Five Things Longhaulers Hate to Hear: Number 5!

Hi. My name is John, and I’m a COVID Longhauler.

I can do stuff. Some of it, I can do easily all the time. Some of it, I can do easily some of the time. Some of it, I can even do with excellence.

Just about every Longhauler has days, hours or minutes when they’re able to function and maybe even function well. The strange thing about my personal Longhaul journey is that my work has not noticeably suffered. Hardly anyone at my job has even noticed there’s something going on with me, which is largely thanks to the fact that I purposefully have very few deep personal connections in the workplace. Don’t get me wrong… I work with great people. I just tend to have a lot of walls these days.

Those folks who have managed to scale those walls and get a peek at the other side don’t see someone who is struggling at work. Their most frequent observation is that they can’t believe how much and how well I’m doing here knowing what I’m going through. — the fatigue, the brain fog, the constant crappy taste in my mouth, the achy finger that has now turned into achy fingers and achy hands. They get some glimpses of the shortcomings — when I say the wrong word (the latest was when I said “baseball” twice within three sentences instead of “basement”) or trail off in the middle of a sentence, when I come back to our little office pod we’ve dubbed The Clubhouse out of breath because I had the audacity to climb the one flight of stairs instead of waiting for the elevator.

I am quite sure even the wall-scalers sometimes forget that Longhaulness is a thing with me, which is perfectly fine. My problems aren’t their problems, and if I’m doing my job and doing it well, they have no reason to keep my issues top of mind. I think I actually prefer things this way with co-workers.

That said, the message that anyone who is in a Longauler’s life needs to hear is that it is exceedingly annoying when you try to explain away their situation by pointing out what they’re doing well and link it with a state of being that, if you would simply take the time to observe or ask, obviously isn’t true.

Thing No. 5: ‘You did XXXXXX really well. You must be feeling better!’

For years and years, I have been able to write well-received stories, articles, blogs, letters and other assorted paraphernalia even when I have been unable to form a coherent spoken sentence. Writing is what I do. In many ways, writing is who I am. I penned a book in the midst of intense grief after the death of my first son. I wrote a news story that won a statewide award from my bed two days after major reconstructive ankle surgery, when I still needed my wife’s help to get to and from the bathroom. Very rarely has the ability to write ever left me.

So when someone sees something I’ve written, digs it and follows that up with, “Man, that blog was great. You must be feeling better,” I get it. They’re trying to encourage me, trying to see some rays of hope in what is otherwise a really tough situation, trying to be positive. But that doesn’t always help.

See that word “surgery” in the paragraph above? I wanted to write the word “surgery,” yes. But in my first attempt, the word “sentence” came out of my fingers instead. The word “stairs” at the end of the paragraph that begins with “Those folks?” It came out as “state” in my first try. These things happen now. And the reality is that just because I am able to do something well doesn’t mean I’m feeling better. I’m simply able to put intense focus into something that comes easily to me and do it well for short periods of time.

Trust me: I pay for it. The ability to turn out missives that reach people and helps them feel, whether it is one of these blogs or a story I write for work, comes at a personal cost. I end up with a racing heart and weird “brain freeze” if I stare at a screen too long. My thoughts turn to goo in the aftermath. But I write because I am.

My Work

And then there is the reality that sometimes I can’t do the one thing I always can do. This blog was supposed to be written a day ago. But when I had the time to write it, I couldn’t. I tried. I couldn’t. No, it wasn’t writer’s block. I physically couldn’t do it. My brain was angry. I don’t know how else to explain it. The good thing… the sad thing… is that I’ve learned what to do when I try to write and can’t. I just don’t. I want to. I try to. But I know it’s not going to work so I don’t even try to push through. Pushing through makes things worse. So I wait. Until the evening. Or the next day. Or the next. So far, it’s always come back to me.

I wonder if there’s a time when it won’t.

Five Things Longhaulers Would Rather Hear Instead, No. 5: ‘You did XXXXXX really well.’

It’s a subtle difference, yes? Everyone likes to hear they did something well, especially someone who is facing a mysterious illness no one understands, much less has the ability to fix. So by all means, if you see someone did something well — whether they are a Longhauler or not — tell them! Positive feedback makes people happy, so did it in abundance.

Just leave off that last part.

“… You must be feeling better” on the heels of “You did this thing really well” is intensely invalidating to someone who isn’t. If someone is still firmly in that Longhauler category and you’re in their life, you should know better. They’ve told you, for God’s sake! And if you’re wondering if they are feeling better, by all means… ask them!

Then separate your two thoughts. Say, “Hey! That was a really great pizza you made!” and then talk about the pizza. Later on, maybe a few hours later, follow up: “So how are you doing with the Longhaul stuff?” And after they tell you, ask yourself if there is something you can do to help them. And then do the thing you say you’re going to do.

People like lists, so let’s put this in that form. A Longhauler does something you find excellent. Next:

  1. Tell them what you thought was excellent and why you thought it was excellent.
  2. Talk with them for a bit.
  3. Later, ask them how they are doing with their Longhaul stuff.
  4. Listen.
  5. Don’t just hear.
  6. Listen.
  7. Think of something you can do to help them with their Longhaul stuff.
  8. Do the something.
  9. Repeat, at minimum, steps 3-8 as often as practical.

It’s really not that difficult.

Which makes me wonder: Why does it seem so rare?

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