Understand That You Can Never Understand
If you live with a disability, I’m sure you’re familiar with how difficult it can be to explain your disability to others. Whether it be a doctor, a friend, or a family member, trying to get them to understand how it feels to have your disability can be rather challenging. Trying to make someone understand your disability goes beyond explaining symptoms, it’s more like you’re trying to explain the effect these symptoms have on you, and how they can take a toll on your physical and/or mental health.
If you know someone who has a disability, I’m sure you’re familiar with the feeling of confusion, the lack of understanding of what exactly their issue is. And no matter how many times they try to explain it to you, there’s still a part of you that just doesn’t get it.
You have to make peace with the fact that you will never fully understand a person’s disability. No matter how much you listen and learn, you will never know how it feels to be them, to have their disability. You can know the symptoms by heart, but you’ll never be able to know first-hand how it feels to experience those symptoms.
I know it can be frustrating to not understand, to not grasp why a person is affected the way they are by their disability, but you just have to be as understanding as possible, and accept you’ll never truly know what it feels like.
For example, I have narcolepsy (with cataplexy). As you may or may not know, narcolepsy is a neurological disorder where the affected person gets tired very suddenly, and has sleep attacks where it’s almost impossible to not fall asleep. So people assume it just means I get sleepy or I’m tired all the time. But the tiredness I feel when my narcolepsy hits me out of nowhere is a completely different type of tired that feels incredibly difficult to explain. It’s something more than sleepy, it’s more than just a standard “tired” feeling. As much as I can try to sit here and explain it to you, the simple fact is that you’ll never really get it.
This is especially true for cataplexy, a side effect of narcolepsy that makes me lose complete muscle control when I laugh too hard. If I laugh too much I’ll literally collapse onto the floor like a ragdoll and just lay there, not moving or breathing. But I’m still totally conscious! Though you really can’t tell since my eyes shut because I lack the capability of keeping them open while enduring a cataplexy attack. When I ragdoll, though, my nerves actually become hypersensitive so anything I feel physically is amplified. And I truly cannot explain how that feels. It’s so different from anything I’ve ever experienced.
Before I developed narcolepsy with cataplexy, I never knew these feelings that I feel all the time now were even possible. To be fair, I developed it around twelve or thirteen, so I’ve been this way for a while. And you’ll never really understand how living with this disability, one that makes me fucking sleepy, has greatly impacted my life. It’s not just an annoyance, it’s not just frustrating, it’s not just maddening. I genuinely fear it sometimes. What if I fall asleep somewhere I’m not supposed to, or if I cataplex on the edge of a cliff? And yes, I use cataplex as a verb, I don’t really know if it’s right but it’s my brain disorder and I can do what I like.
The point is, everyone has things that they simply can’t explain, and even when they do their best to, it doesn’t mean you’ll really know what it feels like for them. Even if you have a disability, it doesn’t mean you understand other disabilities. Like, if I have depression, it doesn’t automatically mean I can understand how a person with anxiety feels. Just because we both have brain issues doesn’t mean I get theirs at all! Like I don’t understand how some people with social anxiety can’t order at the drive-thru or ask for help finding something in a store? Similarly, someone could look at me and be like “I don’t understand why she can’t just get out of bed and do the things she has to do”. The answer is, I’m not really sure. Just like how some socially anxious people who can’t make phone calls usually don’t really know why they can’t, either.
Anyways, enough about me. What I’m trying to say is that you should do your best to be understanding of those who have problems different from your own. And if you ever find yourself not really getting someone’s issues, you should consider yourself lucky. Be patient. Be understanding. And be kind.
And as always, have a great day.