Think about the last time you ran into someone you know.  The exchange probably started off with, “Hi, how are you?” and followed with, “good,” or “fine.”  We utter these words multiple times a week.  They seem to automatically roll off the tongue, whether we generally mean it, or if we’re simply going through the motions of being polite.  Since this is my fifth year of studying Psychology, I have been trained to notice seemingly minute behaviors that would not have stood out to me previously, such as changes in this common pleasantry.

When people started becoming aware of my diagnosis, it was evident to me that no one was simply asking, “how are you?” anymore.  Suddenly, it changed to, “how are you feeling?”  That one word may not seem like it makes a big difference, but it mattered to me.  When I was feeling my illest, I tried to do everything in my power to keep it off my mind, which is hard to do when you’re in constant pain.  At that point, the best part of the day was a brief moment when my illness slipped my mind; a much needed time of mental serenity.  However, these moments were few and far between.  Every time the phone rang, or I ventured out for a green tea, the re-worded question plagued me yet again.

Don’t get me wrong, I am extremely grateful for the incredible outpouring of support and care that everyone in my life displayed. However, sometimes when you are sick and vulnerable, even the smallest, well-intended gestures can irk you.  At times, I wanted reply, “how am I doing?” or “how is my illness doing?”  It just felt like MALS was overshadowing me, and I didn’t want that to be the case.  After a while of thinking about this, knowing that people were asking because they cared, I came the realization that I had the ability to change my reaction.  I reformatted my response to include something positive that had also been going on in my life.  Mentioning my upcoming graduation from college and offering the good news about graduate school acceptances let everyone know that “Nicole” was still flourishing regardless of the current circumstances.  That segway transformed exchanges from medical reports to normal conversations; and helped me to feel like myself again.

For people who are facing medical challenges, their whole normal changes.  Suddenly, you are forced to think about things that may have never crossed your mind before. It is a time of adjustment and transformation.  Which also means accepting the fact that people will treat you slightly differently, and learning how to become okay with that.  What always makes me feel better is knowing that there are so many wonderful people out there who truly care, and that is what makes all the difference.

Nicole Gustafson
Nicole Gustafson received her bachelor's degree in Psychology from Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY. She recently moved from Connecticut to Menlo Park, California and is attending graduate school at Santa Clara University. Nicole is studying Counseling Psychology with an emphasis in Correctional Psychology.
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