A former colleague of mine recently quit her job to move back to her hometown for similar work. I was curious to know how things were going, so when I called her we chatted about how workflow and customer service was so different in a small town.
"You know though, the hardest thing about this change has been getting the customers to trust me. They always want to speak to someone else that they know."
" Oh yeah! So somehow I have to work into the conversation that I was born here and grew up here and my dad still works here. Once they hear that, the relax completely and then I can help them. It is like they have put me in some sort of 'outsider' box and then move me into a 'local girl' kinda box."
I think we all do that to some extent, look for a way to fit people into our system of boxes that make up our experiences in life--things we know and understand--we either accept or reject.
I am actually not married but use the term "husband" in a lot of circles since it is easier for people to find the "box" to fit me in. We've been together 11 years...so it is just easier than explaining that well we got engaged and intended to get married but things kept coming up and then I got pregnant and well then it just seemed to fall down on the priority list.
When you are sick it feels like people are looking for that 'box' ---because illness is scary and people often want to know so they can understand (either directly or indirectly relate to the condition) and the more they understand what is going on, the more comfortable they will feel.. They often ask "What's wrong?"; "What did the doctor say?"; "What are you taking/doing about it?" and "When will you get better?".
Ah you have a cold --not contagious--you are going to have soup and sleep and you will be back to work in a few days.
Or a more extreme example ---you have cancer---the doctor has said you will need to start chemo and radiation---you have a pretty good/small chance of recovery---you will be off work for weeks/months/forever.
People like to check in with you and are reassured if you are feeling better as it gives them comfort. If their experience is that most people who are sick get better...they are more reassured when they think about themselves or someone they know getting sick.
What about this one:
You have asthma--the doctor says this condition will be with you for the rest of your life and will have to be monitored carefully--you will take medication daily to manage your condition and ensure you don't have any serious breathing problems--you may end up in the hospital if you require extra assistance in managing your condition--you will never 'get better' but will have good days and bad days.
Now if I change the word "asthma" to "depression/anxiety"--the rest would be the same.
The difference? People understand asthma. How much is my responsibility to talk about my condition to educate people?