Sometimes Helpful Isn’t Helpful

I’ve been trying to figure out how to write this. I don’t want to upset or offend anyone, but I myself was upset and offended, so it’s hard to explain without some of that coming through. My trip to western Canada was enjoyable, but it also had some ugly sides, particularly when it came to family. Particularly related to my allergies.

I had never before experienced the concept of someone else trying to control my allergies. Kids, sure, they rely on their parents to help them know what’s safe and not safe. As an adult, though, coming into these allergies later in life, it’s hard to understand someone else wanting to decide what’s safe for me no matter how I feel about the situation. When I went out West, there was an expectation that I would stay with my aunt and uncle. I haven’t seen this couple for about 20 years, other than for a day seven years ago, and I felt uncomfortable then. My uncle’s behaviour at that time was erratic and unnerving. I tried to make it clear that I had other plans to stay near my grandparents (the people I was primarily there to visit), but there was a continued assumption and push that I would do otherwise, particularly from a close family member who doesn’t make a habit of trying to understand my life (for example by reading this blog).

When I arrived and set up camp at my grandparents’ house, there was a continued push. A push for me to let my daughter go to my aunt and uncle’s without me. A push for me to go there for supper (even though I couldn’t eat supper). Ignoring my concerns about smoking and fragrances and chemicals. Telling me there are no fragrances (except that even when people think there aren’t there usually are unless they have similar severe allergies). Demanding that I answer why that still wasn’t good enough, then judgement of my answers. Questions were posed to me – what is your specific problem in each of these situations? Why don’t you just do, ‘x’? Things that I write off automatically because I know they won’t work I had to explain “why not?” in excruciating detail. My unwillingness to compromise in the way others wanted wasn’t me trying to be difficult, it was an unwillingness to have even a partial allergic reaction. I suggested other compromises, but they were never good enough.

When that failed to convince me to go or to send my daughter, there was encouragement to talk to my aunt directly. I didn’t want to because I was very uncomfortable the last time I had visited – things just didn’t seem right. I tried to let them know without insulting anyone that I didn’t want to talk further, but I received a call anyway, against my wishes. At that point, with someone sitting on the other end of the line seeking answers, you can’t refuse or hang up, you have to talk to the demanding person on the other end of the line.

My aunt wanted me to tell her about my allergies. My not explaining all medical details in full resulted in my aunt thinking I was making my allergies a bigger deal than they are. She thought I was just making excuses. I’ll admit I was not excited at the idea of a visit, but it was mainly serious concerns about her excessive smoking in the past in that house, the amount and nature of cleaning, and the severity of my allergies that held me back. I said I would love to come over with my daughter on a nicer day when it was possible to sit outside. My aunt told me that no, that wouldn’t work, because she would be “busy on nice days.” She “had to mow the lawn and had people coming over.” Basically, “I don’t believe you about your allergies so I’m going to be petty and manipulating about this and tell you you can’t come over at all if you won’t sit inside my house.” I ended up not going over to my aunt’s house.

I felt violated by all of the pushing. By the expectation that I tell multiple people extraordinary amounts of detail about my allergies – medical information. Especially to my aunt, with whom I wasn’t really comfortable speaking at all because I don’t know her. I was uncomfortable that someone else was trying to decide for me what situations would be safe for me, without any expectation that they could possibly understand the full nature of my allergies – especially when I’ve taken years learning about them and how to deal with them. It’s not something that can be learned in a five-minute phone call. Not even a twenty-minute one. How could they think that they could make better decisions for me with a few minutes of information than I could with years of information? It felt so wrong. When I said I was uncomfortable with the pushing and needed to take a step back, and explained (with prodding) how I felt pushed, I was accused of making the other person out to be “the bad person, when they were just trying to make things work.”

I’ve never encountered this situation before. People asking if a certain thing is okay and asking for alternatives, sure, but never demanding to know why each thing they propose isn’t okay and then trying to force their alternatives only, without listening to me. I stood up for myself, but I couldn’t see a way out without upsetting someone. When others are trying to make decisions for you, you don’t have a lot of choices. I suppose the best thing is that I managed to keep the relationship with the person who matters the most to me, even if I had to deal with the ugliness of the situation and the other family members. Overall it was a sad experience.

Have you had trouble helping family members to understand your allergies or with people being overbearing in trying to make things work the way they want? What did you do? Comment below.

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