Advice on how to answer questions like "what do you do?"

Discussion in 'Fibromyalgia Main Forum' started by zenouchy, Sep 6, 2006.

  1. zenouchy

    zenouchy Member

    Hi Everyone,

    Thanks for responding to my post! I'm going to a family wedding in a month (and it's my husband's side of the family). I know some of the family fairly well, and I don't know some of the family at all. Some people know that "I'm sick" to a degree (you know what that's like....they don't REALLY get it), and others have no idea whatsovever because they don't know me at all.

    What this means is that I will get a lot of well-meaning questions like "what do you do?" and "do you have kids?" and all of that good stuff. People are just being sociable, and are just trying to get to know me. However, I never know what to say without making the ever-so-innocent question-asker uncomfortable!

    I'm 36 and due to fibromyalgia and bipolar II, I was not able to have kids, and I can't work (except once in awhile when I have enough energy to substitue teach, which takes a LOT of energy!). But gee, I have a masters degree from a top-rated university, I and used to have a wonderful job too. When I got really sick, I had to stop working. I'm sure many of you know how that goes.

    What can I say that will make the situation comfortable and not make the whole thing awkward? I don't need to make the person feel bad just because I have an illness. Plus, that's a heavy topic for a social setting. Any ideas? Maybe I should just say that I substitute teach??

    Sometimes I feel frustrated saying I substitute teach when I know I have a masters degree just doesn't add up. I like people knowing how hard I worked. I guess I hate appearing like an underachiever just because I have illness. I'm not! But that's another issue. All ideas encouraged and appreciated on how to answer questions like "what do you do?" Thank you!



  2. Greeneyes2

    Greeneyes2 New Member

    I haven't worked since Nov of 2004. I know I am older than you (54), but I'm still too young to be retired. The fact that I'm disabled is no one elses business.

    I think that you should just come up with something simple, like being retired or whatever you are comfortable with.

    The people who care about you know the real story and the rest don't really need to know anything you are not comfortable telling them.

    When people ask questions that I don't want to answer, I just ask them why whey want to know. Usually that ends that line of questioning.

    I think when we are ill we worry too much about what other people think. Most of the time people only ask us questions to make conversation, and are busy thinking what their answers will be when you ask about them.

    Please just go to your gathering and enjoy yourself. Don't tell them anything you don't want to. If you need to, try some different things out with your husband or ask him what he thinks, they are his family.

    Gentle hugs,

    [This Message was Edited on 09/06/2006]
  3. forfink

    forfink New Member

    Thanks for your input!

    I always wondered what to tell people without sounding like I sit at home all day and eat bon bons.....
  4. Bren2135

    Bren2135 New Member

    Hi Erika,

    We've all been in this situation, and I agree with Denise: Sometimes we care too much about what other people think. I don't think we should feel compelled to explain lots of details, especially in a larger social situation.. why not keep it light and comfortable? A simple answer for you, such as "I'm a teacher!" might be enough. If they ask further questions and you feel comfortable discussing more, then that's up to you.

    It sounds like we have a similar struggle - that of feeling less worthy because we're forced to do less physically.
    Pat yourself on the back because you're in such a noble profession, whether it's one hour or 40!

    I recently attended a CFS/FM seminar, and the speaker made an interesting point about "Illness Etiquette". Many times when people ask questions, they really aren't asking for a lot of detail anyway.(Can you imagine what it'd sound like, if we responded with ALL the truth when a stranger says, "Hi, how are you?" !!)

    Anyway, I hope this helped! Let us know how it goes!

  5. bigmama2

    bigmama2 New Member

    I totally understand! I recently stopped working and I usually tell people that I am "taking a break" after a stressful job. I haven't worked for a few months now and sometimes casual friends ask how I can afford to not work.

    That is none of their business and sometimes I just want to say "I sell crack and do exotic dancing on the side." just to shut them up!

  6. pamj

    pamj New Member

    If it's family I don't see too often, or friends I haven't seen in years, I figure they may want at least part of the truth.

    I say, "I've been managing a chronic illness, so I have been semi-retired for a few years, and I'm trying to figure out which direction to go next. I help my husband with his business, and I'm working on CFS advocacy so that I can help others who are also dealing with this illness."

    If you want, you can just mention the things you like to do... like saying "I've been keeping busy with different projects since getting my masters, including teaching. I haven't decided exactly where to go next, but I'm thinking about... (fill in the blank)

    If they say, 'Oh, you're not full time anywhere?'... I would answer, 'no, I've had to deal with some medical issues first.'

    When people ask if I have kids, I just give a big smile and say "no, I don't have children, but I am very involved in my niece's lives." As long as you smile when you let them know, it won't be awkward... it's just an answer.

    You don't have to prove yourself to anyone. It took a long time for me to accept the fact that my illness doesn't define my intelligence or ambitions. I'm still the same person, it's just that I approach things at a different pace now (and sometimes with a bit of brain fog!)

    Enjoy yourself!
    Pam :)
  7. zenouchy

    zenouchy Member

    Thank you so much everyone! Interestingly [or perhaps not! ;-)]I've tried several approaches already in these oh-so-fun social settings that you all suggested, and I know I just have to get a thick (make that very thick skin), but it's tough sometimes. I actually am very social and extraverted and can keep things "simple and lovely", but some people just love to chat and probe a bit too much and that can put ya in a bind! Many times, I've responded to "what do you do?" with "I'm a teacher", and have found that ooops, they are teachers too! Then they ask, "Which school do you teach at?" What grade? Do you know this kid?

    I would make a great spy because (sadly!) because I can tell these wonderful white lies to fit just about any social situation to make others (and probably myself too) feel comfortable. It's just so ridiculous. I have also taken the other route and mention that I'm managing a chronic illness, but then I get the "feel sorry for me" looks and "gee you look so great" routine. It seems there is no ideal solution here.

    A large dose of humor is good (since it seems to put others at ease the most) and probably a combination of both approaches is the best.

    I also try to talk to the other person and ask THEM a lot of questions about themselves (I think some of you mentioned it). It usually takes the focus off of me, and it works well since I have a genuine interest in (most!) people anyway.

    I really don't place my identity at all on what I do anymore. I think I feel loss that I can't do many of the things that I used to be able to do nearly as much(ring a bell?!). I have a strong sense of self-worth and self-confidence regardless, but these social situations can be a litmus test of getting through a tough illness because the "what do you do" reminds me of what I CAN'T DO anymore. Also, I think I feel like I'm being judged superficially and it BUGS ME. :)

    THANK YOU ALL! You helped me sort out some feelings about this that I didn't even know I had!! And I will definitely incorporate your suggestions to fine tune my thinking about all of this. I truly appreciate your support.

    Wishing you all good health and happiness,

  8. JLH

    JLH New Member

    Even though I worked for 30 years, I took an early retirement at age 48 due to health reasons (I have a lot of major problems). (I retired in 1999.)

    Most people in my community don't know all of my health concerns, so when I see people when I'm out and about who ask me what I'm doing now that I'm retired, I act like I am joking and just say ... "Not a darn thing!! and it's the best job that I've ever had!!"

    Most people are not really interested in your health, so I see no need to go into it with them--so I prefer to answer their nosey question with a joke!!

  9. zenouchy

    zenouchy Member

    LOVE IT/VERY CLEVER ANSWER!! Can't wait to use it on someone who is being really nosy and shouldn't be asking me questions in the first place!

    (I wish I could be this abrupt with family!)

    Warm hugs,

  10. rockgor

    rockgor Well-Known Member

    Lots of good answers. I like BigMama's best.

    You could also try:

    Oh, nowdays I just stay home and manage my portfolio.

    I work for the CIA. If I tell you anymore I'll have to kill you.

    I'm working on a book that will expose ______. Put in
    any topic you like. If you're talking to a women, "men" is a good one and vice versa.

    I'm working on my addictions with a 24-step program. Keeps me pretty busy.

    Follow up w/ a question immediately: And what do you do? And how are your kids? Where did you find those wonderful retro glasses? Your son's release date coming up?

  11. Joshuaalpha

    Joshuaalpha New Member

    I am a 31 male diagnosed(finally) with fibromyalgia and Bipolar type 2 schitso-affective disorder.

    I just don't go out. I am ashamed of who and what I am. I am tired of acting like everything is ok. I play a game called world of warcraft and lose myself there and have friends I play online with. I am miserable and get in trouble with anger issues but I am on Risperadol to help with that now

    But as far as real life is I am paralized in conversation now. It's like I am too tired to care and act normal so I just don't talk to people atall. my sisters wedding was recent and I just tried to let the other person talk. I just said "I am chucks son" and they were like "Ohh the one in the military" I just left it at that.

    I hate this illness
  12. rockgor

    rockgor Well-Known Member

    Welcome to the board. Sorry to hear about all your trouble.

    May I suggest you start a topic. "I'm new here". That will introduce you to folks and get some conversation going.

    No need to feel ashamed. We are all sick here, and it's not our fault.
  13. 1975jet

    1975jet New Member

    It drives my insane- Hon I would tell them I am a substitute teacher-that is all they need to know. I had a friend who's wife was a sub. and she hardly got called to duty- so end of story.

    It is soo difficult even with family. I just had to withdrawl from college for now- too much for my mind and body- I haven't told my family yet(I don't need to hear the grief) - my hub knows and we made the decision together along with my therapist. I may wait to tell the other family- I just do not need it.

    You go enjoy the time and don't need to make yourself upset.
    Hugs Janet

  14. angelstapleton

    angelstapleton New Member

    Just a small thing But tell them you sub teach and that you are a wounderfull house wife.
    Tell them you write to all of us about fibromyalgia and keep us smiling when we have bad days.
    There not to many pepole who do kind thing so let them know how great you really are.
    Bless you and have a great time Angel
  15. barbinindiana

    barbinindiana New Member

    Your question made me think of what I'll say the next time I'm asked.

    I love learning new things, so I do alot of research. So the next I'm asked what I do I'm going to tell them I'm in research. It's true and they don't have to know the research is for me. LOL

    Maybe this would be a good one for you too.

  16. roseisarose

    roseisarose New Member

    Dear Erika,

    Am new to the boards...

    I too am an accomplished professional now dealing with many health issues. I was flummoxed, as are many, on how one might respond.

    Most people really don't give a rip, unless it is something they themselves are interested in (usually themselves), or can flirt with you 'cause they(think they)know you've gotta be making $$$$.

    I usually respond with humour (whatever might be a topic of the conversation)ie: "I'm a treehugger", or, am on sabbatical or "I'm a raconteur" (most people have NO idea what that is and are afraid to ask). If someone persists, I usually respond with a question or laugh about the easiest way to inhale bon-bon's on a retiree's income.

    Laughter is the BEST medicine.

    If it feels safe to share with a family member, by all means do! You would want to know what's going on with a favorite relative. However, do not assume that all people want to know, and cannot bear all of the gory details.

    Please don't set yourself up for more "brain-damage".

    Happy Trails,
  17. suzetal

    suzetal New Member

    Its one way of making others aware of FM/CFS .

    As fare as working I had to stop in 2003.I agree with others that its none of there business how I survive.

  18. encantare

    encantare New Member

    I've learned that although it can make other people uncomfortable, telling the truth is rather liberating for me.

    When people have asked me about children, I usually just say that I am unable to have them. If someone probes further, I just state that it's too personal to talk about, and move the subject toward something else.

    I also have told people that I'm doing medical research, when I've been unable to work. That way when they ask about what, I can educate them on the illness without the pity.

    Hope either of these answers works for you!
  19. barbinindiana

    barbinindiana New Member

    I love your answers. LOL

    I like your way of thinking. Instead of dreading the question, we need to get creative with answers and have some fun with it.

    [This Message was Edited on 09/07/2006]
  20. sues1

    sues1 New Member

    Me: as little as possible...(and laugh)

    Me: retired. (They say you are too young. and you say it takes money, not age).

    If you teach some.....and they ask if you have children.
    smile and say.....just the ones I teach. Or just my DH.

    Always be pleasant, but change the subject where you can.

    But really I usually share as I want to spread the word and legitimize (as far as attitudes go) these illnesses. Anymore someone knows at least one other that has this.


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