The pay machine in the car park is on the go-slow and I’m making small talk with the two pensioner ladies waiting in the queue behind me. “It’s a bit like me in a morning,” I quip. “A young man like you?” they chuckle back, unaware.
Now I’m not about to correct and start lecturing two octogenarian ladies in the middle of a car park. In fact initially I feel a little guilty – why am I moaning when they are the old people with the aches and creaking bones
And why would they know any different anyway? I’m having an OK-ish day and they can’t tell I have something like M.E based on our 30-second interaction. And I’ll never see them again, so does it matter? Should it really get to me?
Rewind two weeks and I’m in an exercise class, trying out different things to help my body. (There’s another blog here on all the exercises I tried, just in case you missed it.) This one is a mix between Yoga and Pilates. By the end, I’ve decided this one was a bit too much for me. I kept having to stop, or do the easier version, whilst noticing that several old ladies next to me were doing just fine.
Again, small talk as we put our mats away at the end. This time they can see I found it tough as, through the sweat, I force a chuckle about it being hard work. Then it comes again: “Tired? A young man like you?” and they chuckle back about whether they will see me at the session next week or not. (They didn’t.)
This is perhaps a more innocent version of “But you don’t look ill”. Innocent because they are not to know – and I think it’s important for us all not to add anger and any more upset to our list of issues, as hard as that may be some times. None of the ladies meant anything by it. They’d be quite embarrassed if I’d launched into why I’m so fatigued at my age, why it’s different to being tired, why you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover etc etc… it might have felt cathartic in the moment but what would it have ultimately achieved?
The real battle we have is when people we know, people we are going to see again, people whose opinion really matters to us, are also not getting it, looking and asking why we’re so tired.
That’s when explanations and awareness-raising do need to happen, because we need the support and understanding of people around us. But, as best you can, try not to be mad at them for not understanding it. It’s something we struggle to comprehend ourselves sometimes. It is quite invisible sometimes, it is a strange illness and, rightly or wrongly, people can only say what they see at first. Old public misconceptions can linger too.
Once explained, that’s when you’ll find out whether they are the kind of friend or family member who will be there for you and do their best to understand – or still be dismissive. Remove the drainers from your life and love the supportive ones.
So if you need help explaining it in ways that they might be able to relate or at least understand, have a gander at one of my first blogs on analogies and descriptions of M.E for others.
And if they don’t get it – forget it. Otherwise you’re just wasting precious energy.
More reading: This article might also help, explaining more about it including the difference between being tired and fatigued.
Over to you. How have you dealt with similar situations? Is there a stock reply you have now? Have you found a way to not let such remarks bother you? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.