Monday, April 2, 2012

Avoiding Eeyore

"I know your mind went right to Diane, she died because of RA but that doesn't mean you will." 

The queen Eeyore on staff has cornered me in my office and has taken it upon herself to council me on autoimmune disorders. It brings back to mind one of the first times I spoke to Eeyore. I truly had the following conversation with this woman once (really):

"Hi Eeyore, it's nice to see you! Isn't it gorgeous outside today?"

"Well it's all fine here, but in Eerie, Indiana there's been terrible flooding. But you wouldn't know that, you're young  with your own life." 

This comment punctuated by her trademark head shake and stern lip communicated enough: I was a terrible person (and young!), and I felt a sudden urge to self-flagellate. Instead, I quickly learned to give Eeyore a wide berth. In doing so I had successfully avoided this energy vampire up until my RA diagnosis, which she had received wind of.  Now that she had me cornered, I reviewed my options for dealing with her perpetual pessimism:

1) Laugh it off. This would be a typical response from me. Brush off the concern, throw my arm around her for good measure to confuse her, and turn the conversation back on her or to something irritatingly frivolous. Eeyores hate that. People who meet me think I am often good akin to pious. Not so. A favorite hobby of mine is messing with people just a little bit. Considering I felt like I swallowed a cannon ball, as Eeyore so casually brought up the death of her friend, the mood is not conducive to my frivolous effing with her. It may become nasty.

2) Steer clear. I rely on this technique when I see Eeyore's shadow, or hear the sounds of her perfectly practical voice floating down the hallway. This requires an escape route which I currently do not have. Maybe I should pull the fire alarm.

3) Lay it out and tell her to eff off.  I could do this today. But I have to face her at work again. I can be blunt. I could chalk up my response to me dealing with my diagnosis…hmmm…

4) Educate her until she leaves. This falls under the messing category again. I could get up on an RA soapbox and perseverate until she backs out the door. To ensure that this works really well you have to employ the close "stalker" method. Not just talking, but following that person at a close range wildly gesturing at them as they obviously back away from you to gain personal space. It makes them incredibly uncomfortable and works like a charm to keep people away.

5) Be the stream. She is rock. I am water. Her words are obstacles in my path. In time, those words lose their significance, edges smoothed away into sand as my current washes over her.

I decided to hit her with my cane.

No, I chose the stream. I mustered up my courage and stamina for one of her pontificating health talks. She didn’t know me or my situation. Even though I was in no mood for listening to her crap, and I wanted to weep at the drop of a hat, I elected to ride it out. She probably thought she was doing me a huge favor. Maybe it took her mind happily away from the flood victims in Indiana. Maybe I did her a favor.

As someone who is newly diagnosed, or even if you and RA are old pals, you will have days where the last thing you need is a visit from Eeyore, and that's exactly what you get.

Even sunshine can be viewed in shades of gray.
Don't get me wrong, Eeyores aren't all bad. There are degrees of Eeyore-ism in everyone; are you the joyful pessimist or the unhappy optimist today? A little bit of this and that? Life is shades of gray, not black and white. Keep in mind that you will rarely be on the receiving end of tact when it comes to chronic illness, no matter how black and white it seems to you or them. You should be prepared to save yourself the struggle once you find yourself in that situation.

What to do with the Eeyore? Welcome him? Hold him near? One Buddhist saying is that our enemies teach us much about compassion.  Eeyores are not actually enemies, but they can stir up hurt, angry, nasty feelings inside ourselves that make us want to retaliate. It is a chance to try and cultivate compassion.

Choosing to be non-reactive, calm, and compassionate actually takes a lot of self-control. And the inside dialogue may not always match the outside. Just because I appear cheerful and sunny doesn't mean it comes easy. I work at it. Like it is a job. It is important to me. Being mindful is hard work. Like a bodybuilder squatting and benchpressing, I build my muscles of compassion and humor each day.

I still have a lot of work to do, but even in the hurt I try not to sink to Eeyore's level.  God knows it has taken me a long time to get where I am, and I still have miles to go. Each little poisonous tidbit of advice, and every nasty encounter offers me a chance to cultivate compassion and restraint. 

We are only as strong as the weakest part of ourselves. How do you behave in tough situations? You only have this one moment, this hour, this day. How will you chose to be?


  1. I so agree that we can't change people and in this case an Eeyore (by the way I love Eeyore...something about his moppy way makes me laugh) but we can change how we react to that person which is exactly what you are doing. Strength. Yup, strength is what we ra-ers gain over the years. You are light years ahead already by realizing this and need to pat yourself on the back. But as an option, you can maybe hide under your desk if you get real desperate to avoid Eeyore :-)

  2. Deb,
    Your response cracked me up. Eeyore is my favorite Winnie the Pooh character, but in human form decidedly less charming. I can't believe I didn't think of hiding under the desk as an option, good one!!!