Imagine it’s Monday evening and your phone rings. Your best friend is on the other end of the phone asking you to join him or her for a concert Friday evening. Your friend begs you to attend and goes into great detail about how expensive the tickets were so it is important for you not to agree and then back out at the last minute. If you battle with chronic illness of any kind, immediate panic likely sets in. Your mind quickly reminds you that your body is consistently unreliable, and that there are 96 hours of opportunity for any single body part to go completely rogue. But, despite the thoughts running through your mind and that little voice in your head saying “don’t agree to go”, you sheepishly reply “sure, I would love to go…see you Friday and no I won’t flake on you like last time.” You my friend, have made a big mistake.
I can say from personal experience this very scenario has played out in my life numerous times. I would be asked to attend parties, functions, concerts, or just simply hang out; and happily agree only to cancel at the last minute because of illness. See, in my mind, immediately accepting an invite and backing out at the last minute, was much better than immediately declining an invite. Somewhere along the way, I convinced myself that when invited to events, I owed the inviter an acceptance. I have no idea where this philosophy on invitation etiquette came from, but boy am I glad its gone.
Life has taught me that when you live with chronic illness, all bets are off. Somedays you feel like you can run a marathon, and other days you feel like it may take the jaws of life to get you out of bed. The only certainty with chronic illness, is that you will certainly be surprised at just how much your body can betray you and how little advance notice you will receive. Given this, you must become comfortable operating in the grey zone.
The grey zone is the area in life where the line of “yes I want to attend this event” meets the line of “I am not crazy enough to explicitly agree to attend a function with this trick body without having an out.” In the grey zone, you reply to invitations with “I would love to attend, but will have to see how I feel” or “absolutely I want to attend, but let’s play it by ear and touch base closer to the event.” In the grey zone, you are captain of your own ship and your event acceptance, is a non-acceptance. In the grey zone, non-commitment is safe and TOTALLY a thing! Friends, the grey zone is the place to be.
Now that you see the awesomeness of the grey zone, let’s discuss getting you there. First, stop torturing yourself into accepting invitations out of some twisted sense of obligation. Your real obligation should be to your health, which means not over extending yourself. Second, keep things in perspective. Declining an invitation will not lead to social exile because this is not an episode of Dallas. Third, most people will respect the grey zone…it’s the honest zone for a lot of people living with chronic illness.