There was a girl in junior high who knew every other student’s weakness. She knew which kid would be hurt by being called fat or ugly or dirty or (in my case) “frog eyes.” (It’s true. I have huge eyes. I’m over it now. Besides, I like to think they give me an Amanda Seyfried vibe . . . Yeah, okay- maybe not.) She would use this mental list of everyone’s weaknesses as ammunition to wound most effectively. While I commend her excellent memorization skills, I realize now this girl was just a bully. At the time, I thought she just happened to speak the truth that was the most painful, but I realize now that she was intentionally taking aim with the most painful arrows- because that’s what bullies do.
Now, I’ll give this girl a break, because she may have grown up to be a perfectly lovely individual. I don’t really know. I only know that I would never want to be judged based on my 13 year old actions. What I learned from her, though, is that there are people that will wound without any regard for you. Even in the non- junior high world, bullies exist.
The real question is why I’m choosing to write about them now. I’m 31 years old; I should be over crying in the girls’ bathroom about being called “Froggy.” In many ways, I am over it. However, the more time I spend trying to support and advocate for the chronic illness community, the more I realize that we are easy targets for bullies. I keep seeing my friends- my chronic illness family- used and abused, and it makes me angry. So, I’m speaking up- for all of us. Back off, bullies. We’re sick, but we’re not victims. Every type of bullying I mention isn’t necessarily a type I have personally experienced. It is, however, a growing trend I see among my chronic illness friends, and today, I’m asking that you lower your metaphorical weapons.
Adult bullies aren’t as easy to understand and categorize as the thirteen year old “mean girls.” Some grown up bullies think they’re helping or just showing “tough love.” I get that. I’m sure there are times that I have had the best of intentions and just gotten everything very wrong. That’s why today, I’m calling out the grown up “mean girls (and their gender/ age equivalent)” that may have no clue what they’re really doing.
The social media merchant. There are so many online businesses right now, and I applaud anyone who is making money by selling a product they love. That’s awesome. Seriously, you rock, and I admire your effort. Having said that . . . stop exploiting my chronic illness. Do not tell me that your product will cure my genetic illness (that causes my very DNA to be flawed) just because it cleared up cousin Suzie’s eczema. All the InstaGram before and after pictures in the world do nothing for my community. Let me be clear- if you tell me about a great product that you sell, I am capable of understanding that it’s a business. I’ll listen to your sales pitch and thank you for sharing. However, if you are a perfect stranger and approach me just because you heard that I am chronically ill (and this happens way too much) to tell me that if I wanted to feel better I should try your product . . . then NO!
How is that bullying? Let’s think about the situation. A person who is peddling whichever “snake oil” happens to be popular is telling me that I am choosing my illness because I won’t buy their product. You are telling me that buying your product is “an investment in health,” but you fail to see that I spend every day investing every ounce of my mental, physical, and fiscal resources in my health. I’ve seen kind and well-meaning people post on social media that “ . . . if you’re tired of spending money on doctors, make an investment in [such and such product].” Really?!? Your shake, pill, or oil is going to stop my need to see a qualified medical professional? No, it’s not. Think about what you’re saying. I have my doubts that any magic concoction is going to trump the doctors and scholars at Vanderbilt University or Cleveland Clinic. Are you truly trying to tell me that I have wasted my money and time going to these places rather than using your social media cure?
The Pharisee. Let’s be clear; I am a person of faith. I was raised in church, and I am truly grateful for the values of love and kindness I was taught there. I am not calling out those with religious convictions. I have been so blessed with thoughtful people who have prayed for me when my health was in a difficult place. But then, there are the Pharisees. The Pharisees throughout Christian scripture were people who chose to focus on laws- rules of right and wrong- rather than the values of love and kindness Christ came to teach. They were far more concerned with the letter of the law rather than the spirit behind the law. The Pharisees saw every affliction as repayment for wrongdoing- rather than just an unfortunate situation. Sadly, these people still exist today. I recently read a post from a fellow sufferer of chronic illness where she was told that she simply chooses to be ill. A minister told this poor soul that if she had enough faith, if she prayed enough, if she followed Scripture closely enough and did enough good, she would have already been healed.
Yeah, sorry, Mr. (or Mrs.) 21st century Pharisee, but that’s not how life works. My body is human, and it is afflicted with some very un- heavenly illnesses. I refuse to believe that I caused this or that following your list of rules would cure me. I refuse to believe that I was pre-destined to this suffering. So, if you’re telling me that I made this happen- you’re being a spiritual bully. I did not choose to have flawed DNA. I do, however, choose to live every day loving others and being kind. And, if you are walking around telling others that they chose their illness, their own personal, physical hell, you haven’t made that same decision. You’re being a spiritual bully.
My husband (and I only share this because he has given me permission to – and insisted that I- do so) suffers from depression and is under medical treatment- which has been wonderfully successful to this point. In the wake of Robin Williams’ death, he was met with his own personal host of Pharisees. Pastors and other people of conviction took to their pulpits and social media to blame Robin Williams’ death on his lack of faith. I’m not sure that these speakers understood how much their words were undermining the efforts of the medical professionals who were treating some in their congregation for similar illnesses. The truth, however, is that Mr. Williams was ill. He struggled with depression and mental illness. I don’t know Robin Williams’ personal beliefs- they’re his and not my place to pry. I do know, however, that he was sad and ill. I know that others with mental illness need to hear kindness and compassion for his situation- not blaming and hatefulness. My heart broke as post after post and uninformed sermon after sermon we were forced to hear mental illness blamed on weakness, lack of faith, and a poor relationship with our Creator. In fact, the bullies were waxing eloquently on a situation they didn’t understand. Bullies do that. Pharisees do that. Sorry, Pharisees, but I would very much like it if you would leave me and my husband (and the lepers) alone.
The consort. Let’s talk relationships. My husband is wonderful; he really is. However, what I keep seeing repeatedly among my chronic illness friends is that relationships are especially difficult in the chronic illness world. Night after night I message with friends who are facing verbal (and sometimes physical) abuse, because their illness is making them not meet the aggrandized standards of their significant other. I know that guilt. There was a time that I truly prayed that my husband would leave me, because I knew he deserved better than this sick, shell of a wife. My remorse for the person I was becoming was all-consuming at times.
Having said all that, not once in all this grief have I deserved abuse. Trust me- I was abusing myself plenty; I certainly didn’t need more guilt. My husband was fantastic. He knows I’m a hot or that sometimes I go a couple days without washing my hair (much like the college students he teaches), but he has never once made me feel like less of a person. I have other friends who have not had that luxury. Please, spouses, partners, and significant others, listen to me when I say- back off! If your significant other is ill (mentally or physically), love them for who they are- every flawed inch of them. Due to their roles as a disabled/ chronically ill adult, if the house isn’t clean; heck, if the spouse isn’t clean, give him/her a break. They’re doing their best. If you look at the person you profess to love and see them as less of a person because of their illness, you’re bullying them. If you refuse to believe their illness is real- you’re a bully. You have chosen to face life with this person. There is a part of them you chose to love completely. You are supposed to be their cheerleader. You are supposed to be their advocate. If you are anything less, you are being a bully.
For those of you who are in such a relationship, I am sorry. I am truly sorry, and I sincerely hope and pray you eventually receive the understanding and deliverance you deserve. This treatment is toxic to your illness.
I fear in writing all this that you think I’m a jerk. The last thing I want is for you to think that I sit around waiting to call others bullies. (I’m fairly confident that would actually make me a bully, and that’s certainly not my intention- and that would defeat my entire purpose.) I simply want to make everyone think. I want to make others realize that it is not okay to blame someone’s illness or circumstance on that person. Even if you can’t see something, that doesn’t make it a figment of someone’s imagination. Believe me. Believe that I didn’t choose this life. Believe that I wanted more than this for my life, but I understand that this is the genetic hand I’ve been dealt. No one gets to bully me for something that I couldn’t escape.
You, my sweet sufferer of chronic illness, no one gets to victimize you either. We’re here. We’ve got each others’ backs, and, today, we’re asking that the bullies lay aside their weapons. So, bullies, back off. We mean it. We aren’t your victims, and we will retaliate- in our own crazy, chronic way. And, seriously, who even knows what that means?
Peace, love, and health, friends.