“What advice would you give, or what would you want non-chronically ill people to know about your illness and your life?”
This question brought up something I hadn’t thought about in years. Although a different type of situation, its point still holds true—at least I think it does—to what Leslie at Getting Closer To Myself is asking of us today in this edition of PFAM.
I remember an experience in my early twenties when applying for admission into a local university’s social work program. The Dean of the school asked me how someone as young as I was could possibly know how to counsel “ …a single African American mother of four in her mid-thirties and without a high school diploma?”
I am still Caucasian, but older and wiser. At the time, I was floored by the question he put forth, as a means to justify why my admittance to the program was revoked once they discovered I wasn’t of Hispanic descent. My first and last name, although of French origin, led them to think I was going to fit into their Affirmative Action camp. I opted not to give that information when applying, because I wanted into their program based on my merits. That, and I obviously didn’t fit the program anyway.
I’m not sure what was bothering me more. Him trying to dance around the reverse discrimination scenario we were facing regarding my ethnicity or the fact that this supposed professional and expert in social work was asking me how I could help another woman coming from another set of experiences that were at least in the ball park of my own? From that very platform, I shot my answer back to him:
“I would say much better than the Caucasian male sitting in front of me covering his tail-end and without a uterus.”
As you may have guessed, I didn’t get accepted into the program and have never regretted it. His question has stayed with me all these years due to his lack of true understanding regarding the human experience.
How can someone outside of our own skin expect another to fully appreciate all that we go through? Is it our hopes that, if we are suffering, others must suffer right along side us? Do we go through our lives seeking out relationships only with people who are just like us? If so, is that really our goal? If we only interact with people within our condensed series of experiences, how are we to ever be inspired, challenged or given any opportunities to leave our own, indelible marks on others’ lives?
Some of us living with illness draw lines in the sand regarding who we bother talking to about things and those who we resent for not getting it. We jump over these lines constantly, indicating that we, ourselves, don’t even know where we stand on the issue. Are we ill or do we want to be considered “normal”? Do we want people to help or be left alone and not treated like invalids?
Our experiences with illness are on the same dimension as our experiences in life. I personally don’t believe we are supposed to all go through the same things. If you would leave “illness” out of it, how would you finish this sentence: “What I want you to know about my life so far is…” My guess is that you would lean more towards the positive, if you consider yourself the expert in your own life.
We are a collection of experiences that share a lot in common with each other, but it is those things that are uncommon between us that teach us the most about living.
For those who are not living with illness, some day you might find yourselves in our shoes. At that time, let’s talk.
For those of you who are not living with illness, but live with or know someone who does, just talk.
For those of you who live with illness, ask yourselves what really matters most to you, then talk.
For those of you who live with illness and feel like no one understands what you’re going through, you’re right. So talk.
I would never present myself as someone who knows exactly how to counsel anyone outside my own skin and I don’t think being there for someone means crawling inside of them and leading the way. I think just walking beside them and knowing we’re both finding our own way along this lonely road is all any of us can really do.