I have hit this stage in my life where I am starting to run into people from my past in various areas of my life. I have reconnected with friends (maybe just acquaintances) from my youth and am meeting new people daily. It always sparks some form of thought for me when I see people in different stages of life. Usually I am happy to see people have achieved wonderful things in their lives but every so often I meet that one person that I wonder if they are doing okay, if they are happy inside.
It is easy to quickly judge a person. As you walk, drive or bike down the street you may wonder why someone is dressed the way they are, judge their weight or other physical features and then move on with your day. When you run into someone you have not seen in a while, perhaps years have past, I think it would be fair to say that a quick judgement is also made. Thoughts like, “oh wow, that person has gained/lost a lot of weight”, “s/he does not look happy anymore” or even “can you believe s/he is successful”. Having these thoughts does not make you a bad person, I do not think. But it is letting these thoughts interfere with you getting reacquainted or learning about someone that I think it is the problem. I would almost risk saying that the majority of people have these thoughts.
But as I read some of my textbooks from my undergraduate studies (I am trying to get reacquainted with the Therapeutic Recreation language and concepts) I am reminded that there is always a reaction or behaviour to something deeper. It was early on that I learned that individuals acted in a specific way as a response to something. As I sat and thought more and more about this I started to think about the quick judgements I make and how I sometimes forget the human behind those judgments. We live in a medical world with various invisible diseases. Mental health is perhaps the most invisible in the physical body until someone reaches a point where their attire, hygiene, and perhaps public outbursts shed light on their struggles. But there is more. Individuals are suffering from what feels and seems like more and more internal diseases such as crohn’s, celiac disease, fibromyalgia, cancer, epilepsy and the list can go on.
Let’s talk about it! Each and every one of us has mental health. We all have our great days, our good days, our not so good days, and our bad days. We all react to each of these days differently and usually we are forgiving of our loved ones when their actions do not align with the outside appearance and persona. It is not easy, always. Sometimes it takes time to understand the reasoning for behaviours but when we do I find that most people are understanding. Mental health is getting a lot of attention in the media as well. I think it is has a long journey ahead but greater understanding is progressing well. What about all the other invisible diseases?
Do you ever stop to think about the overweight individual walking down the road who is suffering from some medical disorder that has her/him on medication which enlargers her/his body? Maybe all the energy and self-confidence that person has is what they used to get out for their daily walk to prevent one quarter of a pound from being added to their already stressed body. Or the lady that walks down the street with thinning hair. What if it is stressed induced because of work, school, and/or life pressures she is encountering. Maybe even the homeless individual lying in the entrance undercover of a store has lost their home due to high medical costs to balance their depression. Without being able to mentally care for themselves they were unable to support their need for a nutrient rich diet to prevent diabetes which then led to a limb amputation. The cycle of needs increases while the system of support decreases. This is the person we, I included, quickly judges as we walk by.
It is not enough to talk about it. Talking about it is a great start though. Yet, for the past few days I have been wondering what I can do to unlearn some of the judgements I quickly make? How do I respond to the jokes of friends when I am unsure they are aware that an individuals behaviour is most likely a reaction to something deeper? And in what ways do I present my inner challenges/deficits and how are others judging them? I will say that these thoughts began in the gym for me. There was a day this week that I noticed someone walk through the gym doors while I was working out. Her ability to walk was limited and immediately upon sitting on the gym bicycle her breathing was heavy. But she was there and she was working hard. Later on I ran into her in the change room and we started talking. I learnt that going to the gym was the only activity she did during the day because the anxiety of leaving the house was just too much to do more than once a day. She has been struggling with depression for years and her depression medication had been increasing her weight. This in turn increased her anxiety about the way people would see her so she started to isolate herself. Eventually she was house bound with little self-esteem and confidence.
As I listened to her story all I could think about was “wow! you are amazing for being here today!”. Each step is a step for her life and man she is taking each one with her head held high. She reminded me that my judgements are uncalled for, that I have no idea what is going on for an individual, and that even the most put-together people may be suffering inside. Her biggest lesson to me that day was that living by compassion is the only way each of us will win at this game of life.
So, let’s talk about it! Let us make it visible that there are invisible challenges each person is facing and that those invisible challenges may be bigger than anyone could ever imagine. For me, I know there will be a next judgement. I will not be hard on myself but I will remember to think about that judgement and question its value and worth. Remembering that it is not supportive, helpful and negatively impacting my own invisible health is what I hope will slowly begin my unlearning process of judgment making. I hope you will join me in this unlearning process!