Knowing when to shut up

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October 17, 2013 by nooffensebut

I said something dumb to a friend the other night.

She had just found out, that day, that she has an extremely rare disease with an unpronounceable name: derma-tofibrosarcoma protuberans of the breast (say that three times fast).

Fortunately, her doctors say it’s completely curable through surgery.

There’s the key stupid word: fortunately. That’s the one I hit on. Despite the fact that I myself am a hypochondriacal, paranoid nitwit when it comes to my own health (seriously, I’ve had panic attacks over freckles), I immediately launched into “look on the bright side!” — exclamation point for dramatic effect — as if that makes everything better. Not my best move.

“This is what people keep telling me,” my friend said. “I still say, why get it at all? I feel like I’m entitled to at least one day of [questioning the Universe] before people step in and attempt to placate me.”

It’s not to say that the bright side isn’t something to be happy about. It’s just … well, honestly it’s just sort of the selfish perspective. Because while in my mind, the overwhelming sentiment of “OK, I’m not going to lose my friend” takes precedence, I’m not the one who has to deal with surgery. Or a post-surgery drain, which just sounds gross.

“I’m going to be lopboob-ed,” she griped. “It’s like lopsided, only more boob-oriented. I’m 30 and won’t be able to wear shirts with cleavage. It’s not like it’s not a life change.”

She can have surgery on her other breast to fix the lopboobedness, but that’s, well, another surgery. And, yes, the biggest thing is curable, curable, curable.

But still, launching right into that without really even asking how she’s feeling about the whole thing was just an idiot move on my part. I have this pathological issue where I try to fix people or find solutions to problems (other people’s, not mine) — one friend’s rare disease, another’s job woes, another’s man issues, another’s family drama. My boyfriend, God bless him, contends with me trying to cure every bad mood he has.

In truth, people do come to me for advice a lot. I probably should have become a psychotherapist instead of a journalist. But I have got to remember that sometimes, a friend just wants an ear.

Because that’s often what I want. Someone to just listen or agree when I want to grouse about something. Or when I want to be justifiably ticked off and, no, I don’t feel like being placated. Sometimes, I just want to let off steam and I don’t want anyone else’s advice or perspective.

But when it comes to someone else? I’m Little Miss Emotional Fix-It.

Do you do this too? The minute someone starts telling you about her problems, you start spouting off logical perspectives and solutions, rather than just letting the person go on about how she, or he, feels about the issue at hand? Come on, fellow fixers, I know you’re out there.

What do you think? Is there hope for us?


Originally published June 3, 2011 in the Chattanooga Times Free Press

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