Trashcan Theory

There are a couple problems faced with being a good listener. These are often compounded by the fact that I belong to a chronic illness community. In order to explain the problem that I am faced with at the moment, I have come up with a theorem: The Trashcan Theory.

This theory describes what happens to those who are good listeners. They essentially become a “trashcan” for their friends (or really any random stranger having a bad day) to dump all their negative feelings in. I get pop ups on facebook chat all the time from friends starting with “Hey, I’m having a bad day….do you have some time to talk?” Don’t get me wrong, I am always willing to help a friend out. I understand that when someone is going through a rough time, half the time, they just need someone to be there and to show they care. Being in a chronic illness community, however, adds some trickiness to this equation. Being a good listener in a chronically ill community is hard. Especially when you take into consideration everything that is going on in the community. People have very real and very scary problems going on. Someone is facing a surgery, someone was just told that they have a terminal complication, someone was newly diagnosed, someone is newly disabled, someone went to the ER, someone died…. There is a LOT to deal with. 

I think good listeners tend to have a shared quality in that they let things get to them a little too much at times. I genuinely feel upset when I hear someone is struggling. I try to be as supportive as I can and try to let them unleash all their negative emotions, thoughts and feelings on me. The problem then is that I end up getting overrun by all these negative things and I reach my limit (aka, my trashcan is full). Another problem also arises in that I have no one to turn to myself. I don’t want to burden someone who is in the hospital with my joint pain. Or tell someone who just heard that they may die that I am really struggling from lack of sleep for the past week. So how do I empty the full trashcan then? This usually happens with my becoming a puddle of inconsolable tears because it feels like I’m holding the weight of the world on my shoulders and oh yeah, I just subluxed my neck!

I have pain. I have complications with my illness and new diagnoses. I have all the normal troubles as well: bad grades, friendship problems, relationship problems, work problems… Sometimes I just need someone to unleash all my problems on, knowing that someone cares enough to simply listen. But how can I do that when I know everything they are going through? When I’ve always been the person playing the “good listener” role? 

I’m still working this out. I’m still trying to figure out how to approach my friends and be honest with everything that I am dealing with. I’m still learning that I’m not often the burden I tend to think I am.