressed with my current neurologist, but I know ‘the grass is always greener’ and since he is one of the only so called ‘MS Specialists’ in my area, I put up with him to get what I need. I have a medical background and ask certain detailed questions about medications and current research. Sometimes I feel like I know more about certain topics than he does. I’ve politely put up with him over the years and think he’s finally started to respect my knowledge and intelligence. I’ve come a long way with him and shudder to think about starting over with yet another neurologist. If I truly found one that I thought was better and accessible to me, I would change to that doctor in a heartbeat. In the meantime, I try to show my current doctor respect and just get what I need from him.

  • Kim Dolce moderator author
    3 years ago

    Hi aok802,

    Your approach sounds very practical, which is where I was coming from, too. Hope you’re doing reasonably well.

  • cnoellert
    3 years ago

    First of all Miss Kim, you are a VERY entertaining writer.
    The commentary you provide in your story’s leaves me with VERY personal and thought provoking questions to ask my MS self!

    This happens all while being thoroughly entertained which is a blessing as I deal with my unpredictable MS day.

    Thank you for your writing brilliance!

  • Kim Dolce moderator author
    3 years ago

    Hi cnoellert,

    Thanks for the kind words. I’m glad you found some of my thoughts to be useful.

  • Lisa
    3 years ago

    Hmmm…very well-written, as always, Kim. However, this one is making me particularly uncomfortable, and I really can’t even put my finger on why that is so. I have been very, very fortunate in only having to deal with professionals that actually get it and do take my concerns into account. Back when I was still working, my direct boss and my HR people were actually helpful. My discomfort is more than that though and now I must go off and contemplate – that is AFTER I go facilitate a workshop on living with chronic conditions.

  • itasara
    3 years ago

    I kind of felt this way also, Lisa. I thought about it a few minutes (all the time I have) and I realize everyone is different with different needs. Yes there is a time to keep ones issues to onesself. I just don’t happen to be one of those people. That doesn’t mean I discuss my MS issue with anyone or complain about it, but I don’t necessary hide it either, and being a former RN I do feel that education of others is VERY important when it comes up. Even though I had some education in nursing school years ago about MS, until it affected our lives, I found out I did not know enough about it. I find that when people I know (some well,some not, some online) tell me something about their personal situation and it makes me feel like I’m just not another stranger and sometimes from what I learn from others and vice verse, we both learn something about ourselves and our conditions. I wish I were better at responses like the one here about the parking pass, but I’ve never been one to be so impromptu.I really don’t see many professionals these days, but I don’t feel that is the time to hold back and medical or family issues etc. It isn’t always a good idea to be an island. The docs don’t always have the time for discussion so that is when other people become important.

  • Kim Dolce moderator author
    3 years ago

    Hi Lisa,

    If my thoughts shook you up and continue to linger in your mind, I’d say my work is done, lol. Hope you’re doing well.

  • boomer51
    3 years ago

    I will fight MS to the end
    It will never ever be my friend
    So for me to explain about it or tell
    Well
    Why not
    I feel I should explain get the message of it out a lot
    People need to be informed
    Wrong impressions about it too much are formed
    Education and knowledge
    Does dispel and out wedge
    What about it they commonly think
    So my instinct
    Is to relate to anyone who should ask me
    Their correct knowledge of it I think is a responsibility

  • Kim Dolce moderator author
    3 years ago

    Hi boomer51,

    Thanks for sharing your verse. I suppose we can all be of two minds about our place in this world: One that wants to be known, and the other that doesn’t think it’s all that important in the larger scheme of things. I used to want to be known. Just as MS symptoms wax and wane, so too my desire to be understood. The older I get, the less it seems to matter.

  • 3 years ago

    I never explain unless specifically asked. But how do I reconcile my desire to explain less and my desire that people know more about what MS is really about?

  • Kim Dolce moderator author
    3 years ago

    How indeed, zenhead. I think I’ll always struggle with that question.

  • Nancy1012
    3 years ago

    My first exacerbation literally knocked me off my feet! I spent a week in the hospital and two weeks at home then ai went back to work part time. I work at a very small close knit high school, and thankfully this all happened at the end of the year and things were winding down. I am a high energy art teacher with very dedicated students.
    Because of my prolonged absence I had to disclose to my HR dept, payroll, and administration. I had to provide documentation of my illness and any long term issues due to FMLA.
    Anyway, word-or to be more accurate-rumors travel fast mainly due to concern. One of my students parents has MS and she “knew” that was what was wrong, as I was still pretty symptomatic when I came back.
    Now, everyone asks how I am doing from time to time…so I get asked EVERYDAY! All good, but sometimes I just want to say”yeah, I haven’t p$#ped in acouple days, but other than that I’m great! Or -“You can fry an egg on my skin right now.. But its okay” Or, sh*#ty, how bout you?”
    I am sure everyone is just being kind, but sometimes I want to scream….

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