Monday, June 11, 2018

I'm Not Asking You To Understand My Reality

I have no idea what it feels like to have asthma. Or diabetes. Because I do not have these. So I don't know what it feels like to barely be able to breathe after walking a couple of flights of stairs. Even though I'm borderline hypoglycemic, I can't pretend to truly know what it's like to have sugar affect my body the way it does for someone with severe diabetes. I can read about these, talk to people with them, intellectually know what it means to have them. I can understand how these illnesses should, theoretically, affect a person. But I cannot understand what their reality is. Because maybe one day, they're taking all of their asthma medication like normal and they are feeling OK, and then something sends them into an asthma attack. Something that usually doesn't, something that technically, "shouldn't." And if this happens, I have no right to tell them they "shouldn't be having an asthma attack right now." I have no right to judge the fact that they are. I certainly have no right to judge them, as a person, based on how their asthma affects them. And if, despite doctors and treatment and doing everything they can to not have it flare up, they still have asthma attacks at times, I have no right to accuse them of not trying hard enough. I have no right to tell them it's their choice to have asthma. Nor to think any less of them because they have it. To think they're any less a valuable, contributing member of society. 

So how come, then, this is OK with mental illness? How come, if something really bothers my anxiety, I'm supposed to just "try harder"? How come I'm any less capable, competent, valuable, because I have this illness? How come, just because you don't understand why I'm depressed or anxious, it's "wrong" for me to feel so?  How come you wouldn't expect someone to learn how not to be asthmatic, but you expect me to "learn how not to have depression".  How come you view mine as a choice?  Like I want to feel this ill.  How come if someone with a physical illness needs to rest and take care of themselves, we tell them to take it easy and offer to help them, but when it's mental, we tell them they're lazy for taking a break?

I'm not asking anyone to understand what it feels like to have my illness. If they don't, I know they can't.  I am asking you to believe me when I tell you what it feels like for me. That's it. If I say I'm unwell and need some time for myself, don't call me lazy for resting. If I need to stay at home instead of go to ... whatever.. because of my anxiety, don't tell me I'm using my illness as an excuse. If I promise you that doing the best I can, and it still falls short, don't tell me I'm not trying. Believe me. Do you honestly think I want to feel this way? To feel like a failure, like a drain, like a burden? Do you think I want to feel mentally tortured? That I don't want to enjoy life like others? Would I honestly put myself through this if I had the option not to?

Here's the best way I can explain it in non-illness terms. Have you ever had something akin to the following conversation?

You after your computer does something you've never seen before, calling tech support: My computer did xyz. 

Tech support: Do abc, then you'll get so and so screen. 

You follow instructions, do not get that screen, and say inform them. 

Tech support: Well, it should work. 

You: Well it didn't. 

Them: Try it again. 

You (after same result): Still not working. 

Them: Well it should be.

And round and round...

Ever been there? They keep telling you that it should be working. When it doesn't work that way for you, they simply keep telling you it should. And nothing is accomplished except for you getting really frustrated and them probably thinking you can't even manage to do a few simple steps correctly on your computer. You're probably both annoyed and frustrated, and your computer still isn't working.

That's how it feels. It feels like people around me are trying to be tech support for my brain, telling me how it should work. Except, there's an added curve ball - they've all learned different operating systems, at least different versions, none of which are the one my brain is running. But they insist I should do things the way it's done in their specific version. And if I do things according to the way one version works, it upsets those trained in every other version because they insist it's wrong.  And no matter how much you sit there and say "none of that works on my version because I'm not running ANY of those over here," it doesn't matter.

I understand that to you, the way I view the world, the way I feel things so deeply, the things that seem urgent or important or anxiety producing, may never make sense.  I'm not asking them to. I'm not asking you to understand my reality. I'm asking you to simply understand that it is my reality. And that I'm doing the best I can with what I have.