Sunday, January 6, 2013

My New Years Resolution: To Complain More

Complaining has a bad rap.  It's often considered a first degree relation to whining, which defines as: to snivel or complain in a peevish, self-pitying way.  That's four derogative descriptors in one definition.

The definition given to complain includes: expressing dissatisfaction, pain, censure resentment; to find fault.  Slightly more benign, but still pretty unflattering.

What if instead of complain, we used the term share, or repair, or even renew.  

When you have a chronic illness you can spend a lot of time and energy handling your care regimen, your exhaustion, and your pain.  On top of that, you need to manage your roster of daily responsibilities and chores, and also produce the emotional steam needed to stay just six inches ahead of your illness so you can function with dignity and benevolence.

Sometimes complaining serves as the necessary release valve so you don't combust.  One or two gripes expressed out loud can help you renew flagging energy.  Energy that had served to contain distress can be released and redirected toward fortitude.

I have found that saying, "I can't stand this pain another minute," helps me to stand it for a lot longer.  And after I say that, if Richard, my partner, holds my hand and says, "I know," we can both stand it together.

Sometimes complaining is connecting.

When someone asks you, "How are you?" instead of answering with the expected, perfunctory, "OK," sometimes saying, "Not so good today," or "I'm actually having a bad day," is honesty.  You're not deflecting the asker with a token response.  And if you then follow up your answer with, "I really appreciate your asking," you have made a genuine connection that will hopefully have more meaning for both parties.  

I'm not suggesting you do this with your Starbucks barista or Olive Garden waitperson.  But why not with your friend, colleague, or cousin.  And certainly with your partner.

In fact trying to keep your state a secret from your partner by not complaining is misplaced kindness.  It cheats both of you of a chance to connect -- the ill partner doesn't get empathy and the well partner doesn't get a chance to show understanding.  And besides, it doesn't work.  

When you don't complain and try to hide your real state from your partner, you fail.  Something leaks out that your partner picks up on.  If you don't share it directly (share being the new term for complain), misconceptions and misinterpretations result.  Your partner may think he did something wrong or that you're worse off than you actually are or that you're just being cranky.

So let's reframe complain.  Complain is share and repair and renew.  It may still be peevish to whine, but it's authentic to complain.


Aviva said...


Many years ago I was sent to an insurance-company-mandated pain clinic where they tried to teach patients to suppress and hide any sign they were in pain. When I was leaving there, we had a meeting that my then-boyfriend/now-husband attended where they told him to ignore me if I talked about being in pain or demonstrated any body language signals that I was in pain. I angrily interrupted that it would be the death of my relationship if I couldn't be honest and express how I was feeling to the person who cared for me.

I'm a firm believer that bottling things up magnifies them. If I can tell my husband that I'm in intense pain or that I'm frustrated by my inability to do "normal" activities without paying a steep price later, it allows me to move forward rather than dwelling on it over and over again inside my head. Expressing it, even if nothing else changes, helps enormously and allows me to cope with it all.

Cassie said...

This was exactly what I needed to read today. I just found your blog and am so thankful for it. My name is Cassie and I am 18 and pre engaged. I have RSD/CRPS and am fighting this disease head on (I run RSD/CRPS 4 a cure) but was having a really bad day today. My boyfriend (pre-fiancé) and I were talking and I apologized for complaining and he was reminding me that as his future spouse he didn't want me to hide what I am feeling but show it. No mask just the real me, this is hard to live with and it's hard to feel like a burden but I loved your statement about how complaining can be a way of connecting. Thank you for your blog, it is a huge encouragement.