Living in the center of the circle

There’s a thing I read on the LA Times website that I’ve shared a zillion times, because it’s such good advice. SUCH good advice. In most situations. But I’m starting to feel like it isn’t such good advice in mine.

Go read it now. No, seriously, we need a common frame of reference to make the rest of this discussion make sense. Are you back? Good.

Here’s the thing about the circles. In the short term, they make absolute sense. The person in the center of the circle is the one having the crisis, and thus the one who needs the most support and has the least ability to take care of everyone else around them. The people in the next ring need the next most support, and thus are next least able to take care of everyone around them. Comfort in, dump out. It’s a great way to help a friend get through a crisis.

That said, I feel like this model isn’t sustainable in the long term. Eventually, the person in the center starts to feel isolated, a delicate flower that everyone tiptoes around and hides their feelings from because they’re trying not to be a burden. Which means, the person in the center doesn’t get to have full and meaningful relationships with the people around her. And frankly, I don’t want to live like that for the rest of my life.

I mean, I can’t prop everyone up. I just can’t. I don’t have it in me. But at the same time, when everyone is putting on their brave face and not telling me that they feel sad or angry or whatever it is they feel? Yeah, that doesn’t fool me. It just makes me feel pitied and less-than and so very, very alone, rather than supported and loved–which I know is everyone’s goal, because my friends and family are wonderful big-hearted people.

Let me put it another way: it’s hard for me to talk about how I feel to people who don’t ever talk to me about how THEY feel. If you’re bottling, I’m bottling. We’re not having a relationship–we’re both wearing masks.

What’s the answer, then, for those of us who have to live in the center of the circle for the rest of our lives? The fuck if I know. I’m starting to think that all I can do is kvetch about how people are making me feel shitty by trying not to make me feel shitty.

Or maybe it’s this: maybe it’s about remembering when the immediate crisis of treatments and feeling ill are over that the person with the cancer in the center of the circle is still a person, not an object of pity, not a delicate flower that can’t be exposed to anything negative. We’re people, and we want to have real, honest relationships with other people.