With holiday gatherings around the corner, how do you answer well-intentioned questions about your chronic condition - or gracefully deflect?⁠

Hosts Tracey Welson-Rossman and Joyce Yaccarino Griggs welcome Dr. Betsy Bennett to discuss how to talk about your chronic condition at the holiday table: creating a 'readymade phrase,' gracefully deflecting, and responding to unsolicited health advice from friends and family.⁠

We were glad to have Dr. Betsy Bennett on the stream today. Visit her YouTube channel where she goes further into depth about these topics regularly.

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Video Transcript

Tracey Welson-Rossman: I mean to. Dealing with a new computer, guys. Hi, good afternoon, here we are again. Talking about patient-centric health, my name is Tracey Welson-Rossman I'm with Journal My Health and my partner in crime, Joyce Griggs, United States of Healthcare, We are so happy to have Dr. Betsy Bennett back. We had a lot of time prepping for this particular discussion. Dr. Bennett is a licensed psychologist with a PhD in Clinical Psychology from Vanderbilt University and she's held multiple academic positions at leading research universities, including a current faculty appointment at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has over 20 peer-reviewed publications and extensive experience teaching health professionals. And years of clinical experience with patients suffering from a wide range of illnesses gives her an intimate perspective on the issues facing patients, caregivers, and providers. Dr. Bennett has a YouTube channel, Feeling Better with Dr. Betsy Bennett and you'll find videos covering topics and skills. And we're going to be dropping a link to that channel soon. And the videos are great. But today, we are going to be talking about basically talking turkey and other holiday foods. And I'm really hungry now, but we're going to be discussing, how are you responding to people as they're asking you about your health? So we're going to set the scene, we're at the holiday dinner party or cocktail party and you have a relative and they say, how are you really? What kind of answer are you going to give them? The full truth? Or what are, how are some ways that we can be honest without giving too much away?

Betsy Bennett: Okay. So is that my cue?

Tracey: That is your cue, Betsy.

Betsy: Okay, well, I would say in that situation, the first thing, the first bit of honesty that you need is honesty with yourself. You know, what do you in that moment feel like doing? Does that, did that question make you feel close to that person? Like, wow, this person really isn't blowing me off. She really wants to know how I'm doing. Or do you feel like, oh my gosh, that's so sweet, but I can't get into it right now, you know, I just can't. So, like your first place to go is actually within yourself, you know, what do you want? And then once you know what you want, then it's pretty easy to craft your result or your, you know, your responses, I mean. So imagine that you're like wow from what, finally someone's acknowledging that I'm sick and I'm not just hearing like, you look great, when you know, your kidneys are failing or you know whatever. Well, you know, then you might say to that person, maybe you don't want everyone at table here like oh you know Aunt Joan that is so sweet of you to ask let's get together like after dinner when we can have a kind of moment and I could fill you in on what's going on. Great, you know, let's say you just don't want to share it, you know, that you're just like us going to ruin my day to dwell on it, then you could say oh my gosh Aunt Joan that is so sweet of you to ask and I just really appreciate you that you want to know the story but honestly you know there's a lot going on and I don't feel that great and I kind of don't want to get into it. I was hoping today could be like my escape day, but I promise you, let's, we'll catch up some other time and I'll fill you in. And so again in both of those, you know, you build a connection with this person. But you also meet your own needs.

Tracey: Can it but Joyce before you.

Joyce Griggs: No, it's fine.

Tracey: I do have how so Aunt Joan knew that you had something going on, but what happens when you meet somebody who doesn't know? When, you know, what's the answer there? And do you want to bring that up?

Betsy: Yeah, yeah. And again it's like, what do you want? Do you want this person to know or not? Do you want all the people within earshot to know or not? So again you do that check-in. What do I want? And then you make these determinations about like, well is this the place, if it is what I want is this the place that I want to say it? And if not, I can say to the person, well you know actually I haven't filled you in but there's some things going on. Let's talk later. Something like that. And if you don't want the person to know, you know it's not their business. You know, you just, yeah things are great, how are you? And if it's hard to fake, then you do what I call the pivot, you just start in asking them questions about themselves. They won't know what happened. They'll be so engaged and filling you in on their life, that you're cool. 

Joyce: Mmm-hmm. I love what you're saying about check in with yourself first, you know, and what is it that you want? Because, you know, someone's asking, How are you? You know, you're you know you have something that you're dealing with a health issue that you're dealing with or maybe you're dealing with the health issue of a family member and then to ask yourself the power question internally. What do I want.

Betsy: Right.

Joyce: And then responding from there, but I love this notion of preparing in advance, right?

Betsy: Really thinking about it before you're in that situation. And I would add to this, and I don't and I don't want this to sound negative like we're approaching every conversation with hostility or suspicion or whatever. But you know, there, you're going to encounter people typically at family gatherings who, you know, they're related to you, but you don't like them that well. And and you don't owe them anything. You know, you don't owe them any information about yourself, you know, that is for you. And you know, I know I had a situation where when I was sick with breast cancer, there was a relative I decided not to tell, and when she found out after the fact, she was not happy. But I knew that she would not be supportive. You know, I knew it. And I thought why would I share this with someone who I know is going to minimize my feelings? Minimize my experience, not be there for me, just you know, put up the wall. Shouldn't need to know. So you know, she was irked and I thought, well it's your right to be irked.

Joyce: Right.

Betsy: My information.

Joyce: Right. Right. And I think that's really great. So, okay, so we'll go back to our scene. We're at the party. We're at the holiday dinner table. You know, we're being asked this question. One of the things you mentioned to us when we were getting ready for this was you said you can create a ready-made phrase. What is this? But what, tell us about this secret weapon.

Betsy: Okay. The ready-made phrase is truly a secret weapon and it's the close cousin of the elevator speech. So if you work in business and you've heard of the elevator speech where you need to be able to like state your business idea or state what your role is in a company or whatever in the time that it takes to go up a couple floors in an elevator and then it's done. It's the same idea here. And probably the biggest difference is that it has components that help you build it. So you're not just like, oh, I don't know what my ready-made phrase would be. So let's say, let's say someone at the family gathering asks you to get up on step stool and get something off of a high shelf, right. But you know, you have an autoimmune disease that causes some dizziness and you know that you can't do that. So, you know, again, you can make the decision. Do I want to share this with this person that I have this disease? And and if you don't you could just say I'm so sorry. I'm feeling off today. I don't think I should do it. No more information and that's not really even a ready-made phrase that's just kind of polite assertiveness. But let's say that you're like, mmm Aunt Joan should really know what's going on with me. So, so at that point, you would have three things that you need to do. Step one, you need to acknowledge and and make it clear that you don't expect Aunt Joan to know what's going on with you. So you know it's not going to be a thing where like, well I can't, you know I have such and such, you know, no, you're going to go into it like, you know, Aunt Joan, you probably didn't know this but I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and then you say rheumatoid arthritis, this is step two, you explain what it is and how it affects your body. So it's a kind of arthritis, but more importantly, it's an autoimmune disease, where my body attacks its own tissue and and it causes fatigue. So, I cannot get up on that. You know, I can't get up on the on the stool, but I can hail someone down who could do it. So, the three parts are you tell them that you know that they don't know that you have this you tell them exactly what it is and how it affects your body and then you explain to them how it affects them. So in this case, no I cannot perform this task for you. And this is why, you know, I just told you why basically. And sometimes that middle step, you can use as an opportunity to correct misconceptions. So anyone with RA knows that lots of people confuse it with osteoarthritis. So, you could use that right up there to say, it's rheumatoid arthritis. And I know you've probably heard of osteoarthritis, which is the kind of normal life arthritis people get as they age, this is a whole different thing, Aunt Joan. It's a systemic disease. You can't see actually what it's doing inside my body.

Joyce: Mmm.

Betsy: So you have a little kind of moment for for education. So those three parts, and what you do then is, as you think about the holidays coming, you think, Okay, you know, am I going to need to explain what's going on with me? And I'm going to sit down and take a little time and see, like, okay, I got that first part. I got the first segment, like, you know, whoever you are Aunt Joan, I know you don't know that I have rheumatoid arthritis, and then that middle section, honestly, it can be really helpful to just Google it. What is rheumatoid arthritis? And I know, you know you have it, but sometimes seeing it written by a professional writer will give you these really succinct little phrases that you then can steal and that's the middle section and then that last section just, you know, so you see, it's not safe for me to get up on the step stool.

Joyce: Right, right.

Betsy: And that's it. One, two, three, that's your ready-made phrase.

Joyce: Right. That's really that, that's really great. So that really helps us to I just want to say that again. So the first step is we sort of acknowledge the person, you know.

Betsy: That they don't know.

Joyce: You don't, you don't probably don't know this, but I have blah-blah-blah. And then step two is exactly what's happening in the body. So I have this, which causes these things to happen in my body. And the third step is, so, therefore not going to be able to get up on that step stool, or whatever it might be.

Betsy: Whatever. Right. Yep.

Tracey: So, it's interesting Betsy because you're keeping it short and sweet.

Betsy: Yep.

Tracey: There’s enough because I think you also have to think about, it's not only just about you, it's about the other person. So.

Joyce: Right.

Betsy: You don't want to overwhelm them. 

Tracey: Exactly overwhelm them, give them way too way more information than they need continue the conversation. It can be uncomfortable. So it's actually acknowledging both sides of.

Betsy: Absolutely. Absolutely. And like I say in the video, for any of our listeners who want to go and watch kind of a more in-depth video about this. The thing that I really like about it is that it it puts you in a place kind of inadvertently, it's not designed to do this, but it does this where you're not ashamed of who you are. You know, like, you didn't ask her rheumatoid arthritis, you didn't ask for psoriatic arthritis, you know, and, and to just state it like very matter-of-factly. This is what's going on in my body and and just like, hey, was it Popeye or something? I am who I am. But you know what? I'm proud of who I am. You know. Regardless of the what my body's having to cope with.

Joyce: Yeah. Yeah. Before we go on I just want to put a button on this to ask one sort of follow-up question because what might happen when you say you probably don't know and then you tell this person because you want to tell them there's going to be an empathetic moment where they may have a response, right? Like, Oh I'm really sorry to hear that or whatever it is. So kind of just, you know, ready yourself right for what's going to come back. You might get nothing because they just might be too stunned and unable.

Betsy: Right.

Joyce: To respond but just sort of get ready for whatever is going to happen next.

Betsy: Yes. And when you and when that happens, I think it's really important to not let it derail you. You need to educate this person so that you can get to the step 3, you know. So, you know you can say, no worries. Let me just tell you what it is and tell you how it affects what I can and can't do or you know, it's cool.

Joyce: Great.

Tracey: So I'll step into it's a little but it's not that negative, when I tell people what's going on, everyone has an opinion about what you could do.

Betsy: Yes.

Tracey: So. I know people want to be helpful. It's coming from a good place but I may not want to continue the conversation. So how do we move forward? Pandora's box is open, right? How do we respectfully say, you know what's the ready-made phrase for that?

Betsy: I’ll totally show you how to slam that box shut. And it is not hard. So, step one, you say something that indicates that you know exactly what they suggested. So if they say to you, you know, oh, you know, I heard that, you know, massive doses of Vitamin B will cure arthritis. Okay. So then your job is and then they might even say, you know, you should try it. There's a brand of Vitamin B that I used. Do you want me to send it to you? And then, you know, and like you said, it's coming from a good place. So once again, we got three parts. So part number one is acknowledge that you heard it. Huh, interesting. High dose Vitamin B. So you just reflect it, just whatever it was they said, you want them to feel very certain that you heard it and you heard it in detail. You could even say, huh, high dose Vitamin B and there's a brand that you like. So that person feels very heard right there. And the reason we want to do that, is that when people don't feel heard, they keep plowing ahead. So, we want them to feel very heard. And then to, to prevent further plowing head is step two. And step two is we tell them a behavior that we’re either going to perform relative to the suggestion or that we already have performed. So, you could say, you know what, I've got a doctor's appointment in another couple weeks. I'm going to bring that up with my doctor. Thank you so much. You know, or you could say, you know what, I read that same thing, and I talked about it with my doctor and she said that wasn't going to be safe for me, but thank you anyway. So you've got that behavior. And then, lastly, because bam, we want to shut the box once again, we pivot. So, tell me about this new course that you're taking, your master's degree.

Tracey: Just deflecting.

Joyce: Boom.

Betsy: The Vitamin B will become a distant memory.

Joyce: Right, right.

Tracey: This is actually good advice for other parts of your life, too.

Joyce: I was just thinking anything right? You want to change change the subject, right? I mean that's make sure they feel heard, right?

Tracey: You heard, that you're doing something with the information or have done something with that information and actually, Betsy, by using the third party, you're actually putting it off on somebody else.

Betsy: Right. Yeah, that's right. Yeah. And this is you know what people what often trips people up is they try to skip to step 3. They try to just change the conversation. And if someone really wants to help you, they're not going to let that happen. They're going to keep going. So that's why step one and two are absolutely critical. Because it truly closes the book for that person.

Joyce: Such good advice, you know. Because my knee-jerk would be go to straight to 3 but you're telling us as an expert in human behavior, that if you want to get to 3, just do 1 and 2 and it'll work. Go.

Tracey: I mean the other thing is, is that you want them there may be some good advice that is coming, so you don't want to discard everything. So it allows you to also hear what's going on but keep it shorter.

Betsy: Right.

Joyce: That’s such a great that's such a great point because you may very well want to take that to your doctor because this is new information. I think this could be good for me. Let me find out. Yeah, great point.

Tracey: So, um, Joyce did you have a –

Joyce: The only last thing that I just thought, I know we've talked about a little bit, but Betsy just tell us where we can get some more information because I think you mentioned that there's you have a video right? That will walk us through this.

Betsy: I do, so I have two different videos. I have one on dealing with this kind of unwanted or unsolicited health advice and I have one on explaining your diagnosis, where I go through it a little bit more slowly with a couple more examples in terms of how you could put those phrases together, Parts, 1, 2 and 3. And they're on my YouTube channel. And I mean I only have a handful of videos on there so it won't be hard to find you'll they're they're clearly labeled. Yeah.

Joyce: And they're great videos. I've been through them and Becca has put that in the chat for us, too.

Betsy: Thank you, Becca.

Joyce: Right in there.

Tracey: Betsy, before we because 20 minutes just flew by like that and we like to keep ourself short, I just want to flip it. We've been talking about the, you know, you as a person who has the condition. Oops, Joyce just went away.

Betsy: Where did Joyce go?

Tracey: I don't know.

Betsy: Come back.

Tracey: Technology, hopefully she'll come back. But just real quick. You're now the person who's been told the information, do you have a phrase for me so that I can respond back.

Betsy: Well again, it depends on what you want. So if this is someone who maybe you don't like, or that, you don't feel safe around or trusting of or whatever. Then you say, oh, I'm so sorry to hear that's going on and you move on.

Tracey: Just keep it, that's it. Simple as that.

Betsy: Simple as that. If it's someone where you feel like, oh my gosh, what can I do to help this person? Well, then the thing to say is, again, oh my gosh, I am so sorry to hear this. Is there some way that I can help you out? Is there, you know, is there something you need that I might be able to provide because I would love to be able to, you know, just lighten your load in any way that I can.

Tracey: So just again, short and sweet.

Betsy: Yep.

Tracey: And let that person guide you.

Betsy: Yes. Yes.

Tracey: Betsy, again, such a pleasure to speak with you. And these are just really practical, helpful hints about protecting yourself.

Betsy: Yes.

Tracey: And also the person who wants to be helpful.

Betsy: Yes.

Tracey: So that you can keep the conversation, you know, and move it back to enjoying the holidays.

Betsy: Yeah.

Tracey: So. We're going to say, Happy Thanksgiving, and happy holidays to everyone who's out there and who will be, hopefully watching this video post. I'll say this for Joyce since she's in the interweb somewhere. We're going to be back in January. We're going to take a little bit of a break. So thank you so much for joining us and Betsy, thanks, we'd love to have you back.

Betsy: Awesome.

Tracey: And just to the audience out there if there are any topics that you want to have us cover as we you know continue bringing forward patient empowerment, patient-centered health, please drop us a line.

Betsy: Awesome.

Tracey: So Happy Thanksgiving.

Betsy: Happy Thanksgiving.

Tracey: Bye.

Betsy: Bye.