My Achilles Heel: Answering the Call

June 6, 2012 at 11:47 pm (Living With Chronic Illness) (, , , , , , )

I  was talking to someone tonight, and he said something that really disturbed me. I couldn’t react at the time, but it is wiggling around in my brain and I have to let it out. Also, I realized it’s time for a new blog post this week and well, I haven’t written one. So here is a completely impromptu blog based on the idea of communication.

I outright suck at communicating. It’s not that my words are hard to understand, or that I can’t guide people towards understanding what I mean. No, my problem is more simple than that. I just don’t return calls/texts, answer emails, respond to Facebook messages, and other sorts of reaching out. I have no way of knowing if I actually do get more of that sort of stuff than the average person, but it seems as though everyone else in the world has time to write well thought out emails and call people and whatnot, whereas I just don’t. Honestly, it’s a very high spoon activity for me – I not only have to have the energy/ability to engage in the media (phone/computer), but also enough focus and attention to write a thoughtful answer. Jotting off a Facebook status or a reply to a Fetlife group post takes less than a minute. Writing a well-worded thank you letter can take an hour or more.

What’s frustrating for people is that they have proof that I’m reading the forum of their message – posting to Facebook, writing other emails, etc – yet I do not respond to them.

Admittedly, this is a weakness of mine. I don’t know if it’s a fixable one. I do my best. My inbox is always above 200 emails, not counting ones I’ve actually taken the time to sort into folders (not answer, mind you, but just sort). When I do get on a tear, though, and if I think it’s appropriate, I may answer an email or return a call months later. I do care, and I very much recognize that people have taken time out of their day to reach out to me. I honestly wish I was better at it.

Here are some ways I try to make my communication count:

1. I only answer the phone when I know I am up for a real conversation. I will “ignore” your call when I am feeling crappy, or tired, or stressed, or in any other way that will make our talk less pleasant. This means that I answer much fewer phone calls than I get. I also don’t answer if I’m not in a time or place to have a conversation – like while I am at an event, or spending time with a friend or client. This means that I sometimes can’t return a phone call for several days, or even weeks, in order to meet the criteria. And then I get caught up in the “well, do they still want to talk to me?” conundrum.

2. When I talk to people in person and we decide to follow up via email, I do my best to make it their onus to start the email volley. I know for certain that I will either forget or put it off, so by asking the other person to take initiative it means at the very least that I will get a written reminder of our intent to continue the conversation.

3. If you really want to talk to me in a short time frame, your best bet is to email me and tell me that, and give me your number even if you’re 100% sure I already have it. When I am away from home, I still check email religiously, and it’s so much easier for me to click on your number and have my phone dial it straight away. If things are time sensitive, you also need to tell me what that means. Deadlines are good for Dels. So if you need an answer from me by Friday, tell me so. At the very least, you’ll get a “It’s Friday and I still don’t know, can I get back to you on Monday?”

4. Please understand that I want to give you the best Del I can. This means that there are sometimes long stretches of time that I shy away from general social niceties and the like. I still read my email, and listen to most of my voicemails, even if I don’t respond. For each day I am away from home, it takes me three to recover. And being social, even via the Internet, isn’t part of my recovery.

5. Know that even if you see me posting blog stuff or status updates, I may still be low energy and feeling terrible. I use the Internet for distraction when my pain is bad. I would hate to have to give that up because every time I post a tweet someone whose email I haven’t answered gets a little more depressed. It’s SO not the same thing for me.

6. I do care about my friends a great deal, even when I’m not very demonstrative about it. I read what you write, I try to comment when I can, I peek at your social media, and I like knowing what’s going on with you. Just because I don’t call or email you directly, doesn’t mean I’m not engaged in your life in some way.

7. If it’s been a while and you haven’t heard from me, you absolutely not only have my permission, but my encouragement, to write me again and tell me so. Never, ever assume that I don’t care, or didn’t have anything to say, or am ignoring you. Chances are high that I couldn’t answer right away, and then life got complicated, and I forgot. Reminding me will make me feel better about the situation, not worse.

8. If it helps, you can send me Google calendar invitation to “events” that are actually phone calls/chat dates/email deadlines. That way, I’ll get reminders and know to plan my day around that.


If you have other ideas or thoughts about how I can be a better communicator, please leave a comment. If you’ve sent me an email or left me a voicemail and I haven’t responded yet, please remind me.



  1. Amy K said,

    Is it weird that I am happy to see #6-7 on there. I don’t have any ideas for you right now, but I am glad that you have put this out there, as it puts things in better perspective for me to understand you and how I can make communications easier for you, and less likely for me to think I”ve done something to upset or offend you 🙂

    • dying for a diagnosis said,

      Yeah, I think one of the unfortunate side effects of having lots of long-distance friends, coupled with my inability to answer a friggin’ email, means that I end up with lots of people who think they upset or offended me at some point and I am consciously “not talking to them”, when really it’s just that I am either busy putting out fires, or lacking the time/energy/inclination to say something of depth or worth to them.

      Believe me, when I’m upset at a person, it’s not long before they find out. I’m not exactly what some would call “subtle”.

      • Amy K said,

        No… I don’t think subtle would be a good word. Not at all.

        I would posit though, that sometimes, when you’re up to it, a “Hi, I thought of you today” can carry a lot more worth than I think you might be assigning it. Assuming that your friends and people you are trying to communicate with understand your spoon limitations, and don’t push for anything like an in depth conversation to develop from that kind of greeting, it might go rather far in alleviating that in those relationships. How that is communicated is entirely up to you of course. Personally, I kind of take it as that when you like or comment on statuses on FB… because, ya know, my social life more often than not, is pretty much limited to that sphere. lol

      • dying for a diagnosis said,

        It’s odd that WordPress won’t let replies go more than three deep. Anyway, to your point about “Hey there” messages: I find that I run a 60% risk of that turning into a lengthy conversation, especially with some of my “battery waster” friends (that is, people who regularly talk my ear off so long that I have to end the conversation because my phone battery is dying!) any inclination that I am open to communication is an invitation for a four hour chat. And since they exist, I get nervous about other people. I never know if that inocuous email is going to hit at the exact moment that you need a shaman to talk to, and then it went from being a “hey, glad you’re alive” to “Oh, wait, but i have a doctor’s appointment in forty five min…all right…”

        I know a lot of this is Del malfunction and not actual problems.

  2. JJ said,

    This is an awesome post and was clearly very difficult to do!!!

    Communicating this is a huge deal. You might consider posting this on your social networks. I bet there is someone who would set a monthly reminder for you to visit the post and simply type “bump.” You meet new people all the time and this is a good thing not only for new people to know but a reminder to those that love you that if they want to talk to Del they need to take the initiative. Also, that you are not “subtle” when you are feeling negatively about them, so assume everything is fine and Del would be happy to receive communication from you. But if you want a response you need to explicitly say so and follow the above accordingly.

    As I commented on another post you will always be awesome dot Del at gmail dot com.

    As a friend I appreciate you taking the effort to write this especially knowing how uncomfortable it must have been. I will always hold love in my heart for you!


  3. Eric S said,

    Well, once you told me the emails I sent helped, I just sort of accepted that this was your way and kept sending them. 😉 Every person is different and you are hardly the only friend I have like this.

  4. Fala said,

    You’re not alone in this. And still love ya. 🙂

  5. emcic said,

    I generally suck at answering myself. I’m tons better than I used to be… but that’s still not saying much. I do understand. I did get tickled by the “Say Hi” post you did to Fala. 🙂

  6. Eric S said,

    I should add that when I DO get a comment from you, it means a lot to me. 😉

  7. EVCelt said,

    Thank you for this and I will bear it in mind. Also, when I send you links and stuff, assume I don’t want a reply unless I say so. I hope that will make life easier for you.

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