Woman speaking and being stopped mid sentence

Tired of Explaining Yourself to the Entire World All the Time? Me Too!

“Lucy, you gotta lotta ‘splainin’ to do!” -Ricky Ricardo, from the series I Love Lucy.

“I never explain anything.” -Mary Poppins, from the film Mary Poppins.

Typical explanations in life

Folks, I feel like I spend half my waking life explaining myself. Before developing full-blown MS at age 41, I did all the typical explaining required of most humans. Why was I late coming in to work this morning? What is my reason for calling (insert vendor name here) today? What do I want in the fast-food drive-thru and what size drink would I like? How did I come up with the solution to this math problem? You know, basic communication stuff that greases the wheels whenever we interact with other people, providing context and information so we can be more easily understood and served. But somewhere along the line, it got out of control.

Add on a chronic condition

Once I entered the wide, wide, world of chronic health care, the number of questions increased exponentially. The deeper I got sucked into the healthcare industrial complex, the faster the number of doctors increased along with appointments, tests, managing paperwork from insurance companies, pharmacies, charity programs, and yes — more ‘splaining!

Explaining MS

As if that weren’t enough — and it was already TOO MUCH — I was put on the spot to explain how MS affected me. It starts with a simple declaration: I have MS. Now, a fair number of people respond with what I think is one of the appropriate reactions: “Wow, I had no idea MS could do that. Thank you for the information.” Or, “I so admire you for meeting those challenges every day with a can-do spirit!”

And then there are the skeptics. It never ceases to amaze me that people choose to behave that way. “Well,” said one, wearing a doubtful expression, “I know people with MS and they are all in wheelchairs.” In these moments, I must decide: Do I use it as a teaching moment, or do I just let it go? It depends entirely on my mood. A teaching moment requires that I ‘splain myself. Walking away means spending some energy soothing the squirmy little kid inside me who is hurt and mad that I didn’t defend her. We can’t set the whole world straight, sweetie, I tell the four-year-old me. Let’s save it for somebody who won’t seem to mind having their shoes nailed to the floor.

Asking the right questions

And while we’re at it, let’s look at the flip side of this issue. I also have a big beef with people who don’t ask ENOUGH of the right questions before passing judgment. The most recent lack of proper questioning happened when I was called with test results of my basic metabolic panel (BMP). As you know, this panel is ordered even when your doc just wants to see one or two tests.

Glucose is always included, but I don’t fast for the BMP if we are checking something else. And because I don’t fast, my glucose has been a bit over the high range lately. It happens every time: the gal who calls me with my test results tells me my blood sugar is high. I tell her I didn’t fast, but what does she care? She is just doing her job, calling me with the results. Then I go in to see my doc, who pulls up my BMPs from the last few years and, with furrowed brow, expresses their concern that my sugar is a bit high. But my A1C is always normal, so they don’t know whether to be too concerned about it. Not once has anyone asked: Did you fast for these tests, Kim? Not ONCE!

Conversations with healthcare providers

Another irksome behavior modeled by many health care providers is when THEY do too much 'splaining - when they read a script at me about general health guidelines. “You should eat more fiber, drink more water, eat less, and exercise more.” Really? Gosh, that’s the first time I’ve heard that! It’s on the internet and commercials are pushed at us relentlessly. We are systematically harassed by the commercial health products industry. You would have to live in a cave and be raised by wolves not to know the basics of health and nutrition.

Let's utilize appointments for the important things

It makes me squirm with indignation that they are insulting my intelligence, not to mention wasting my precious appointment time. Because we chronics get a lot of health care, we are better informed than most, and MS patients, in particular, are among the best-informed chronics. Yet we are lectured time and again about such generalities. Instead of reading me a script, my HCPs should spend our precious in-person meeting time asking me: What do you do to exercise? Do you have any questions about nutrition? I would respond: "I garden in the warm months, and in the cold months I walk around my apartment. I have a fitness tracker watch that I have set to 3800 steps a day. Nutrition? Nope, I’m good!" To which they should respond, 'That's fantastic! Keep up the good work!"

If the world worked the way I want it to, then I would spend a lot less time ‘splaining! Some day I might get up the nerve to be like Mary Poppins and say: “I never explain anything!”

Do you ever feel like you have to explain your very existence to the world? I would love to hear your own stories about ‘splainin!

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