Achalasia. Never heard of it? Sounds a bit like some 70’s prog rock outfit don’t you think? I had not heard of it either until about this time last year. I stepped off the X-Ray machine to be told that I probably had it but I would need more tests to confirm the diagnosis. I’ll let you Google the finer points but in a nutshell – faulty oesophagus, progressive, incurable, and needed surgery. Hmmm.
People get news like that all the time don’t they? Some news much worse than mine.
I know what you are thinking. Here comes the uplifting story of one man’s triumph in adversity. An inspiring example to all those facing such battles. Well, not quite.
Sure, I had the op, took a few months to recover and now (thankfully) I have my life back to normal. Thing is, I always feel a little uneasy about the effect stories like mine might have on other folks similarly afflicted. It would be easy to dramatise it. You know, turn myself into some kind of medical miracle combined with a superhero? An example to you all of the power of positive thought/prayer/miracles of modern medicine (delete as applicable). However, the human being is a complex creature. We are not all wired up the same way and what works for one person does not necessarily work for another.
I sometimes wonder what effect the ‘superheroes’ have on those less robust and more sensitive folks. If you are struggling to cope with your bad news, is the guy swimming the Amazon – despite only having one leg and some rare form of leukaemia – necessarily what you want to hear about? I don’t know about you, but I reckon it is just as likely to make some folks feel totally inadequate as it is to inspire or empower them.
It is very easy to take a hard line with people who seem more mentally fragile than you.
‘Pull yourself together!’
‘Get over it dude!’
‘Hey, have you seen this guy swimming the Amazon with only one leg and some rare form of leukaemia? Now that man has problems! You don’t see him moping around feeling sorry for himself, do you?’
Just take a moment to think whether any of those are helpful, constructive or even friendly things to say to someone in obvious turmoil or distress. Nope, that’s right, they’re not.
Next time you hear of a friend or loved one receiving bad news, please remember that not everyone can swim the Amazon, and that’s ok. Some might need you to be a buoyancy aid and others might need you to be a boat. As long as you help them keep their head above the water, you are doing the right thing.