The Vine: April 3, 2013
I've emailed the Vine before, twice, and you and your readers were awesome both times. The first time was my asking for advice on how to deal with my rapidly spiraling depression as an international student in Canada, and afterward, I sent you a follow-up letter explaining that I'd decided to return home, move back in with my parents, and get help. That was a few years ago.
Fast forward to now, and things are pretty good. I've managed to come on leaps and bounds dealing with this thing. I got a job in an environmental field, which I'd always wanted, and kept that until earlier this year (so I'd had it for over two years) before resigning due to the fact that the organization was being badly mismanaged. Found another job, still in an environmental organization, so that's all great.
The issue is this: in the three years I've been back here, dealing with my health issues (I found out about a year after I got back that I have a congenital hormonal condition that might actually have been the root of the depression, as well as all of the other awful physical issues I'd been struggling with for ages) has taken pretty much all my spare time, so I've had very little of a social life and had to be extremely careful with what I could do in terms of physical activity. Treatments and medications and dealing with the emotional/psychological element sucked up all my time. It was worth it, I really am so much better now, but at the moment, most of my friends live elsewhere and I communicate with them online. I don't go out much, and I'm just starting to get back into outdoorsy physical stuff that I'd just started to realize I enjoyed four years ago when these health issues all kicked off and shut it down.
My new coworkers (all expatriates who have been in this country only a few years) are a close bunch — the work environment is really friendly and close because we by necessity have to spend a lot of time together, and it's natural to talk about what people did on the weekends, talk about our lives, etc. This is the problem: I have no idea how to deal with these conversations. I don't know if I should bring up the fact that I've been dealing with a serious illness which has impacted my personal life, by way of explaining that no, I'm not just a loser who has no friends nor hobbies despite having lived in this country for ages before going away to university and having been back here for three years now. (The issues have never affected my work, which is why it hasn't come up at, say, the interview stage for getting the job. I never let it get in the way of work. Work was one of the things that helped me, being useful, earning money, being functional in at least one aspect of my life.)
I don't know how to manage this. These people are really friendly and I don't just want to shut down their questions and isolate myself. Should I lie? Pretend I had a drink with friends on the weekend? And, of course, there's the point that a lot of the hobbies and things they do are all the things I wanted to get into all those years ago but didn't (rock-climbing, hiking, other similar stuff), so I'm right there with them when they're talking about how cool these things are, but I've never done them, or am just starting to, or am picking up at "beginner" level again. And I don't know how to explain why that is without getting into the health thing.
Would it be weird, or oversharing, to tell them, somehow? I'm terrified they'll judge me, not consciously, even, but just file me away as someone they don't really want to hang out with. Would it be worse than them thinking that this friendless person who doesn't do anything is who I am, instead of who I've had to be for a couple of years? It genuinely feels like I'm returning to life again after almost five years of misery and pain and isolation…but I have no idea how to explain that when I meet someone and they're all, so, tell me about yourself!
It's not just with the coworkers. I have this issue every time I meet someone new, and, naturally, we start talking about what we do, where we like to hang out, etc etc. Sometimes I downplay it, or lie. But lying isn't really a great foundation for relationships, so I hate doing it.
Honestly, if you, or any of the Vine readers, have been through this and have any advice on how to handle it, I would be so very grateful.
Not A Loser, Really
I have excellent news! Behold: this is a much, much bigger deal to you than it is to anyone else. It should be a big deal to you — it's your health, and it's also your social life — but nobody else is going to correlate it with negative personality traits, or your having something wrong with you. I mean, you kind of do, but it's not your fault; it's not like a loser lightning bolt hit you with a physical condition to, like, mark you as lame. Nobody else is going to think, "Wait, she's just a beginner at rock-climbing? CONVERSATIONAL FELONY I'M-A SWITCH SEATS EW." Nobody else is going to sit around wondering why you don't go to the pub on the weekend, or if you mention that you did, whether you can prove it.
You already know that, but it's hard to stop those social-obsessive thoughts, so the first thing to do is to accept that it's normal to believe — or at least fret — that these differences between you and your colleagues will lead to judgment and exclusion. It's not rational…but it's normal. So forgive yourself for freaking out about that.
But as I said, it's not really rational — and neither is the way you've broken down your choices here. It seems to me like you want to confess yourself, "admit to" everything about your health issues, but you think that's off-putting, so the other choice is to lie like a horrible conniving person…it's way more drama than you need to put yourself through. For one, your health problems aren't a sin you committed. They exist; you've dealt with them. So, for two, you don't have to tell anyone anything, or everything. You can work it in gently.
Colleague: "What'd you do this weekend?"
You: "Not much, actually. Took a Me Sunday and [something something Downton]. You?"
Colleague: "I had a rad time doing [outdoor thing you are psyched to do now that you're feeling better]."
You: "Wow, that sounds awesome. I was getting into [that thing] a few years ago, but then I started having some health problems so I had to let it slide. Do you think it's something beginners could etc. etc.?"
Colleague, probably: "Oh, that sucks. But I think the instructor [blah blah something helpful], so we should go together in a few weeks' time and [inviting suggestion]."
I mean, I don't have a crystal ball, but I'm confident that what's not going to happen is either that your colleague gets nosy about the specifics of your health, or judges you for focusing on it to the exclusion of more hale or social activities. Your colleagues probably like you and would like to get to know you better, and to include you at the level you can manage; this isn't an older-sibling situation where, if you can't ski the black diamond yet, they're going to ditch you at the top of the slope. And you know, you can always invite them for a more low-key thing, like…I don't know. Hiking up a small hill and having flask cocktails at the top, Europe-in-the-'20s-style. …Actually, now I want to do that. You should come! Bring your hormones! People want to like you! You deserve to let them! Now grab that gin and some fashion mags and let's GET THIS DONE!
I'm teasing, but seriously: give yourself a break for worrying about this and not knowing how to handle it, and then just…bring it up. "I had some health crap and couldn't do this stuff for a few years. Now I'm envious that you can do it, and I want to hear more about it. And maybe come with?"
And when you first meet someone, same basic deal. Nobody is owed any info, and many many people have physical ailments from time to time that put them in dry dock; nothing to be ashamed of there. Brief, vague references are all you need, and if you get closer to someone and want to share more, go for it. If you don't, great. "About yourself" is about yourself, what you like, what you read, how you feel about sushi.
Don't forget to give yourself some credit for nadding up and dealing with a tough situation, either.
Anyone still reading after I gassed on for seventeen screens? Okay, crickets: give Really some insights. (Hee.)
Tags: etiquette health and beauty workplace