What should I tell my neighbors?

Usually disclosing my health status isn’t a problem for me. Usually. For some reason, this time it feels different.

After writing this blog for a while I realized that talking about this stuff felt freeing. I needed that. So I began to open up in real life. Bit by bit I felt the difference. The more I was open, the better it felt. It wasn’t about making an announcement, but simply not hiding anything. From time to time I’d meet someone new and I’d mention I had “health issues” and the rest would come out naturally. Easy.

Then a few weeks ago I moved. Normally that wouldn’t change a whole lot, but this is a very friendly and huge apartment complex. I have already met many of my neighbors. Sometimes we say a quick hello. Sometimes I pet their dog but never learn their name. Sometimes we exchange pleasantries. But I’ve had real conversations with a few of them. I love it! It’s so great to be friendly with my neighbors. Of course, the downside is that it means I have a lot to share with them and I’m not sure how to do it.

One neighbor offered me food. I said thank you, it looks great, but I have Celiac. That opened up the conversation around Celiac, but not around my other health problems. It was a start. Another neighbor talked about the benefits of living on the second floor, so I mentioned knee pain that prevents me from doing a lot of stairs. Now she knows about my knee pain, but not about the rest.

Another neighbor was talking about dating, and we compared online dating apps we’ve tried. I mentioned dating women. Coming out as bi is a lot like coming out as disabled or having a chronic illness. I feel like I shouldn’t have to announce it, but people assume I’m straight/healthy if I don’t say anything.

So far, all of these conversations have gone well. There’s been no negativity. Still, as I’m making many new friends and acquaintances all at once, I’m wondering how much to share.

I have already decided not to tell anyone that I’m in one of the “affordable housing” units. Or that I’m on disability benefits. Or that I’m on food stamps. Those things all come with assumptions and stereotypes that I don’t want to deal with right now. If I become friends with someone then I might tell them, but until then, I’m keeping quiet. Besides, even if one person is cool with it, they might be a gossip who tells others, and that would be a problem.

So I’m not telling anyone about my financial arrangements, but that doesn’t mean I can’t tell them about my health. The two aren’t always related. I was disabled to a lesser extent back when I was working a full time job.

This isn’t something I want to hide. But I also don’t want to be known as “the sick one” or “the one who is always complaining about her health” – we all know that even when something is simply stated as fact it’s often heard as a complaint – or “the one with all those health problems.” I want people to know me as me. The problem is, these health problems are part of me.

Also, I need to be realistic. At some point I will ask a neighbor to help me with something that a “healthy” person can typically do, and they will wonder what’s wrong with me. I might as well get ahead of that.

Disclosure has to be decided in the moment, on a case by case basis. I know that. Still, it’s hard not to think about how I should approach this. Maybe I think too much, but it’s served me well so far. And so I am being very careful with my approach. Until the day I get fed up and just start announcing it to everyone, because I know that sooner or later, that will happen too.

Have you ever found yourself making a lot of new friends at once, but not in a single day? How do you handle whether or not to disclose, and how much detail to share?

6 Responses to What should I tell my neighbors?

  1. CJ says:

    I think it’s fine not to disclose your financial status! Most people (healthy or otherwise) are happy to keep that nitty gritty till later. I started a new job last year but it is a working-from-home model so I was mostly interacting with my new colleagues online until we had a conference or a professional development day and often I got asked ‘what brought you here?’ to which I honestly answered ‘I was unwell for a long time and my last employers were not kind about it’ and surprisingly the first thing people did was relate a similar experience which lead to me feeling completely in the right place. Sharing stories can be risky but I found it really worthwhile because I no longer felt like I had at the old place as a burden 🙂

  2. hejyork says:

    Just wanted to say I understand about having to divulge being bi and disabled. It does come with time and circumstances and you should feel free to disclose as and when it feels right and also to say to people “I don’t want everyone to know yet but…” which hopefully gets round any difficulty with gossip. Best of luck in your new place

    • chronicrants says:

      Thanks for the support hejyork! I do wonder if saying, “Please don’t share this” would work… some people would simply ignore it while others would be respectful. Eventually I’ll know who’s who, I suppose. And thanks! I’m loving the new place so far!

  3. Lorna says:

    I would keep it simple. If asked: I work part time from home. I have a few health issues. I rent the place etc. People guess there is something wrong as I walk with a stick or have a support bandage on. I don’t talk about money or my benefits with anyone at all.
    It sounds like your new place is friendly and your new neighbours will hopefully look out for you.
    Hugs xx

    • chronicrants says:

      Thanks for the support and advice, Lorna. I do hope that everyone will continue to be supportive as they learn more about me. So far, I’m mentioning working from home, and hinting that it’s part time. I guess I’ll just have to do it bit by bit and wait to see what happens.

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