On being judged

Trigger Warning: This is a rant. There is some mild swearing. I am angry!

I have had a rather upsetting little contretemps with a so-called friend…

It happened after I posted this on Facebook: “Today will include hair colouring (if I get a shift on), Tai Chi, knitting, meeting the editor of a local paper about writing for them, completing a DLA form and a scholarship application for Playback training, then maybe some writing and more knitting in my chair. Phew!”

My friend [sic] asked “Do you need a scholarship?”

Now, maybe that could be seen as a harmless enquiry, but my guts reacted with a clench – I felt I was being judged.

So I checked it out with her… And yes, I was being judged. She claimed that she wasn’t judging me, she just “…had to wonder at [my] application for a scholarship… considering [my] jet set lifestyle and recent shopping sprees, is all.”

Have we known each other for over twenty years? Have I been supportive of her health issues? Do I trust her to make valid decisions about her life? Yes, on all counts.

Did she read my recent post about my not normal life? Does she understand anything about my situation? Does she get it? Did someone not tell me that she has been nominated judge and jury over my life for the day? I think perhaps not, on all counts.

Because I am making the most of my time and funds…

Because I am travelling and doing as much as I can, spending money much more freely than ever before (on other people as well as myself), admittedly with some support from my family, but mostly using savings that I would otherwise have saved until I retire. By the way, that will be the retirement savings that are unlikely to be needed because that will be the retirement age I am unlikely to reach – not even the retirement age that used to be expected (60), let alone the age one has to attain now, due to government budget changes, in order to get the state pension(66)…

Because of my deliberate openness in sharing all of my activities, not hiding, being proud, bold and quite decadent at present… after over two years of feeling sick, fatigued, disabled, isolated, in treatment, being prodded and poked with cannulas, biopsy needles, chemo and other drugs, undergoing tests and procedures, experiencing a variety of side effects, a couple of hospital admissions and regular visits to clinic and Daycase, none of which is over… (More on current treatment shortly, once I have regained my equilibrium.)

And yes, perhaps I am playing the cancer card. Well, guess what, surprise surprise, I have cancer. I have an incurable cancer. I have every right to play the cancer card.

Because of all this, she is “… sometimes shocked by [my] apparent lack of awareness around [my] privilege.” So has she decided that perhaps I should “use [my] savings to do Playback and leave the funds for people less fortunate.”

This is all without knowing anything about my awareness of privilege, or how the scholarship funding is determined, or about any conversations I have had with the Playback School, or about the strong support I have from the school and without any empathic enquiry… In fact without knowing very much at all about anything, only that she felt “uncomfortable”.

I believe “uncomfortable” is a red herring. I think envy is playing a role here. I did suggest that, but understandably was met with denial and the counter that “[she] too live[s] with a lifelong, sometimes, life-threatening condition”.

Now envy is a strange thing, isn’t it? I am pretty sure she would not wish to swap with me, to have an incurable cancer shortening her life. And if she did have cancer, I am confident that she too would grab every opportunity to take up training, volunteer, make a difference, travel, spend on herself and other people and do all those things that one puts on a ‘when-I-have-time’ or ‘when-I-retire’ list, or what I have called my List for Living.

Privilege is another strange thing. Yes, I am privileged to come from a family with money to support me and that for many people facing cancer, even in the UK, where we have the NHS, not to mention other countries where treatment is dependent on having the funds to pay or the ability to fight/negotiate with an insurance company, where no money = no treatment, end of story. Yes, I am very lucky not to be facing poverty on top of ill health, pain and an incurable cancer. However, I believe that I am using my privilege to make a difference.

Aside from the fact that judging people based on your perception of their experience is really not acceptable, not helpful in terms of changing the other person’s behaviour, if that is her intention, and it’s definitely not empathic. By the way, this friend is in training to become a counsellor… She is not the first of this ilk, nor I doubt will be the last. Hmmm… Walking a mile in someone else’s shoes comes to mind.

I resent being put in a position of feeling the need to justify my choices, my spending, my application for help with funding, my reasons for asking for help. And I am not about to start here.

Oh yes, I was tempted to lay it all out here, but that idea makes me even more angry. I am not asking for her or anyone else’s permission. I do not wish to be judged full stop! If you cannot support me in my decisions and activities, then go and whisper about it to someone else who cares for your opinion. Because that is all it is.

I resent the stress and self-doubt that having this conversation has caused me. I resent my politics being called into question: “I often wonder where your ‘politics’ actually are.” I beg your pardon?! WTF???!

One thing that has changed for me during these past three years is a strengthening of my bullshit radar. While I have become softer, more compassionate, more appreciative and more generous (especially while on steroids) towards those whom I love and who love me, not to mention towards strangers and charitable organisations, I have also become a lot clearer about and quicker to respond to behaviour that is unsupportive, detrimental to my well-being, or even downright toxic.

I will no longer tolerate people who purport to be friends but behave like enemies. I believe the current terminology is ‘frenemy’. I already have an internal frenemy, in the form of myeloma! That, at least, is just going about its own business, which just happens to be detrimental to my health, but I don’t perceive it to be actively malicious. It’s not out to get me. And it was never a friend, so I do not feel hurt by betrayal.

In the past, in the years before cancer, if I encountered challenges like this, I would spend many troubled hours soul-searching and berating myself for my failings. I would take on all sorts of crap that other people threw at me. I am not saying I was always right, that I never made mistakes – of course I did – I still do. But often I was so keen to make things right, to avoid confrontation, to take the blame for things, to question myself before anyone else, to please people rather than validate myself, that I would twist myself into all sorts of painful positions to put things right that many times were not my wrongs.

These days, I will not do that so readily. I am a lot more in touch with my gut feelings and I trust them more than I ever did. I can admit being wrong when I believe I am, and I do my utmost to put things right when I mess up, but I can also stand up for myself in ways I wouldn’t have dared to do before. I feel stronger and more assertive than ever and less afraid of the discomfort that challenge and confrontation brings.

Some of this new-found strength of character is from going through all I have experienced in the last three years. It has brought out a warrior spirit in me. Some of that is due to the influence of a friend, whose directness and fiercely protective attitude around me has allowed me to experience a stronger sense of myself and my value. Standing up for myself is valid. This friend’s bullshit detector is on full-strength and for the most part I trust her, even when we don’t always agree on the best way to deal with the crap.

So, all the haters out there, please take note: You are no longer dealing with a doormat. I do not need nor want your heartless, envious judgements or your lack of trust in me. If that is what you bring to me in the name of friendship, then I no longer need your friendship. Fortunately, along with everything else I have encountered on this journey, I have found plenty of good friends, a strengthened bond with my family and people who were just waiting to appear in my life, people who accept, support, care for and love me. And the feeling is strongly reciprocated. I am fiercely loyal to my friends, grateful to and proud of them.

Ok, I think I’m done. Rant over. Thank you for reading. Supportive comments are welcome. Anything else, please take elsewhere.