You know what I can’t stand?
Oh, gosh, well now, that sets us up to be here a while, doesn’t it? I can’t stand wet socks, and I can’t stand loud noises, and I really and truly can’t stand real pants! Put me in anything with a button or a zipper, and I turn into insta-cat-with-clothes on. I go rigid and act like I can’t move, because, well, have you ever worn pants? For that reason, I wear comfy knit shorts, or, more often, leggings and skirts… skirts that have stretch, of course. But no real pants.
I’m not known for my ability to “suck it up,” as it were, unless you’re talking about Diet Mountain Dew and a straw. If I’m miserable, um, you’ll probably know about it. My mom sometimes says, “And what do you want me to do about [the fact that your socks got wet in the rain and we're in the grocery store]?” Oh, right. Sometimes I forget that my mom doesn’t have the ability to instantly fix every wrong situation. She sure can fix a lot of them! But sometimes, even Mom can’t solve the dilemmas that the world throws at me. I’ve sort of learned to hush up about pain and nausea and the usual things I deal with of that variety, but nary a wet sock nor tag in my shirt will plague me without the world knowing of my unhappiness.
So, when people get on my nerves, it’s um, really, really hard for me not to come right out and set them straight. I get quiet and cross and really have a hard time just dealing with it, and lately, one situation is on my nerves more than any other. I’m happy to say that I’ve devised a solution… but first, I’m just going to put it out there, once and for all, how bothersome this behavior is to me (and many others). That way, I’ll have said my piece and done my part in eliminating this nuisance from the world at large, and you’ll be enlightened and I’ll be less frustrated and we can both be better people for it.
Story-topping is obnoxious. Don’t do it.
Person 1: Oh my gosh, I just finished my 20-page term paper and it kept me up all night.
Person 2: I just stayed up for three days straight working on my thesis!
Person 1: I just ran my first 5K!
Person 2: Well, I just ran a 10K in half that amount of time!
When you respond to someone’s sorrow, joy, or any other situation with a story-topper, you essentially send the message that the person to whom you’re responding really has nothing to feel bad about, or gloat about, or whatever. It sure is admirable that you’ve done what you’ve done… or it sure is difficult… but one-upping the person who just spoke doesn’t make that person feel very good. In fact, it makes him feel rather stupid for ever feeling bad or good or whatever he felt in the first place.
Here’s where it gets on my nerves. I deal with a lot of health issues. I’ve been in a nursing home setting since March of 2013, though getting out quite soon may be on the horizon. Remember how you felt the last time you came down with the flu? I deal with that level of nausea almost relentlessly. When I say I’m feeling tired, I don’t mean that a nap would be nice… I mean that, despite having just slept 16 hours, if I don’t lay down soon, I face up to two weeks of being unable to eat (feeding tube sure comes in handy), bladder spasms that feel like my insides are going to fall out, wacky heart rate and blood pressure, and deep pain in my arms and legs.
When someone you know has a chronic illness, chances are good that, after a time, they have learned not to constantly complain about their symptoms. What’s hurtful is when someone says, “Oh my gosh, I know exactly how you feel… I had a cold last week…” Unless your cold led to surgeries and hospitalizations and IVs and feeding tubes and ostomies… it’s a little bit hurtful to compare the two situations. It’s not story topping in its purest form, but it is a way of making a comparison that minimizes what the first speaker has experienced. When I say that I’m tired and need to rest, sometimes people say that they “wish they could afford to sleep as much as I do.” Except that I’d really much rather be out there living a life that contributes to making the world a better place than sleeping all the time. People also like to tell me, and this is where the direct story topping comes in, that THEY only slept FOUR hours last night and they’re EXHAUSTED but oh, they’re pushing through, but if I really need to go rest, then go right ahead… and whether or not they mean to do it, I then feel extremely guilty for needing to rest, knowing that I slept for 15 hours and really “shouldn’t” feel tired at all. One person even got argumentative and would not cease insisting that her fatigue from only six hours of sleep was worse than mine. Regardless of how tired she felt, why she felt tired, and how strong and capable she was in pushing through that tiredness to keep going about her life, reality for me is that if I do not stop and rest when my body starts to hint, then whole body systems will begin to shut down.
So, there you have my vent and my message… which is not to have pity on poor old me and my sick body, but to do your best not to make people feel bad for doing what their bodies, in whatever state they might be, need them to do. That takes so many forms… in the autism world, an autistic person might need accommodations because of the noise level, or, some autistic people need to minimize sensory input and output by switching to typing instead of speaking. Rather than making someone feel less-than because of their needs, it is so helpful to feel like others are willing to accommodate you… like you’re not a burden.
As far as story topping, the best solution I have is that I will cease to be a part of the problem. When someone tells me a story of success or failure or sorrow or joy, I will do my absolute best to respond to the heart of the message rather than using their situation as a springboard for my own story. The fact is that I cannot control other people or their responses, but I can control my own, and so I will make the choice to be one less story topper and end the cycle.
By the way, your achievement or sorrow or failure or joy is totally worth sharing and talking about, too. It’s all about the timing, so, give the conversation a few minutes to continue on, and next time there’s a lull, jump in with your own story. That way, BOTH stories have a chance to shine.