As I do every year around this time, I will be writing about body autonomy. It’s that time of year. Lights, chocolates, eggnog, shopping, and topics that are no one else’s business.
The reason I get so riled up about this is that for the entire rest of the year, we all work to empower ourselves. We embrace things that make us happy. We struggle though trauma, we endure circumstances that are challenging, we face the odds. We build new lives for ourselves. We create and enter environments that give us peace and joy. We might even support others! Part of our lives is helping others when they are down, or they need a friendly voice or companionship.
Then December comes around and all of a sudden it’s very personal questions from people we only see once a year. It’s sitting next to someone you don’t know and having them ask you about your life story. Then, although they may not be neurologists (I have yet to run into a neurologist at a holiday party), they provide the advice that they know from a show they watched, from their second-cousin-twice-removed, from seeing someone have a seizure in elementary school.
Last year (after my Ketogenic post), I was informed I should be grateful that people care so much about me and what is happening with my health. First off, I hate the word ‘grateful’, so that was a bad start to that conversation. Second, there are different ways to show concern or interest without being condescending. Third, there are so many other things happening in the world, I don’t think that the only conversation directed at me should be about why I shouldn’t choose pharmaceuticals or whether I am worried about living alone.
I was also informed that because I run a blog about epilepsy and do public speaking about epilepsy that I should not be surprised when people talk to me about it. So please note, I am not just talking about epilepsy or health conditions or myself right now. Next, I am not personally averse to talking about my epilepsy. I do it all the time. This post is actually about other personal topics; this is about other people who may not be as comfortable with discussing epilepsy; this is literally meant to be for everyone. Yes, I will talk about my epilepsy, but even I have topics I don’t want to discuss.
How does we know which topics are which? Before starting a conversation, let’s use our brains for one second. Just think. How will this be received? Maybe the intention is a genuine concern and interest in someone’s health, relationships, career. I imagine that a fair amount of times that it is. But if the response is less than enthusiastic, then just be open to changing the subject.
I like to think that people like building relationships with people. I like having solid conversations with people I know or with people I have just met. There are a million topics though that can be had that avoids making anyone uncomfortable. If I start a conversation with and open-ended question, like “How are things?”, that person can answer with WHATEVER topic they choose. Have they started a new job? They can say. Have they gotten divorced? They can mention it. Have they invented time travel? They can talk about that. The important thing is that that decision falls on that person. If I start with “So, are you and your significant other still at that job where you were working on the space-time continuum?”, and the answer is “No, we broke up, I got fired, and the time travel device exploded and failed”, maybe they don’t want to talk about that at a party. Stick with “What’s new?”. Open-ended questions.
Every person has the right to talk about things or not. It’s not a matter of being polite and making polite conversation. Our bodies are our bodies. Our own bodies. Our brains are our brains. The decisions we make in our lives are ours. We do not have to justify why we have made those decisions or explain ourselves. We are not a community project, open for discussion. Just enjoy the eggnog and be excited about Disney+.