Most days I struggle with the fact that this blog and much of the writing I do might earn me the nickname “Negative Nellie”. Because I refuse to apply a gloss coat to my experiences of caregiving and write about the chaos in an honest and unfiltered way I (hope to) nuance the prevailing narrative of caregiving of one as a spiritually infused journey. Don’t get me wrong. I actually agree with most writers that caregiving has been both a spiritually challenging journey and one rich with spiritual growth. It has also been a journey that has sucked a whole lot of the time. Full time caring is very hard work and this journey of mine that has come with growth and learning has also come at the cost of some pretty profound suffering. A price that in my opinion has usually been too steep to justify the results. As a result I often worry that my honest portrayal of caregiving paints me as an overly negative person, something I don’t think is true.
So I found it interesting that yesterday in an online discussion about medical malpractice I was accused of being a holy Polyanna because I didn’t conform to the negativity of the online environment. And of course being the person I am I had to go off and unpack that accusation and try to sort out what parts of it might be true. (As an aside, being a true Canadian I apologized to the poster for any comments that might have come across as holy or judgemental). In the end I think the key problem with my post was that I was trying to write from a moderate, shades of grey, position rather than conform to a prescribed black/white narrative.
To give some context I was responding to a post in an online discussion about medical malpractice. A poster had reminded the group that not all physicians were bad and that witch-hunts were not particular productive. I chimed in and affirmed the post and noted that I had moved past my anger and hoped to nurture a more constructive conversation about how malpractice is addressed. I discovered quickly that on this particular site this was not a popular attitude and I was called out for being “holy” because posters felt that my lack of anger, and unwillingness to see the issues as black/white/right/wrong minimized others’ anger. I went on to learn that this site was a place were angry people went to vent their anger with other angry people. Since I no longer shared that blind, all-consuming rage my more moderate narrative was immediately dismissed and labeled as suspect, even blasphemous.
In the end I left both the site and the discussion. People need a safe place to express and process their anger and I respect that. I was angry for a very long time as well and might have appreciated a place where I might have shared my anger honestly. However, I worry that such a toxic vortex of anger achieves nothing constructive but only feeds upon itself. I didn’t want to get sucked into that vortex and I didn’t want to be labeled as inappropriate because I don’t share a toxic rage directed at the “Establishment”. For me, this site would not be considered “safe”. What I think was truly unfortunate, though, is that some of the posts about the “Medical Establishment” were important points but appeared to get lost in the anger and rage.
In the end the whole experienced confirmed my belief that dissenting narratives matter, a whole lot, but are incredibly hard to share since they don’t nurture the prevailing storyline. It is difficult to tell my story of caregiving because I don’t conform to the expected quest narrative of spiritual triumph over adversity. Similarly it was impossible to share that I was NOT angry at a physician/the medical establishment in this particular malpractice support community because the accepted community norm was that medicine and physicians were pervasively bad. Things were black and white.
But yet I believe that by continuing to share our stories, particularly those that don’t conform to the expected story line, we are constantly reminded that there is diversity in our experiences and it is in that diversity that we find answers, hope, and strength. I have also learned that being someone who lives and writes about the shades of grey (not Fifty Shades!) is really, really hard work and might often mean that my points get lost in a world that seems to prefer things that are black and white.