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Straight Talk

I’ve always had a great admiration for people who are able to communicate directly. This isn’t always easy, especially for those living in an ongoing state of fear, insecurity and self doubt. Culturally many of us have been conditioned to want to please others, so much so that we are willing to lie or to place ourselves in unhealthy situations to avoid the confrontation that may arise from simply being honest.

Being a ‘people pleaser’ makes it difficult to say what you mean and mean what you say, especially when the message is not what the audience wants to hear. Yet ironically, in this state of seeking to please others, most of the time neither side is ever satisfied. The one seeking to please becomes stressed, anxious, and over time, resentful of those they are trying to please. Afterall, it is impossible to make everyone happy, and with so much invested in trying to satisfy others, the pleaser often neglects them self of being truly fulfilled. As it turns out, most people interested in relationship are interested in honest support through dialogue, rather than being assuaged by someone who is merely seeking approval.

When I initially was diagnosed with a rare liver disease, I initially opted not to tell many people simply because I didn’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable. I assumed that most people would feel awkward and not know how to respond. It took some time, but as I came to terms with the implications of the disease, I also began to shift my perspective, being more honest with myself and those around me.

During this time, I began to take more risks. I experimented with voicing how I felt, and used everyday situations as territory for exploration. All day long people were asking me how I was: at the store, on the bus, at work. On impulse I was used to answering “fine; good; well” and in those days it couldn’t have been farther from the truth. I chose to start responding honestly. What I found was that a few people took notice and met me with their own truth telling; a bond was forged. They met my suffering with their own, and as a result we both felt a little better.

Several years on when I moved to London, my first British hepatologist was reassuring and positive; I always left his office feeling confident about my condition, that I would be the unusual case to beat the odds of my potentially life threatening disease. What I didn’t realise at the time was that he shared information with me on a ‘need to know’ basis, holding the cards of my prognosis close to his sleeve. Because of this, as my condition began to deteriorate I was ill-equipped, not understanding enough about the details of the disease to realise what was actually going on.

Then in February of 2013, my doctor took a sudden leave of absence to have major surgery and informed me he would be out for six months recovering. As everything appeared to be so stable, his last words were “see you in six months” as he handed me a little piece of paper with another doctor’s name scribbled on it, just in case. Five days later I wound up in the emergency room with acute cholangitis, and was admitted to the hospital for over a week. After the first day as an in-patient, my new doctor (the same doctor who’s name had been scribbled on the piece of paper) told me I would need a liver transplant. I was flabbergasted.

At first I reacted very defensively. After all, I had been seeing the senior professor at the hospital for over six years and he had told me just a week earlier if ever I would need a transplant, it would be in several years time. Who did this new doctor think he was?

Over the course of the week I came to get to know the new doctor and his communication style, and was discharged with a lot of uncertainty about what state my liver was really in. Less than a week after discharge, I had become so ill that I nearly had to be carried into his office to beg him to help me get on to the transplant list.

I have grown to respect my new doctor immensely. He is direct in his communication, transparent with me even when he makes an error. Above all else he comes from a place of compassion. There is no doubt in my mind he wants what is best for me, and I admire the fact that when he himself gets frustrated, he shares this with me and explains why. For the first time in my life, I feel like I have a voice in my medical care, and I have access to a doctor who listens and responds to my needs to the best of his ability. He has taught me a thing or two about straight talk, too.

Whether it be communication with a colleague or boss, lover, child or friend, speaking from a place of kindness, honesty and support will serve all parties far more than amending messages aimed solely at pleasing the recipient, fearful of their reaction to the truth.

“Integrity is telling myself the truth. Honesty is telling the truth to other people.” ― Spencer Johnson

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