Social Question

Mariah's avatar

Can I ask for some personal advice on how to appropriately share about my past?

Asked by Mariah (25876points) August 31st, 2011

I feel a long-winded one coming on – my apologies.

I struggled with a digestive disease, ulcerative colitis, all through high school. Being as young as I was, my peers couldn’t really understand what I was going through – they’d never been so sick. So my parents became my biggest support system, and I leaned on them heavily

When I started college I got sick right away, and while I could always talk to my parents on the phone, I still felt the effects of not having their support in my daily life. I knew I needed some support in order to deal with my illness, so I decided I needed to confide in at least one of my brand new friends. This was scary because I was just getting to know these people, and it’s a pretty personal subject, and I didn’t want to run them off.

My closest friend was one boy in particular, we’ll call him B. One day B and I were discussing how nasty the dining hall food was, and I jumped on the opportunity to breach the subject – I said, “yeah, my digestive tract sucks, and this food isn’t helping any.” And I was thrilled to get the reply “mine too.” Knowing that he could sympathize with my issues at least somewhat, I decided he was the person to tell. I was getting sicker to the point where it wasn’t something I could hide anymore; I was missing class to go to the hospital. So I sat him down one day and explained exactly what was up, told him the name of my condition and how much I had struggled throughout high school and that I was struggling now. In the past I have always blown off steam and handled the stress of being ill by talking with my parents about my worries, and I was really struggling not having that available to me in college. I felt that I needed a friend I could talk to about this, and B didn’t seem put off by it at all when I first told him, so I began to confide in him a bit more. But over the next few weeks he became a bit colder and more aloof towards me. I don’t know that it had anything to do with my leaning on him, but the more I think about it, the more I think it was probably really f***ing weird for B to have this girl he had only known for a few weeks telling him about her digestive problems.

The nature of my disease is not really a subject that people usually talk about in polite company. I know that nobody likes to sit around and listen to people bitch about their health problems – and it’s probably especially odd in the college setting. However, I have been sick for four years, and now I’ve had major surgery to correct it, and it’s just an enormous part of my life. Not only do I feel a need for some support when I’m away from home, but I just feel that people who are going to end up becoming my close friends really ought to know about experiences in my past that have shaped me – how else do I expect anyone to get to know me? What advice can you offer on how I should handle this better in the future so as to not run off anybody I would like to have as a friend? Did I completely cross the line with B?

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18 Answers

Imadethisupwithnoforethought's avatar

Ok. That feeling, that you overshared, sucks. I am sorry that happened to you.

Information sharing, in general, should follow a give and take pattern. If you give, the other person should give. You need to pause if you find the other person is no longer giving, and let them come back to you. Otherwise you start to come off needy.

It is awful, because you think if you could just make your intentions clear they will come back. It does not work that way, and the more you try and explain the more they will start to avoid you.

Judi's avatar

Are there any support groups in your college town for sufferers of this disease? How about online forums of other sufferers? @Imadethisupwithnoforethought said, relationships (except child parent relationships) are usually give and take if they want to work. It is hard to ask a new friend to carry such a heavy burden. It would be better if you found others who have been there to lean on. I would bet that you are not the only person in your school with this type of problem.
Unless they ask, when someone asks where you were, be honest and say, “I have X and it sucks.”
If they ask for more info, give it to them, but not more than they ask for. If you don’t find a support group, a friend (probably a girl) will rise to the top and be very caring and supportive.
Just be careful to listen to her too. All of us have things that stress our lives. After suffering the way you have other peoples problems may seem trivial to you, but remembering that their problems are the biggest things in their life right now, and being kind and understanding back will earn you more kindness and understanding than any amount of disease explanation will.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

One thought, Find a farm boy to discuss it. It’s not a illness for the squeamish. I’ve dealt with quite a few people who’ve had it and it get’s pretty brutal. Hugs for having the courage to put this out there.

SpatzieLover's avatar

My husband roomed with a fella in college that had a similar situation to yours @Mariah. My husband is the squeamish type. For him, no matter how close of a friend he’d be, it’d probably be too much personal info unless it was a family member.

I, OTOH, am the complete opposite and would gladly empathize with you and discuss it. I think in the future, you’ll just have to rely on taking notice of how much the person you’re speaking to discusses their personal info, before you share.

Further, I agree with @Adirondackwannabe. I come from a farming family. We’d share anything and everything without a bit of squeam.

nikipedia's avatar

I don’t think you should take your experience with B as indicative of how all people will react. People who have a strong nurturer/caretaker urge will probably respond better than people who are uptight, self-centered, or squeamish, so to a certain extent it’s your job to try to feel out what kind of person you’re dealing with before you decide how much to share.

I would also venture to guess that B’s aloofness might have nothing to do with this. As you know, people in college have a lot of stuff going on and lots of change happens. And, people can also be kind of self-centered and bad listeners, sometimes. We all do it. Is anything important going on with him?

marinelife's avatar

First, could you look (perhaps through the local hospital) for a support group for people who have your condition in the area?

Next, I would wait to tell people until you have known them for more than six months and you have gone through some things together.

B probably just could not handle the heavy emotional content that you were laying on him.

Finally, have you considered getting support from the college health center or counseling?

Good luck!

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

No no..if he was a friend, he wouldn’t care about that…there is nothing wrong with your disorder, nothing to feel ashamed about, it’s normal, it happens…many things happen to people…that wouldn’t freak caring people out, at all…he’s no good.

mazingerz88's avatar

This is difficult for me to say but persons your age tend to veer off issues concerning health. It does not make them bad people. Some probably want to help out but they have their own lives going and they just can’t. But you’re smart. You already know exactly what I said to be true. Yet I also understand everyone needs friendship, a sustainable, dependable self generating meaningful friendship. One that would not easily break or won’t break at all.

Is this possible in your case? I think yes. But it will be tough. Whether it’s a boy or a girl I hope you meet someone who have fun doing other things with you. I understand your activities maybe limited but I’m thinking if you could join a science club or a book club or a movie club, that will give your situation a new dimension, a fertile ground for real friendship. And when they like you for who and what you are little by little, they would probably stick around since it’s hard for them to let you go at this point. They care about you now and would miss your company.

I’m reminded of that romantic movie I saw with Jake Gylenhall and Anne Hathaway. ( Ok, spoiler alert here. Stop reading if you wish to see this movie. ) She’s very sick that if he sticks with her and continue a relationship, there is no doubt he would be his caregiver the rest of her natural life. It’s a romantic movie, so I thought oh, he loves her. That would be enough. Happy ending. But no, it did not end there.

He wants her, he loves her, he cares and then, and then he showed this by desperately exhausting all means in his capacity to fix her health problem. Now, she really wants him out of his life. Maybe she’s thinking he is in denial still, that her sickness will go away. And maybe she wants him to have a good life.

Well, the romantic movie has got to have its happy ending. And those lines that Jake Gylenhall delivered in the end to convince her to come back, were the most tearful, heart-wrenching but most importantly, honest realistic lines I’ve heard in a movie for quite a while, imo. I believe there’s a friend out there like that for you.

Londongirl's avatar

I think it is best to tell him as you did and if he is being cold then give him space, may be he doesn’t want to take that responsibility.

Mariah's avatar

Thanks a million, everybody, for your answers so far. To answer a few of the questions asked – yes, I also sought out counseling while I was at college. It was very beneficial, but getting help once a week wasn’t really enough for me when I was struggling 24/7. There is no support group on my campus for people suffering from disease, unfortunately. In fact, I actually talked very seriously for a while with my advisor about possibly forming a support group on campus. This is still a possibility. Finding the time to get to a hospital in the city by cab to participate in an off-campus support group sounds like more trouble than it’s worth, but I’d consider it. I do participate in support groups online.

As for whether B’s behavior was unkind, I can’t say. There are a lot of possible reasons why he cooled on me. I don’t know for sure that his apparent change of heart towards me definitely was because I leaned on him too heavily. I want to note that it’s not as though our entire relationship was based on me complaining about my life – more often than not, when we hung out, we just had light-hearted fun and didn’t talk about anything serious. But in hindsight I do feel I was probably putting him in a bad position, and our “give and take” was not balanced. Thank you for pointing that out; I have developed some selfish habits in my relationships from having been so “needy” for all these years.

My big hope is that, having had the surgeries, I will be much healthier when I go back and won’t even have a need to lean so hard anymore. I think telling my friends about what I’ve been through in the past – glossing over some of the uncomfortable details – would be totally fine once doing so no longer involves me leeching energy from them. If I’m so fortunate that I can begin to treat this issue as a memory instead of a current struggle, that will put me in a better place overall where I won’t have as much of a need in my life for somebody playing that supportive role. At the very least, I have learned that I must develop a stronger bond with my friends before I place heavy subjects on them.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@Mariah I’m glad you’re doing better. I’ll give you another perspective. I’m the one in my family that everyone leans on. If anything goes wrong, I get the first call. It is not easy and it’s not much fun and it takes a lot of strength. Sometimes I feel like bailing but I don’t because they’re my family and they need something to lean on. But it takes it’s toll on me. If B wasn’t all that strong to begin with he just couldn’t cut it. He didn’t handle it well though. But maybe the aloof act was easier for him than to admit he couldn’t cut it.

JessicaRTBH's avatar

I can relate in a way. My first very serious boyfriend had ulcerative colitis. I was one of the very few people outside of his family and very best friends that knew. It’s very difficult I’d imagine and he was very sick for a long time. I believe he felt alienated in a way by his peers. (based only on my observations) I think it was very hard for most of them to wrap their heads around the fact that not every young person has 100% health. I also think given the nature of it he was embarrassed to even bring it up. People knew he was sick because of extended hospital stays and a surgery but never really talked about it beyond that. I think having family to rely on is amazing. I think when you develop trust with somebody being able to share with them is going to be a bit easier. I don’t know personally about a health issue but in my life I often struggle with this same thing (mostly in dating or relationships) as when to bring up that I had a daughter that died at one month old. It’s a bit of baggage and I’ve scared off many a people. I never wanted to not disclose major parts of my past. I’m just slowly learning how to ease them into relationships without scaring people away. I honestly don’t think you crossed any lines. Some people react to things in odd ways. It also may have nothing to do with you. I have found that taking things slowly and developing a good deal of trust makes sharing and keeping people around much easier. It’s so hard when I hear ‘nobody wants you to just dump a big bunch of crazy on them Jessica’ especially when that ‘crazy’ is my life. It made me feel like at a time that I was just screwed. Now, I have some people who I’m close to that I’ve gradually shared things with that I find to be quite supportive. I’m hoping my bizzaro ramble fest might have helped.

Hibernate's avatar

I don’t think you went to far. You want someone to talk to. And the pain was insupportable so you just let it out. You feel much better now it seems [after talking about it]. Now the ball is in B’s court. It might take a while for him to fully understand it but he might surprise you.
I do know people don’t really want to talk about big issues but sometimes it’s just better to let it out. I have a few friends whom I don’t know all that well and we didn’t do many things together but they confied in me about a lot of things. It might be the age or maybe they just wanted someone who really listens to them and gives them some support. As instead I gave them even more than this. And of course I never talked about these problems with other friends we had in common.

But as for counseling. It’s better to try and find people who go through the same things then to go to a counselor who’s gonna get bored at some point. [Been there, done that].

Anyway I hope you’ll get well and overcome the disease. All the good in the world.

CaptainHarley's avatar

Anyone who wants you as a friend has to accept you, warts and all. Your illness is a part of your life, ergo, they need to accept that in order to be a good friend.

Nullo's avatar

I make a point of not talking about things unless the conversation goes there on its own. Had I been in your situation, I would have limited my explanations to a simple, “I was sick,” and only elaborate if asked to. I do this to keep from rambling on, which used to be a big problem for me. You might find it useful.
Serious business is heavy stuff, sometimes more weight than an early-stages relationship can support. You probably surprised him a bit more than he was entirely comfortable with. He’ll get over it, or you will.

You might try bringing one of your online friendships into meatspace, as such a person would likely already be more familiar with your trials.

Buttonstc's avatar

I think that if you were the one to begin an on-campus support group for your disease (and anything related to the general IBS category) you might be pleasantly surprised by how many fellow sufferers come out of the woodwork.

However few or many there are, I’m sure that you’d all be a great resource for each other.

I would urge you to do it. Find yourself a faculty advisor from the health center or nurses to kind of be a guiding hand for the logistics of organizing, finding meeting space, publicity etc. so you don’t feel totally alone.

I think you’ll be very glad you did. And the Q you asked here would be a great discussion for the first meeting. I’m sure others have wondered the same.

So, now that you have your first meeting topic, go find a faculty advisor and get this thing off the ground.

You can do it.



I am also personally very experienced with the whole “Issue which instantly makes everyone uncomfortable” side of life.

Even tho mine was not specifically physical medicine related it was equally horrifying so I’ve been in your shoes and it’s a balancing act.

Feel free to PM me about it.

AnonymousWoman's avatar

It sounds to me like B started feeling emotionally drained and started pulling away further and further because of this. I don’t think this makes him a bad person as certain others seem to have suggested. I think it just means he really could not handle having that information unloaded on to him. It doesn’t sound like he was expecting to have a conversation like that—it sounds like he liked being around you and felt comfortable enough to make small talk about the food. It seems like it’s as simple as you didn’t connect with him in a way that he had hoped you would. It is important to pay attention to what the person you are talking to seems receptive to and what he or she doesn’t if you want to make the best out of a friendship. This can be easier said than done, but it’s very possible. I will chat about this more with you through PMs.

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