I’m not feeling my best at the moment. Well, that’s my excuse. When I was little, my Mum would say that I was ‘rundown’ and needed to rest. It’s a strange word: rundown and yet it sees to encompass so many ailments and periods of time when you have been so busy that your physical health starts to suffer. I recently revealed that I am currently writing my biography of Princess Mary, the only daughter of George V, who was the present Queen’s Aunt. Princess Mary worked incredibly hard, carrying out probably more engagements than any other member of the Royal family at the time. She was based for much of the year in the North, and so if a hospital needed opening or some organisation needed a royal patron in the region, then Princess Mary would duly attend. It’s very interesting, but whenever she faced a period of incredible stress or anxiety, not long after, she would become unwell. In those days they would sometimes call it a ‘nervous breakdown.’ If you think about it though, it does make sense. If you overwork anything, then chances are it is going to crash and break down.
Why is it therefore that sometimes when we feel under the weather, we can be incredibly sensitive to what people say to us? I had two incidents this week which I would usually have brushed off as pointless and just someone being daft. But for some reason, they really upset me. One was when a friend mentioned that they can’t understand why I never smile, what they call ‘properly’ in photos. I spoke to them on a video call and they kept saying, “Oh you look normal now. Not how you do in photos, because you never open your mouth.” They didn’t just say it once. They kept repeating it. Several times. Each time with a slight variation. This really irritated me. I think most people know me well enough to know that I don’t do toothy grins in photos because until the beginning of this year, my teeth were tiny and almost worn down. It was a source of embarrassment for me and I kept my mouth as closed as I possibly could or put my hand in front of my mouth. It is only now that I am starting to realise that I can open my mouth and show my lovely new teeth.
Then someone recently asked me if I would help an author who was writing a book on comedy memorabilia. I have a Frank Sidebottom head and they thought that the author would love to feature it in their book. I contacted the person and explained that if they wished to, then I would let them photograph it. I warned the author that it was very special to me and I didn’t want to reveal how I acquired the head. The author claimed that he would respect this. He asked me to send him a couple of pictures, which I did. Then a couple of days later, he messaged me, incredibly proud of himself and informed me that he had investigated where I had got my head from, and he said that he knew how much I had paid and who made it – he was wrong. I just don’t understand why he did this. I had asked him to respect that I didn’t want to reveal its origins and yet, he genuinely relished doing something that I had asked him not to do.
Both of these incidents upset me to a degree, yet I have to admit that I was annoyed with myself more for taking things to heart too much. “Stop being so sensitive.” I kept telling myself. I just wanted to brush them both off and forget about them. But the more I tried to do this, then the more I found myself dwelling on what had been said. There are much worse things than a friend saying something unkind or a person that you have offered to help, doing something you asked them not to. Yet if someone is your friend and they know that you are feeling a bit ‘rundown’, shouldn’t they realise this and perhaps be a little more careful of what they say? Especially about something they know is a real hang-up of yours – namely my teeth? Similarly, if someone is offering to help you then surely you should be respectful of what they have asked in return?
If you think I need to grow a pair and harden up, then you are probably right. I’m old enough to be able to stand up for myself and tell people how I feel. Although I must admit that I hate confrontation. But what if someone has had a day or week full of these seemingly innocuous remarks or actions? Your throw away remark could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. What if someone is feeling so down, then they turn to you for sympathy, only for you to say something that you know they have a hang-up about? Surely, a lot of this comes down to manners and treating people as you wish to be treated?
Perhaps the answer lies in a degree of compromise on both parts? Try not to be over-sensitive but be mindful of how your actions can impact on someone, especially when they are not feeling their best. There is a very good saying that is often cited to children about how their actions can impact on others. Before you speak, THINK. Is it True? Is it Helpful? Is it Inspiring? Is it Necessary? Is it Kind?
Back to the book now. I may be some time.