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The Next Time Someone Goes Out on a Vulnerable Limb About Their Health

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I am going to step out on a vulnerable limb and speak my truth: I have been in bed, in pain, suffering for two days.

Here is my truth that is easy for you to hear because it doesn’t push buttons or point fingers: I have been in bed, in pain, suffering for two days.

Let me say that one more time for the cheap seats in the back: I have been in bed, in pain, suffering for two days.

And I say this knowing, with confidence, that the majority of you have paused and taken a moment to empathize only now understanding that I live with severe rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis, two chronic, degenerative, incurable diseases, because even though you don’t know me, due to the subject matter and this platform, I am confident you are compassionately reading (thank you).

Now, humor me.

Imagine if I stepped out on that limb, vulnerable and isolated, and said the same thing, “I have been in bed, in pain, suffering for two days,” knowing I wasn’t alone, knowing full well thousands upon thousands of people are in my same situation and some of those people need me to be their voice and so I spoke my truth with the intention to raise awareness that may produce a cure to my diseases, but was met with this:

“What exactly did you do to get yourself in that position?”

“As a healthy person, I can see both sides to this argument. I mean, it’s understandable how your admission of suffering makes other people look bad, but isn’t it selfish to say that you suffer and we don’t?”

“Is it really suffering? I mean you have a bed when so many people suffer and they don’t even have a bed.”

“Buck up, buttercup. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”

“Always trying to be a victim.”

“What is your agenda?”

“Hey, don’t vilify the well! We can’t help that you are sick.”

“People like you give modern medicine a bad name.”

“Just because you aren’t having a good time doesn’t mean you need to ruin it for the rest of us.”

“Is it really that bad?”

“Clearly, you’re exaggerating for attention.”

“You aren’t doing enough.”

“Your lifestyle choices contribute to your suffering, therefore you shouldn’t force your suffering on us.”

“Stop whining, at least it isn’t cancer. You won’t die.”

“You should be grateful. Use your suffering to make better art and write better stories.”

“You could have said you were suffering in a different way to make it more easy for us to understand. How were we supposed to know you were suffering if you didn’t communicate with us more clearly? We would have helped you if we knew. We aren’t mind readers.”

“Pain is subjective.”

We as a culture are in a period of great awakening and have the opportunity to acknowledge, reconcile, change and evolve. There are so many brave men and women out there on the vulnerable limb doing their best, speaking their truth and changing the world so even if you don’t understand (yet) the significance of what they’re doing and saying and the truth they are living out loud for millions of people that change will still happen eventually and that is amazing.

Wait. Before you say anything, think about it: Someone stepping out on the vulnerable limb, ready to break and knowing they could fall, before you are ready is amazing. Full stop! So when you see someone’s truth and have an opinion about it, do me a favor, and first stop to listen.

There are moments when you don’t have to be a vigilante and can trust that if there is malicious intent that truth will also come to light because those of us who identify with the people out on the vulnerable limb are listening. We are listening to them, and we are also listening to you and learning, every single day, how very much alone we are and truly how much work needs to be done for us to feel safe.

I am so very grateful to all people of color, minorities, chronic illness warriors and their caregivers and those who have survived sexual abuse/harassment volunteering their safety and time throughout history to awaken the world to evil abuse of power and domination.

The daily education of those unaware of oppression is exhausting, as so many trailblazing pioneers of justice and equality already know, but y’all, the blowback, the knee-jerk reactions, the judgment, the hyper defensiveness, the white-knuckle hold on comfortable ignorance needs to end. They do this work so we can do our work to become better; all that is being asked of us is to listen, and I don’t think that is too much to ask.

So I am stepping out on the vulnerable limb, on this platform surrounded by so many others who have stood up to scrutiny such as, “But you don’t look sick?” or “That parking space is for the disabled and you clearly aren’t,” to say people step out on that vulnerable limb knowing they will be attacked and that their character will be assassinated but do so anyway because their integrity does not allow them to remain silent, the safety of others does not allow them to remain silent and your comfort does not justify their silence.

There is no one conversation more noble than another, and I am asking, since you so graciously listened to my story, that you listen to more stories spoken from way out on the vulnerable limb: stories of abuse, injustice, discrimination, inequality and pain.

Change isn’t just for the next generation, for my kids, for your kids and the youth of the world to solve, apply and implement. Change is a now issue, change was a then issue, and change will never be a thing of the past.

So the next time a member of your community, your family or a friend steps out on that vulnerable limb and speaks their truth and you question it:

Please, just listen.

Please, just listen.

Please, just listen, and if you have questions compassionately ask them, don’t just spew opinion.

Do better, and I promise to do the same for you.

Thank you.

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Originally published: January 27, 2018
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