DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have been seriously ill for a couple of years, suffering from multiple health issues. I should be fine in several months, but the cure will require surgeries, and my strength must be built up before that can happen.
I do not want attention, and I do not like to talk about these very personal issues -- nor can I imagine that acquaintances wish to hear the details. Yuck!
Until I am strong enough for the operations, though, life is not easy. I feel terrible and exhausted, and rarely go out. I am pale as a ghost. My eyes seem to have retreated back into my head. Makeup makes me look like a sick person who painted their face orange. My hair is dull and just hangs there, as I have not been able to get a haircut. I have lost a lot of weight, and my hands shake.
When I do venture away from home, I am often approached by people I do not know well. They walk up to me, poised for a hearty handshake and some small talk, and then recoil, pulling their hand back dramatically and declaring, “You’re sick! Stay away! You shouldn’t be here!” I assure them that I am not contagious, but they are never convinced.
Getting a bit of fresh air and a change of scenery helps me to cope. Feeling like a public spectacle does not. Talking about all the troubles life has sent my way, just so germaphobes and nosy people will believe that I really don’t have the flu? That makes me cry. Do I need to hide indoors until I am healthy again?
GENTLE READER: Nothing would make Miss Manners happier than to be put out of business by an incurable outbreak of consideration and politeness. But as you are heartbreakingly aware, this has not happened yet.
The consolation she can give is that etiquette does not require any further effort on your part, such as disguising how hurtful these people’s reactions are. In Miss Manners’ perfect world, your explanation that you are not contagious -- and your stricken look -- would be enough to make people think about someone other than themselves next time.