Friday, 3 January 2014

Res ipsa loquitur

I love the way that phrase rolls off the tongue, but for those unfamiliar it roughly means “the thing speaks for itself”. It’s a principle of the English and Welsh law of negligence in which a breach of duty of care can be inferred simply by the nature of the circumstances without further evidence.

In colloquial terms then: stating the flaming obvious.

(Someone combined Harry Potter and the law of negligence into a thing. Even I'm not entirely sure why that makes me so happy. Image from

The matter of doing just that has been cropping up recently for me. It touches on what I think is probably a worthy discussion point for us spoonies and I’d love to hear peoples thoughts in the comments section after reading this.

Essentially, how far do you go to educate the ignorant? Where lies the point of saying “sod this” and refusing to go any further in terms of pointing out what’s essentially just past the end of someone’s nose?

For myself, I’m fairly open and honest about the fact I’m not exactly at the peak of health.  I write an easily accessible blog about it which is linked through on both my personal Facebook profile and The Retired Bridgeburner’s own page each time I have a new post, and I consider myself fairly approachable in terms of if someone wanted to ask me directly about it.

In short, I’ll appreciate a question over a false assumption every time. As I’ve said before I think of myself as pretty lucky in that I have a group of understanding and supportive friends around me who really do help make the situation much more bearable.

Considering all that, for me there’s not really much of an excuse for anyone who knows me to remain ignorant of my situation. If they were unsure, all they need do is ask, but I find it difficult to comprehend someone could be wholly unaware.

What to do, then, when faced with comments on several occasions that are either ignorant, or if they come with prior understanding pretty insensitive?

This is where the schools of thought start to separate a bit.

Logically speaking, the sensible thing to do would be to confront the situation, to point out the comments aren’t really acceptable and to explain why that’s so, and probably clarify the extent and nature of just how capricious my immune system is prepared to be to counter the possibility of just sheer ignorance.

However, my stubborn streak gets in the way of the logic here.

Essentially my usual approach is that I’ll try and explain things to someone if we start on an even keel, for example if they genuinely don’t know anything and query it. There’s a mutual undertaking there – you’ve asked the question, so I’ll answer to the best of my ability and hopefully we leave you more knowledgeable and me more comfortable. An appropriate step has been taken by both parties to clear up potential confusion.

When it’s someone who knows you’re unwell but chooses to make careless or hurtful comments instead of attempting to at least check their facts? It’s not what I would consider to be a beginning on an even keel and I have to admit it makes me disinclined to play ball. At all. Ever.

I don’t for a minute want to come across as if I assume other people should make all the effort to approach the subject, as that’s not the case and it would be a very unfair way to carry on. It suggests an expectation to be holding court as “special” or more important when in company, and I find that idea rather distasteful and it’s ultimately not the sort of person I am at all. There has to be an element of give and take and meeting in the middle to achieve understanding.

What I’m trying to convey is the concept that I’m sure we all have people around us who for a myriad of reasons really should be aware of how things stand, and who have had plenty of opportunities to clarify things which they have not made use of. There does come a point where personal pride rears its dubious head and goes “Sorry, but after all this time I don’t much feel like wasting time justifying myself to you.”

(Don't tell Petunia things like that, it just encourages her!
Image from Evolvefest on Facebook.)

Yes, it doesn’t help the situation and won’t lead to a cessation of comments, but we’re none of us Vulcan and we therefore don’t function purely on logic alone. We’re emotional beings for good or for ill.

Taking all of that into account and accepting that there is no malice involved, I remain a little irritated at being faced with comments inferring that my attitude is part of the problem and that I’m just being deliberately awkward and/or difficult if I bring up my health as a perfectly good reason I can’t engage with something.

Why? For me the first point is one small step away from “think yourself better”, and there are no words in Elvish, Entish or the tongues of Men for how much I HATE that sort of attitude, and the second sort just amounts to a complete lack of any sort of attempt to understand at all. It’s actually down right rude. 

Most (note most, not all) people who turn their health completely around and revolutionise their lives aren’t dealing with incurable illnesses. End of debate. Your inference is illogical and does not compute, so please be quiet. I don't personally think there's much wrong with my attitude, but if I accept the possibility I'm completely wrong, it still won't make my immune system behave any differently. She doesn't do self help, I'm afraid.

The conclusion I’ve essentially come to with this sort of scenario is that it’s not wrong of me to expect that there be a bit of effort on both sides to resolve things. I’m certainly responsible for attempting to fix the situation as much as I’m able to, but at the same time it’s not automatically my role to educate someone who doesn’t take steps to educate themselves.

I’ll close with a thought I think is the most important one from my point of view: there isn’t single individual in this world to whom I owe my health or happiness for the sake of their desires and expectations.

And there never will be.

How do you deal with ignorant and/or insensitive comments from those around you? Have you reached a different conclusion? Please feel free to discuss as I’d love to hear some differing viewpoints on this subject.

Wishing you all many spoons xxx


  1. Attitude is always what depressives get told off for by those with no understanding of the condition, I don't really "cope" with that kind of ignorance (I must admit). I dig out something someone else has done to explain it, like the black dog cartoon an Aussie bloke has done on YouTube, or if it's a pub situation I answer along the lines of "if it was that easy to change one's entire world view in one go there'd be no wars and no one would ever kill themselves, so don't talk about things you don't understand like you can fix them" because I have less time I am willing to dedicate to the education of ignorants than you do!

    1. Starting to consider that approach myself to be honest... I shall hunt down this black dog cartoon though, it sounds interesting! Have you seen Hyperbole and a Half by any chance? x

  2. LOVE Hyperbole and a Half. Her descriptions of depression and self-hate are spot on.

    I am super fortunate in that I have an amazing circle of supportive, understanding friends. They've all read the spoon theory, several of them have chronic illnesses of their own, and so they "get it". I'm pretty much on par with you as far as willful ignorance goes, though. I will go only so far to try to explain myself to others, but that varies according to situation and person. Reading the situation, I refuse to open myself up to attack or criticism by someone who just won't understand or accept the status of my life. I am trying my damned best, and if you can't deal with that then get out of my way.

    I WILL try to be polite and kind about it, but there are definitely thresholds that are met where I will cut off or redirect the conversation and relegate that person to the "untrustworthy" category in my mind. One of my favorite anecdotes is the nurse friend of mine who has been a second mother for years that told me I got sick because I left God. Not a fan of that school of thought. Now I answer her inquiries to my health with vague summaries and move the conversation on quickly. This isn't to say those kinds of things don't piss me off, but I save that for venting sessions with my husband or my amazing, understanding friends who will agree with me, throw in their own witty comments, and then move the conversation on to something more pleasant.

  3. I suspect it's a function of the fact that I have a very strong, in your face personality, that few people tend to make the sort of remarks you mention, at least in front of me! I get far more of the 'helpful' advice stuff - give up wheat and sugar, give up this that and the other, sort your diet out (which is met with utter venom-dripping cold fury as my diet is usually far better than the person talking to me), try this pill, use this pain-dampening method - and the worst people for this are my own mum and my not-mum-in-law who just don't appear to be able to understand the concept of FM pain and fatigue, no matter how many times I explain it patiently to them. Sadly, I can't really lose it with either of them (my not-dad-in-law struggles with it as well, but he just accepts what I say, reasoning that I am far more knowledgeable about it than he is - fairly standard bloke response, as far as I can tell) so I end up making non-committal noises and changing the subject. I can't begin to tell you how much helpful advice I got about the virus that has ruined most of my Xmas holiday!