During a late stifling heat soaked summer day, a therapist friend suggested we get out of the house and drive around, take in a few sights and stop for ice cream at a local creamery hotspot upon our return. Over the course of several hours, our drive included hills and valleys, wineries and riverbeds. We blazed into and out of the summer sun, through lean tall trees of a not to distant national forest and rows upon rows of summer corn.
Fifteen minutes from home, she started a conversation that quickly nose-dived the afternoon.
“I have a client in her mid-sixties.” she said. “She loves to play with her granddaughter, but her knees started aching. Fearful she would drop and injure her granddaughter, she stopped playing. She went to a physical therapist who found nothing wrong, finding it all imaginary. The grandmother was scared to play, so she created a way not to play. In other words, it was in her head. What do you think?”
“Why do I need to think about this? I really have no thoughts on the subject.” I replied.
“Well, I was thinking maybe the pain and issues you’re having are really because your scared, that if you change your thinking, you’ll change your fate.”
“Well…” I paused. “Transposing your client’s situation onto me is remarkably rude.”
Over the years, I’ve learned people don’t like unsolved mysteries. It’s true that my body’s battle, including Multiple Sclerosis, Spinal Stenosis and Cardiopulmonary Disease remains unseen to those around me. It’s not that they don’t affect me, I simply choose not to bitch about them while many are completely worse off.
However, my personal choice does not allow one to assume my symptoms are caused by angry spirits, a punishing god, nor like Job who gave up looking for explanations or to be accepted as part of God’s loving plan. Yet without symptoms, without evidence, people tender their thoughts to some undefined psychological problem that is ‘in one’s head‘.
I do believe people can benefit tremendously from psychological counseling and or mental health treatment. I believe people can find tremendous assisting in coping with day-to-day issues, as I have. But patients too often live by too loosely defined subjective and arbitrary judgments of others. It’s an insulting way of saying, “You look healthy, so you must be fine.”
So to all those who arbitrarily decide I am fine, I have a few questions.
What level of proof is adequate to prove my level of pain? How can I make you feel the arbitrariness of life? What will allow you to understand my level of exhaustion? And why should I not feel so sympathetic to others who experience similarly as I?
Contrary to your opinion, many, like me, do not surrender gracefully. We valiantly battle our symptoms and yearn for the days of yesteryear when we lived joyful lives and walking stairs did not seem like an ascent up the Grand Canyon. Some simply long for a good night’s sleep.
To my friend, people like me experience something called a “new normal.” First, it’s not all in our heads. And secondly, my new normal no longer includes assholes.