Chat Habits For The Non-Chatty Patient

By: Ariel Fixler

When I was dealing with my treatment I was lethargic, moody and insulated (inwardly and outwardly). I thought about putting an auto-responder on my Gmail and phone. I chickened out because I knew I would want to respond to a select few and didn’t want the auto-responder to be a communication barrier. People were used to my delayed responses. There was an acronym that went around in the messages I received: “NNTR” (no need to reply). That acronym was used for people who wanted to reach out to me and send their thoughts, prayers and wishes. They wanted to be there for me and also inform me there was no need for a reply.

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I was taking a time out from being a human auto-responder and readily “available”. I actually WAS RELIEVED after checking the home screen of my phone the other day (after a long rest or a hazy morphine induced slumber) and seeing no messages that needed tending to. Because generally I was in no mood to key stroke, read and deal with time sensitive material. It sounds sad if you know me (since before my illness I was such a social person and constantly responding and in communication mode). I was nicknamed by my friend, Drew Morcheles, as the Schechter Connector. My other friends just deemed me a social director and friend wrangler for nights out. I loved connecting people. It was my truest passion when I was health and sick. So much so that I barely ever powered down. But with my illness, I hoped there would be no messages and I just could just escape in my mindless binge viewing and my sleeping (since I wasn’t in a social mood and that included social media).

In talking with my Cancer Care group, we came up with some chat habits that “socially” irked us. The worst was baiting a reply or prompting a response. There was bubble texting, when you check your phone you have 7 messages for a one sentence text. Or baiting the patient who is trying to rest, unplug and JUST BE with messages where we looked like ASSHOLES FOR NOT BEING ABLE TO FORMULATE A REPLY. Our silence was not about them, come on now! It was even sadder when it was people who knew better. It is also selfish, we are not like your “normal” and social friends, so don’t use the same social selfish “norms” to prompt a response and interact. It is riddled with guilt and unfair.

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1. G-chat/Facebook chat/Facebook messenger/Facebook Tagging:

GMAIL: Green light does not mean GO. Whenever I would sign on G-chat, which wasn’t very often, maybe once every 3-5 months I would get bombarded with messages. Now that seems harmless right? It was from people I hadn’t heard from in some time, months, even a year or years. I think people regard G-chat as a safe haven for free-flowing chat. Umm not really. It’s a real-time conversation, which insulated patients try to avoid. I would often sign in and not know I was signed in until I got bombarded. We don’t want to be rude, but also our gut response is “REALLY”?

G-chat is a cop-out. You see a green dot next to my name and for you that means carrying on a conversation and checking in, as if it’s not super weird since I haven’t heard from you in a long time. Let’s not address that fact at all.  Even worse, most of the conversations, start with asking how I am feeling, then quickly transitioning to normal conversation. You know as if they asked about the elephant in the room, got that out-of-the-way and it’s totally cool to act “normal”. Often when I would sign on, people would ask me for favor, a set up or gossip. I call this massive G-chat balls.

I had one friend use it as a way to ask about celebrities and my celebrity friends and vent about the high stress of their work and love life. They would say the most disturbing things about their significant other, then in our next interaction glossed over it like IT NEVER HAPPENED.

Others would bitch about people I set them up with or ask me for relationship or dating advice. You get I set you up for free right? I am not a dating coach. When I am in pain I take the time to send bios, pictures and set you up and even sit through your range of emotions and opinions on said set up. I sit through rants that lacked courtesy, gratitude and displayed constant complaining. FUN TIMES!

My all time favorite was a friend who sent me a gawker.com video of someone masturbating on a subway. That tagline to the message they sent read, “thought you would find this funny”. I mean I get it, I’m a sarcastic dirty birdie, but that is a step way too far. Do I really get a chuckle from seeing a middle-aged guy fondle himself for a two-minute runtime on gawker.com?

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Other people would constantly ask me about about my industry friends and any dish I had. One bold friend once took my phone when we were sitting with my dad (who was in palliative care at Mt. Sinai Hospital) and forwarded an email sent by a celebrity friend of mine to his own email address. I was shocked and appalled but also not surprised which made it all the more well…sad.

I legitimately believe till this day, that this person had not so latent homoerotic feelings for this actor. Any topic on this celebrity that was “trending” he would be sent my way. Like he needed to know “is this true?” or does he wear a hairpiece or very odd personal questions. He would always start the inquiries with, “I thought asking you would cheer you up and distract you”. Never mind that this celebrity’s privacy is built on trust in a relationship and I have signed so many non disclosure agreements that would make sure I stay silent.

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But I took it with a grain of salt because this person is the type of person who posts on everyone’s wall to communicate “effectively”? Including letting the social media world see all of his communication with his significant other. You know the type. The constant poster you have to decide whether to delete from your social media friends. The one who updates about everything you didn’t want to know about. The person who is posting on the wall of his significant other in a highly planned, programmed and filtered manner. My friends and I used to joke that they were probably sitting on the couch planning their coordinated posts and replies, instead of enjoying each others company and living in the moment. They probably posted and said out loud, “We are the cutest”. Instead they documented everything and anything you wanted to know (including jokes about their bowel movements and jokes with overt sexual undertones and overtones).

2. Facebook Etiquette:

Now whenever I would make the mistake of responding to someone’s Facebook message, (in my message box that I rarely checked) that was another “oh man” moment. First of all, I had a friend who I would email and text and even talk to on the phone, yet the only way they liked to reach out was Facebook messaging me or writing on my wall. Then they were surprised and paranoid because I didn’t respond. Really? If you have a persons REAL contact information why do you choose social media to communicate “effectively”. What are you trying to prove publicly about your relationship with that person?

The other error I made was when people would message me on Facebook and carry on a full on conversation in the public domain. In spite of the fact that they had a more private and personalized email and phone number for our communication. Replying created a back and forth (because Facebook messages and now messenger shows when you have read the message and replied). So it became a crazy carousel. I announced in blogs, in my emails, my mom’s social media posts and my own that we don’t check Facebook messenger. No impact, but, again get upset that they had done something wrong when we wouldn’t respond. Finally, I realized no one reads the full message, they “skim” and then send a message like “how are you feeling or doing” when the message already spelled that out. So I made peace with it and stopped posting anything on social media.

People write on my wall asking how I was doing and note that I hadn’t posted in a while so they wanted to reach out. I emailed them or had my mom reach out to fill them in. But, I also wondered why not text me or email me privately. It feels weird to be publicly called out when you have all my contact information. There is probably a good reason I am MIA and choose not be active on public social media. Maybe I do not want to vocalize my pain on a social forum and have a pity party that can be seen by thousands. There have been many times when patients retreat into his or her disease and depression and avoids a public presence. I still felt pressure to reply, and did offline. Guess what? Did the person take the cue? No, he or she replied to my private message on my public wall. I came to realize that they just wanted people to see that they care and check in. Sadly, they saw less value if it was not in a public forum.

The Taggers: Please don’t tag me in random posts to promote your event. I can have a million people comment on a post I should never have been on. I am moving away from a life of “likes and comments”. Don’t make me a de-facto host or ask me to post or promote your event. Lastly, please don’t tag me in random photos from a long time ago in one evening, when you feel you haven’t heard from me. Or start liking all my old photos to push me to respond in nostalgia form. It actually doesn’t make me feel better. It pretty much creeps me out.

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3. Group texting, CC’s and Reply all’s:

Reply all emails and putting people on a group CC is putting people on blast and exposing peoples’ email addresses and phone numbers (that they would rather keep private). There is always going to be that one person who always “replies all.” You know the kind and realize to never put them on an open email again because others follow suit and keep replying. Then it starts to include other kinds of “sharing” or pop-culture nonsense making those on that list ready to strangle the sender. OH GOD! Hey, I have been that sender. I was being lazy and swiftly learned my lesson. Think about when you put someone on the spot and how uncomfortable that is? These emails put many others on the spot and worse you are spamming them. BCC is your new BFF, meet, mate and procreate.

Say it’s a holiday, Jewish/Christian whatever your religion may be. You think send a group text, put everyone on the same message and save time. Have random people reply to one another to save you a whole extra minute to copy and paste the text into a private and singular message. Such a great idea and so in tune with the thoughtful holiday spirit (note my sarcastic tone).

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When we get a group text our automatic gut response is, “you’re the worst”. I hear you can unsubscribe to group texts, but if someone can tell me how right now without Googling it, you win a prize. I once was so annoyed and on transdermal pain meds I screen-shotted a group text and thought I sent it to my best friend. I think I said something like; yea I just got home from the hospital and just what I wanted for the holiday, a group text with unknown numbers to get spammed into the holiday spirit. Well I was super out of it and screen-shotted it back to the unknown number group message. Awesome!!! So the whole pack of unknown numbers came after me, horrified and calling me names. Yea, bully the girl on pain meds with a tumor. So don’t put me on a group text or email!! If I mess up and reply all to the group message, well I have a tumor and am on meds that cause extreme brain fog. What’s your excuse for poor social graces and cues?