Hello friends and family! Guys, gals, and nonbinary pals! Phew, it has been a while since I’ve last updated. How is everyone? I’ve been busier than I thought I would be, seeing as I’m stuck at home. I’ve taken a position as an online English teacher, which I’m really excited about! My first class is tomorrow morning; wish me luck!
I’ve also been practicing my Korean with a new friend, 동휘 (pronounced dong-hui). We met on a language exchange app and got along really well, so we exchanged Kakao Talk ID’s. (Kakao Talk is a Korean social networking platform.) We’ve been talking for a few months, 동휘 helping me with my Korean, and me helping him with his English in return.
His English is amazing, which is how we’ve been able to communicate. My Korean is limited to numbers 1-10 and basic greetings.
As our friendship has progressed we’ve learned things about each other. 동휘 loves Ping-Pong and is pretty good at it. I like to dance, though I’m pretty bad at it. 동휘 is working hard to further his career. I’m working hard to manage my chronic illnesses.
And, there it is. It’s weird, making friends as an adult, and weirder still trying to figure out when to mention you have chronic illnesses.
It’s a difficult space to navigate, if only for personal reasons. You can’t begin a friendship by saying “Nice to meet you! I have a chronic illness!”. I suppose you could, but that’s not really the line I want to open with. Our discussion about my illnesses started out really casually.
In Korea it’s common to check in with your friends and coworkers by asking them questions like “did you eat?” to show that you care about them. As there is a 13 hour difference between here and Seoul, 동휘 and I also ask “did you sleep well?”. The other day, when 동휘 asked if I slept well, my honest answer was no. My legs had been bothering me all night and made it difficult to fall and then to stay asleep. So I said no, but that I was feeling better now and should be able to sleep well that night.
When I tell you my heart felt like it was going to beat out of my chest I am only using slight hyperbole. What would he say? Would this be too intense and our friendship would be over? Would I soon be without a language partner and friend because I mentioned that sometimes I’m in too much pain to function? (As you can see, my anxiety never really takes a break.)
But, despite my doomsday predictions, 동휘 just said “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that”. You know, like a normal person.
Why did I panic when telling a new friend about my chronic illness? Am I secretly ashamed and fearful of judgement? Anxiety aside, not really. I mean I do blog publicly about all the things my body has put me through, and give details that not even my mother really wants to know, so ‘ashamed’ isn’t really the right word. I don’t know what the right word is.
동휘 messaged me later to say that there is a health clinic in Seoul that he would like to take me to (once I make it to Korea) and that he knows of a very good acupuncture practice as well. To most people, and to 동휘 I’m sure, this seems like a natural continuation of our conversation. But to me, and other spoonies who have experienced a similar situation, it makes the heart happy.
Chronic illness and chronic pain are parts of me, but they’re not all of me. Society has a way of breaking people down to their ‘most noticeable’ parts: race, gender, ableism. I’m not saying those are not important, quite the opposite. As a radical intersectional bisexual feminist™ I recognize the importance of our overlapping identities. But I’m always afraid of that summing up, that “she is disabled” label, instead of “she is a person with a disability and…”. And I like to sing. And I dance to my favorite songs without caring what I look like. And I’m learning Korean and planning on moving to Seoul.
That message about the health clinic and the acupuncture practice was an acknowledgement of this part of me, without making it be all of me.
And that made me very happy.