anger · chronic pain/fibromyalgia · friends · Jews/Jewish/Judaism/Orthodox Judaism · prayer · Riverdale · writing

Jerk of the Week

I finally broke down and asked my sister if she thinks I attract jerks. I expected her to respond dismissively as I have responded to blog readers who have suggested the same. But in fact, my sister responded with a resounding “Yes!” Yes, you do attract jerks.

So why? Am I wearing some sort of bull’s eye on my body that’s invisible to me but perfectly visible to jerks in general. No, my sister says the trouble is that I’m “nice.” And not just nice. To people who don’t know me well, I’m nice, cute and often of the cuddly variety. “None of these people,” she says, “remember what you were like between 2003 and 2005 when you accessed such a deep dark rage inside yourself that I would never like to see it again.” As she said it, she shuddered. Then she gave me tips on being “more intimidating” without going to the deep dark rage-y place.
My sister also suggested that perhaps, I could create a “Jerk of the Week” post on my blog. I laughed. But like she noted, I’m “too nice” to do something like that. When I come across jerks in person and online, I’m trying to work really hard not to sink down to their level. I think that’s a great new year’s resolution if there ever was one. Not an easy task if you’re a blogger whose constantly being attacked for being yourself by nameless, faceless nasties who probably wouldn’t have the courage to say half the things they write on my blog to my actual face.
Yesterday, I was called a “little kvetcher” when I started to explain how fibromyalgia has affected my access to Jewish learning opportunities. For simply stating a fact, particularly that commuting is draining and leads to painful flare-ups, I was called “whiny” and told I was complaining.
I wanted to punch this person. But instead, I told him, “If I had cancer and I told you about how it was affecting my life would you make jokes about how it was affecting my life? Would you say I was complaining if I told the very real obstacles I faced every day living with cancer? Would you call me whiny.”
He said “no” and he quickly apologized. But I added, “If you don’t understand my disability, maybe you should learn about it. It’s called fibromyalgia, it’s very real, very difficult. Look it up.”
I hadn’t even been complaining. The only person I complain to about my fibromyalgia is my therapist. Otherwise, I suck it up. I’m even embarrassed to tell people I can’t do something because of my fibromyalgia. Would I be embarrassed if someone told me to type a 100-page treatise on Math if I had no arms and couldn’t add or subtract? A poor analogy but you get my drift?
Almost as much as I miss being able to attend classes downtown without having it be a dramatic affair, I miss being respected. I miss that validation you get when you say, “Oh, I have the worst cold” and someone says back, “Ah, I hate that, man. Feel better.” From jerks, when I say, “I’m sorry, I have to cancel because I’m in too much pain,” I get, “Don’t be such a baby, a hypochondriac, a kvetcher.”
I walked into the next landmine. I’ll admit that. I asked a friend in he thought I would have more friends in Riverdale if I had kids. I expected a simple “yes.” Instead, I was told, “Yes, because people in Riverdale have ‘real lives’ and if you had kids, you would have one, too.” So, people who don’t or can’t have kids–and you usually never know which is which–aren’t ‘real’? People only become real when they have kids? In a show of solidarity, fellow blogger and convert Michal wrote, “Just because they didn’t grow up until they had kids doesn’t mean that’s true of everyone. People think you have kids to become an adult.”
My sister and a close friends added that I’ve been raising my sisters since age 3. Even kidnapped two of them and fought for custody of one sister and won. I vividly remember how hard it was co-parenting with my mentally ill mother when she came home with a new baby around my 15th birthday. It was me staying up late at night and missing school to care for my sister. It was me working two jobs to take care of the other sister when I took custody of her soon after my 21st birthday. And even without these experiences, I would be a grownup without them. I wish I could have said all this when I was accused of not having a real life.
I know this will trouble you but a lot of those nameless jerks I write about in my blogs, in my articles, are people I would normally call my friends in every day life. Obviously, when interactions like the above occur, it’s difficult to feel really close to them. I’ve ended friendships I thought were “real” over racist comments, over insensitive comments, over hurtful comments. I’ve ended friendships once I realized I was not safe with them. And they weren’t safe with me either.
I asked a wise old friend how hard I could slap someone that who jerked me around. She said I shouldn’t slap them at all. Personally, she feels sorry for them. She feels sorry for jerks. They are pitiable. I suppose if I could get past my first knee-jerk reaction, I would see this too.
Let it never be said that I’ve never been a jerk. There have been some primally embarrassing moments this year for me when I lost my temper. Still, daily, I’m making a conscious effect to guard my tongue as the Amidah reminds Jews daily to do so. I have to make an even more conscious effort via email and over the Internet because I have to remember that there is a very real person on the other end. So I’m trying to be less of a jerk for the new year, I hope you are, too. I could do with a lot less jerks in my life but the first place to start is to school the inner jerk inside.

9 thoughts on “Jerk of the Week

  1. There are pieces I've written about that in earlier blogs. I will tell you the cold, heart-wrenching truth. Though I was given custody of my teenage sister, my baby half-sister remained in the custody of my mother. She still does to this day. All this despite the court proving my mother had trouble telling from right from wrong.

    My mother is still untreated for her mental illness. I live every day in unimaginable fear. Whenever I read about a parent killing their child, I think of my sister. I have made attempts to see my sister but have not since she was 7. She is now a teen herself. One of my other sisters keeps in contact but my mother won't let me see her because she is afraid I would kidnap her.

    Wherever did she get an idea I would do something like that?

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  2. Oh sweetheart. Why is it every time I read about someone being a total jerk to you it's someone you refer to as a friend? Your sister may just be right, you are way too nice and much too generous with your friendship. Although I've never met you in person you just seem like the sweetest person ever and you don't deserve any of this hassle. I hope more people that are intelligent, kind, and know how to appreciate you for the wonderful person that you are come into your life. You deserve only good things.

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  3. Hey, Day. Your comments have definitely hit home. I have to believe that people are just insensitive that they don't intentionally mean to hurt me but as an adult survivor of child abuse, I don't always make the best judgements in this area. I will carry your words with me.

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  4. If I might make a recommendation about dealing with jerks who call you a whiner or whatnot…

    One possibility might be to give them an analogy of how it feels. For example, the family member who had fibromyalgia used to explain it as burning pins sticking into her. Building on that analogy, one thing to tell a jerk (and of course, do it politely!) is: “Have you ever get a needle stick or accidentally touch the wrong end of a safety pin? And, have you ever burned your hand by touching something hot? Imagine how it would feel if both things happened at the same time. Now imagine feeling that all over, and tell me you think I should do.”

    And, yes, I have done something like this regarding a different condition that I had.

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  5. davisoc, I've definitely got to work on my analogies! Such a good idea! Sometimes though when I explain that someone reaching out and touching me when I'm in pain is like that feeling you get when you burn yourself, people give me the most horrified looks. But I think you're right. I've got to keep educating people so they can understand and hopefully relate. I'm going to go work on those analogies!

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