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?