Today’s AWAP Wednesday video is not based on a question I received. It’s based on my reaction to spending so much time in the chronic illness/chronic pain community.

We like to tell our stories. A lot. And I love that, most of the time. Our stories are powerful: They help us connect with others, they help us get something off our chests, they help us turn friends and strangers into advocates. That is… if we are thoughtful about when and how we tell our stories.

On the flip side, when we tell the same agonizing story over and over about our chronic illness/chronic pain experience, it’s exhausting and non-productive for everyone—including ourselves. So today, in the most loving way possible, I’m asking you to shut up. (And I’ll try to heed my own advice, too!)

Watch today’s video, in which I explain why we *sometimes* must simply shut up:

*AWAP = As Well As Possible

Now it’s your turn:

Have you been thoughtful about how you tell your story, and to whom? Do you think I’m a jerk for suggesting we all need to shut up sometimes? I want to know! Join the conversation in the comments below, and share your experience.

Want to watch more videos like this? Check out our AWAP Wednesday video playlist, which has more than six hours of guidance, advice, and bloopers.

Is there a question I can answer for YOU? Add it to the comments below, or shoot me an email.

Until we meet again: Be AWAP! Smooches!

(Rough) Transcript:

Today’s message is pretty simple, and pretty blunt. So I want you to hear it from me knowing I’m sending it to you with the most humility, and irreverence, and love, and joy, and compassion, and loving-kindness that I can.

So with that being said, here is the theme for today’s video:

Shut up.

Sometimes, we all just need to shut up. I hope you’ll understand I say that to you with a lot of care and humor, but for real: sometimes we need to shut up. There are a couple reasons why I think those of us with chronic illness or chronic pain sometimes need to shut up.

Reason #1: We’re telling ourselves the same bummer story over and over

Sometimes we talk too much, in our brains, to ourselves, all the time, about our illness. And about how much we’re suffering and about how hard things are. Sometimes we’re repeating this tape over and over and over again, and drilling in HOW HARD IT IS to live with chronic illness… and that is not healthy. If we spend all our time focusing on the negative, we are going to feel like crap. We’re going to feel EVEN WORSE than we already need to feel.

I am by no means trying to tell you to be Pollyanna and never have dark thoughts or get frustrated… that would be bogus. But sometimes, we get on that track and we’re just repeating ourselves… so it’s good to find ways to break that cycle. Some ways that help me:

  • Go hang out with my friends and their kids. There’s nothing better to distract you from yourself than spending time with a couple toddlers.
  • I might try to make a piece of art or just color in a coloring book.
  • I will veg out on the couch with some sci-fi.
  • Or perhaps I’ll take a 10-minute walk, listening to some really thumping techno music, just to drive out that negativity.

Find what works for YOU. And I know you know what it is… and you might feel disinclined to try this. That’s OK, but I want you to push yourself, push back against that resistance. Because if you’re continually repeating the story in your head, you are harming yourself.

So shut up.

Reason #2: We are alienating the people who are close to us

If we’re working on it, we may have a great support system of people around us who really care and can help us in times of need. Or perhaps we’re working on that, trying to build up that support team. We don’t want to be dishonest with them, but we don’t want to turn them off, either.

Sometimes if we’re repeating this cycle of “this so hard, I am really struggling, this is so tough, here’s my diagnosis and all my symptoms, here is my story up until today which spans 10 years…” Sometimes we can really grind it into the ground. And I understand that!

Because our stories matter. Our stories are important. I’m not telling you to never tell anyone your story,  but I want you to start thinking about how many times you’re telling it to other people throughout the day, how many times you’re repeating yourself.

It’s not that they shouldn’t know, or you shouldn’t ever tell them, but when that becomes the sole focus of our day, it eats away at our joy, our peace, and it eats away at that of others around us, too. It makes it difficult for them to enjoy time with us. It makes it difficult for them to enjoy their own life if they’re constantly stressing about us.

This is a delicate balance, so I want to be clear. I’m not telling you to never tell anybody your story; I just want you to think about: Are you telling people too much. Are you focusing on it all the time.

And in that case, shut up.

Reason #3: We are overwhelming strangers with our tales of woe

When we’re talking to strangers and they ask “how are you,” and we launch into a whole thing about how shitty we feel… or if we’re talking to strangers and something pertinent comes up and we wind up telling them our whole journey of illness… most of the time, that is not helping us.

It’s not helping us be advocates for ourselves. It’s not helping us make the most of our day in spite of everything we have to deal with. That is focusing on negativity.

I live in a big city, and I encounter a lot of strangers throughout my day. A lot of them ask “hey, how you doin?” Often, it’s people on the street, or a cashier, and if every time they asked me that I was like “Oh my gosh, I’m in so much pain, and I have a big rash I can’t figure out, and I tried out a new doctor last week and I’m pretty sure he’s going to work out…” If I went into all that with every person who asked me, my day would just be eaten up with stories of illness.

Those interactions with strangers are opportunities for me to be distracted from how hard my life is. Instead of offering them a laundry list of how cruddy my life is, I can choose to say instead, “I’m doin pretty good! How bout you?” They might tell me a good story, or they might just say “I’m doin pretty good too, and I’m glad you are!” and we can just hang in that peaceful moment of mutual kindness for a second. It’s so lovely!

Again, this is a difficult balance. I’m not telling you to never share your story with a  stranger. I’ve met so many strangers with whom I’ve shared intimate details of my journey, and I’ve made many fast friends that way. It’s up to you to use good judgment about when you want to do that.

But I want you to think about your day, and all the encounters you have with strangers, in person and online. Instead of the opportunity to talk about news of the day or shared interests, if you’re focusing on the illness part of it…

I would like you to shut up.

Don’t misunderstand: I believe our stories matter

I hope you’re hearing this in the way I intend! I have a strong feeling there will be a lot of comments on this video… I know what I’m saying is kind of controversial.

I love telling my story. I get on stage to tell my story to huge audiences. I wrote a website 10 years ago that continues to this day, because I wanted to tell my story.

It’s not that I don’t think we should tell our stories. Our stories matter.

And telling them with power, and finesse, and at the right moment, can convert people into our advocates! It can convince people to vote differently on legislation that impacts us! It can convince people to become powerfully out there as advocates for our causes! But when we tell it over and over and over again and our life is just a long tale of misery, that makes it difficult for us to find any peace… and to turn people into effective advocates for us.

I might have over-explained myself this week! But this has been on my mind a lot lately. I think it’s vital that we discuss it. But now I’m going to shut up, and make room for your comments.