The Trouble with Having a Story

A little girl, out of nowhere, begins seizing, and the seizures escalate crazily, despite medication, until the doctors recommend looking into brain surgery. Will she qualify? Will she ever be seizure-free? What will it cost her and her family?

Books have been written with less plot than this, but this is not a book. It is our life, and it is our story.

But there is a huge problem with living a story, a problem I grapple with every time I’m in public. I thought of it more frequently over Christmas, when we attended various family reunions and met people we don’t often see.

The trouble with having a story is that one is tempted to tell it and retell it, ad nauseam.

Have you ever met someone who was always telling her story? Perhaps the chapters varied in length and drama, but every conversation with her seemed to focus onΒ her life. It didn’t matter what you discussed with her; somehow she brought it back around to herself.

I don’t want to be someone like that, but I fear I am. People like this don’t even know they are doing itβ€”at least, I don’t think so. It can happen by default, since the only story I can really tell is my own. It’s easy to get caught up in the details of my life.

It’s also easy to think that people are hanging on every word I say, but let’s be honest here: Most of us can talk about our lives past the point of interestingness.

I believe I am safe here, in this space. If you don’t want to hear my story, you can click on that little red X up in the right-hand corner and obliterate me. But if I am talking face-to-face with you, you cannot so easily make me vanish. I worry that people will start looking for the nearest escape route every time I come into view.

Perhaps I am over-concerned about this, but I would rather be that than boring. To prevent a complete descent into boringness, I have composed a mental checklist (which I often fail to consult, but I’m working on it). When I’m talking with someone, this is what I try to remember.

1. Ask about her life.

This is the hardest one for me. I am not good at small talk. It doesn’t readily occur to me to ask someone the breezy questions that keep a conversation flowing. How was your week? Did you get your garden planted? Have you adjusted to the school schedule? Too often, I wait for her to ask me the questions, and then, of course, the conversation is focused on me. I need to do better at taking conversational initiative.

There is a trap even in asking. I have found myself asking someone the questions I wish they would ask me, hoping they would turn it around to me. I need to ask out of genuine interest and love, not out of a selfish desire to eventually talk about myself.

2. Have a conversation without mentioning my story.

Can someone ask me about my week without me bringing up my story? My world consists of more than epilepsy. I still cook, clean, entertain, teach, love, launder, discipline, and learn. I should talk about those things, too.

It’s not healthy to be consumed by one subject alone. I know it looks here like I think of nothing but epilepsy, but once our story slows down, I have a whole list of posts to tackle, twenty-five, at least, with more ideas occurring all the time. We’ll get there, eventually, and I look forward to it.

3. Change the subject deliberately.

Because our story is unfolding and of general interest, it’s common for someone to quickly ask about it soon after meeting or greeting me. Can I answer her questions without going on and on and onβ€”and then quietly redirect the conversation? Without feeling like I’m robbing myself of air time?

4. Meet a stranger without bringing up my story.

When I meet someone who doesn’t know I have A Story, I try to keep it to myself, particularly if our meeting is brief or likely a one-time event. This has become a litmus test for me. If I see every stranger as a set of fresh ears for my story, then I am thinking about myself way too much.

There is an odd sort of pleasure in denying myself the privilege of telling my story to a stranger. I realize this could be overdone. Other people, even strangers, are interested in my life, just as I should be in theirs. But there is a difference between a conversation naturally turning in a certain direction and a conversation being forcibly directed toward myself by me. I need to know that I can keep my story to myself, if necessary. It’s good for me.

Do I always succeed in having balanced conversations? Absolutely not, I’m sorry to say. This is something I’m endeavoring to grow in.

So if you meet me and I bore you, I apologize. Go ahead and change the subject for me if I seem unable to.

Thank you for allowing me to tell my story here. But even an interesting story can outstay its welcome. I hope to be able to tell our story and then move on. Gracefully.

Have you ever struggled with over-telling your story? What has helped you find balance? How do you encourage others to tell their stories?

16 thoughts on “The Trouble with Having a Story

  1. I don’t know you but I am sure most of us struggle with the things you mentioned. I tend to be a blabber mouth too n always come home n kick myself. I also am working in asking others about their lives. But someone explained it to me this way…if we are going through a hard time it’s as if we pinched our finger and it hurts badly and that’s all we can think of is our pain….regardless of what’s going on around us. eventually our finger gets better…and we move on. Some day ( hopefully) our pain will ease and then we can be more alert to others needs and more compassionate yo others needs because of our own experiences. Take heart. You are by no means alone in your struggle. And definitely your blog is an awesome way to get your feelings out n on ” paper”. Keep writing! Hugs n prayers!

    • I like your pinched finger analogy. That makes sense. I can be tempted to hang onto my pain a little longer than I should. How much better it is to use the memory of that pain to “be more alert” to the pain in those around us. I like that. Thanks for sharing.

  2. It’s a struggle to balance the stories in our lives. And we do need to have a safe place to talk it all out. With someone who knows and can strengthen us to go on. My ‘adoptive mom’ friends do that for me. The church friends/ acquaintances /general public cannot fill that need because they do not have the experience/knowledge that my support group does. So I need to be careful to go to the right group when I need to talk about my story. Talking to the wrong group at length often proves unsatisfactory anyway. (although I am delighted to answer questions) When I keep that division of groups in my mind, it frees me to drop my story for a moment and enter the lives of my other friends. Don’t know if that makes sense!! I can’t put words to my mental cogitations like you can πŸ™‚

    • Yes, that makes sense, Kay. A support group, formal or informal, can definitely serve a vital role in helping us process our stories. I have found a place in various groups over the years.

      Now, I have a few questions, just to satisfy my incessant need to figure everything out. πŸ™‚ Do you think a support group can ever become imbalanced? Do we close ourselves off from growth because we don’t share our story with people who don’t understand? Or do we invite frustration and misunderstanding by being too open about our particular struggles with the wrong group?

      I’m not disagreeing with what you said. I’m just rolling it all around in my head, and questions keep popping up. πŸ™‚

      There is value in considering our audience’s interests, so…. I don’t know. You have any more thoughts on it?

      • In the beginning, I didn’t talk enough to my local friends and thereby cut myself off from any comfort they could have offered. Then I found my support group and it felt so good to be heard and not feel alone that I tried to get the same from everyone. But it’s daunting to add definitions for every third sentence. Then, too, I got discouraged because, although I believe they really did care about me, they didn’t care to hear all the details. It’s not fun to pour out your heart and realize they were only listening with half an ear.. when they catch someone walking by and leave you hanging in the middle of a sentence. I know I overdid it. I don’t blame them. I just had to learn to answer in sentences instead of paragraphs and then wait to see if they followed up with more interest or were ready to change the subject. A support group can be imbalanced if that’s where we get all of our social needs met. I’m not a terribly social person and am satisfied with much less socializing than some people I know. After a time, I began to realize that the support group had taken the place of the “brotherhood” and my relationships with my church friends were sorta dangling. So I learned that I need to keep my guard up and make sure that these two groups stay in their proper places. We need both very much. I think we should always be open to discussing our story and answer questions warmly but not overwhelmingly. We will get plenty of opportunities for growth when we educate others πŸ™‚ Frustration and misunderstanding are inevitable (and good for us I dare say), but they don’t need to make up the bulk of our support. By knowing that I have a voice with my support group, I don’t feel compelled to talk about my story endlessly. This is my personal opinion, not blanket statements πŸ™‚ It may not be the same for everyone.

        • This is a wonderful answer. Thanks for sharing from your experience so honestly, Kay. I could identify with much of what you said. I especially like this thought: “By knowing that I have a voice with my support group, I don’t feel compelled to talk about my story endlessly.”

          Too bad we have to learn these lessons the hard way, huh? πŸ™‚

  3. I think that’s one good thing all grief/hardships do for us as sisters in the Lord. It makes us realize that everyone has a story, and many are going through hard times right now(whether we can see it or not–who tells everyone that their marriage is struggling, their teenager is having attitudes, or they are struggling mentally?). Although I think a specific support group is good because they will want to hear your story for a longer period of
    time πŸ™‚ I think all godly women should care a lot about each other and want to know the details of each others life. That’s what true friendship is, after all. So I guess I think if I start looking at all other sisters besides the support group I’m in as “not really getting it”, that would probably be my red flag of imbalance.

    • Good thoughts, Fonda. We don’t have to understand each other in order to love each other. If we did, my marriage is doomed. πŸ™‚ In fact, I think friendship in spite of differences helps to stretch us and makes us better people. It teaches us to exercise compassion and consideration for others.

  4. Hi Stephanie ! Glad I “found” you on here. I enjoyed your post and always enjoy your CLP publications. I’m sorry about your daughter.I think Loisann may have mentioned something awhile back but I’d forgotten. I’m sorry you have to go through that. As a mom, it’s so hard to see your child suffer !
    I tend to just want to dump out my struggles on my husband and not share them with others and he’s not always real comfortable with that and encourages me to talk with other women and get their opinions,etc. I’m feel like next I’m being self-centered, or next I will make them uncomfortable, etc. But when my parents separated on Sunday he just on his own made arrangements for a ladies night out at a restraunt for me and 5 friends. I thought I would’ve rather have just had him take me out and next this would really be awkward. But my dear friends were very relaxed and caring and I discovered how good it felt to let them into my past and some of my pains. And I was blessed. At the same time I don’t want those things to be my identity or to always dump my “stuff” on them so I too need to learn balance. Thanks again for sharing. Jan

    • Jan! It’s good to find you here, too. The most unexpected people keep dropping in. Of course, it’s only those who comment that get acknowledged. πŸ™‚

      I’m sorry to hear about your parents. That’s been a long story with too many painful chapters, hasn’t it? I’m sure it’s tough to know what to do with it all, but true friends do want to hear about both the good and the bad. We honor them with our trust when we open our hearts. However, it takes wisdom to know when to speak and when to refrain from speaking.

      You are blessed with a husband who cherishes you and a heavenly Father who will never forsake His own. May you find comfort in their love.

    • I don’t know if there are rules for commenting on blogs… so forgive me if I’m not following them πŸ™‚ I just had to reply to Jan too… Is this Jan, as in the Janice that I used to go to Swatara with?! πŸ™‚ It’s been a long, long time!! And I want to say also that I’m so sorry about your parents. It takes a special kind of courage to open your heart to your friends. God bless you!! Kaylene Hartzler

      • Hi Kaylene, yes, it’s me. What a fun twist to my day to discover long-lost friends πŸ™‚ Thank you (and Stephanie) for your kind words. The pain is very real but so is God’s faithfulness. I look forward to hearing more from you both on here. Blessings! Jan

  5. Hi Stephanie, I don’t know you but have been enjoying your blog since it was shared to me by a friend. Thank you for it.:) We too have a story and I could totally relate to your last post. I love the the pinched finger analogy! Prayers for you and your family.

  6. Thank you for sharing your story. For the past year and a bit we have been experiencing our own “story” with our twenty-something son. At first we just shared with immediate family; the shock was too great and we didn’t have words to explain to others what was going on. We dropped away from all things social and our lives existed only in ICU…no where else. As recovery started to happen, our son’s friends poured in their love. They were an amazing source of comfort. They knew and loved our son. Then our conversations were about our shared love of him. The medical stuff was there, but we really wanted to explore all the relationships that our son had just to get a clearer picture of who he was to all these people. When Jay (our son) came out of his coma, we told him the story of what had happened to him for months. We re-lived the story because he needed to know it. Now, a year and a bit later, Jay is in rehab, his friends are still amazing and have rallied around him in an amazing way. Every once in a while someone from work will ask how our son is doing, but overall, most people have just carried on with their lives. If they ask, I answer but I never seem to bring it up (even though it is ALWAYS on my mind, ALWAYS). My husband and younger son are my real sounding boards (and apparently, now you are :)). People want to help, but this stuff is scary. I guess it’s about striking a balance between sharing and not terrifying people! I’m so thankful I found your story. I’m not even sure how I did, but there you go!

  7. I kept meaning to leave a comment, and now today I’m finally getting around to it! Thank-you for writing this. I also have gone through times in life of “living a story” and I absolutely know the temptations you write about here. In thinking back, I have been convicted over times of using this selfishly, and I am thankful for the pointers and encouragement in going forward. God bless you and your family! I find myself thinking of Tarica from time to time and praying for her, even though I don’t know you.

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