Ms. Meniscus,

Question: What can I do when people say that I'm just making up excuses not to do something with them when I say I'm too tired or I don't feel well? I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis about three years ago and I try to take my walks as much as I can. I may cancel out on something social but my walks are the one thing I'll make myself do even if I have to drag myself. One woman I know invited me to her home and I cancelled because I had a flare. She saw me out walking later that day and told everyone I was a liar about being sick What can I do?

—  Nellie Needs Advice

My Dear Nellie,

Where does one start with a hostile, rush-to judgment name-caller?  Begin by not allowing her to cause you another moment’s distress. 

You describe her as “a woman I know”. Ms. Meniscus doesn’t mean to nit pick here, but before she can properly address the outrage, a few facts need settling.  From what I gather from your letter, she is an acquaintance and possibly a neighbor. It appears that you know and/or socialize with some of the same people. Since you haven’t referred to her as a friend (a real friend would not conduct herself in such a manner), let’s work with the description that she’s a casual acquaintance who is aware of your condition. 

And just for a moment allow Ms. Meniscus to imagine that the story went quite differently, that when you alerted her to the unfortunate fact that you were not well enough to attend the get-together, she respected your word and something along the lines of: I do hope she feels better passed through her lips and into the ears of “the others”.  But instead, rudeness was forthcoming.  As much as Ms. Meniscus would love to phone the hostile hostess in your defense, no such scenario can unfold. In these hurtful and frustrating situations, restraint is recommended, but that does not mean that defamation of character is acceptable. 

And it is the direct attack on your character that has Ms. Meniscus reeling.  This person may behave as an attack dog but one bite does not beget another. You are no dog. The solution requires recognizing the fact that this individual feels immune from the rules of social engagement. Did she not think that gossip would get back to you? What to do?  

While Ms. Meniscus usually adheres to the “don’t explain” school of thought, there are legitimate cases where a short word or two helps ease the social rails upon which we ride. 

Should you decide to take action (and there is no wrong decision here), then Ms. Meniscus recommends what she hopes is a dignified solution, and offers you the choice of two delivery options. You may phone her, or, the next time you are out walking (and Ms. Meniscus commends you for your dedication) drop off a short note in a lovely little envelope stating something along these lines: 

I’m afraid there has been a misunderstanding. As you are aware, I suffer from a condition that is debilitating. It robs me of many things, but the one thing I do, no matter how difficult, is walk. Walking is part of my treatment. It helps me physically, and psychologically (we all know about exercise and its benefits). I walk through a flare-up, I walk when it feels as if my bones are brushing up against barnacles on a jetty.  Yet it helps. I walk unless there is a flood or tornado or hurricane.  (Even Ms. Meniscus gets carried away from time to time). My walk comes first because my health must come first. Lunch? Yes, I enjoy going out to lunch. Coffee? Yes I enjoy socializing over coffee. I would have loved to be in your home last month but I wasn’t well. That doesn’t make me a liar. That makes me a person who has prioritized the treatment of her illness. I would have enjoyed seeing you but it simply was not possible.

You can’t, dear Nellie, worry about “everyone” because in all likelihood, this very name-caller is apt to lash out at someone else the next time she feels unhappy. There’s not much you can do to change how she responds to disappointments in life. And that’s how I want you to think about this. She was disappointed that you would not be coming over. 

What ever you decide, whether it’s a phone call, note, or nothing at all, Ms. Meniscus wishes you luck and most of all, a most peaceful walk.

 — M 

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