A Call to Awareness

It seems there is a trend this month that is creating awareness and teaching how to handle invisible illnesses; just like breast cancer, testicular cancer, ALS, heart disease, and all the other illnesses, we shouldn’t focus on that one illness for just one month and that’s it.* This post isn’t a call to attention about invisible illnesses, but rather a call to be more sympathetic and empathetic human beings.

We need to be more aware that we aren’t the only human beings on the planet and realize that everyone is going through something. There is a saying that I see posted in many doctors’ offices: Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always. How true is this? No matter how close we may be to another human being, we will never truly know what their fight is and how they feel.

My husband, Michael, is my best friend and makes up a huge part of my world. Since Michael works from home, he and I spend more time together than most couples. Michael and I seem to share a brain, sometimes; we like the same things and have the same beliefs, like most couples do, but no matter how compatible and close we are, Michael will never truly know how my illnesses affect me, nor will I ever truly understand how work, stress, and my illness affect him.

Every time Michael gets sick, he turns to me and says, “I don’t know how you do it. You feel sick every single day; I hate feeling this way.” I laugh each time because I truly do not know how he deals with me all the time; I have a very short fuse sometimes and don’t know how he can have the patience to look after me and tend to me being sick because taking care of him when he is sick is definitely not on my top ten favorites list.

Yes, I understand the irony that I am preaching that we have patience and compassion and I clearly struggle with it myself. Isn’t that part of it all, too? To realize that we, as in all of us, struggle? It’s a reminder that all of us are human, especially the author of this post. So what can we imperfect humans do? We can listen and be there for each other. We can try our best to be sympathetic and compassionate. We can take the time to learn more about each other and the struggles we face so that we, in turn, can become closer.

I am a perfectionist and don’t like to admit that I am flawed, but when I am with Michael, I know he appreciates when I am honest about my flaws. When I admit that I struggle, it must help validate Michael for the times where I complained about things he did or didn’t do. I hate saying I’m not perfect, but I know that when I do, that is one time where Michael and I do feel close, even though I am sometimes down on myself. When I admit I’m not perfect and that I need help, that is a time where Michael really is my hero. When I am real and vulnerable, he steps in to protect and take care of me. He may not understand fully what I am going through, but he is there to support me in a way that is different than the times where I “act tough.”

Remember that everyone struggles and their problems are real to them, even if they don’t seem like a big deal to you. Take the time to be compassionate, sympathetic, and empathetic. Instead of flipping off or swearing at the driver who just cut you off, pray that their day gets better and that they reach their destination safely. Take the time to listen to what another person is saying to you, rather than sort of listening and shooting out a platitude. Remember that if someone snaps at you and it seems like it is coming out of nowhere, there is probably more going on. If you are in a position to give a hug or a sympathetic ear, do that, but if that isn’t appropriate, you can always pray and wish them well (in your head or out loud, depending on the situation and relationship with the person), hoping that whatever is causing them stress will come to pass.

Take the time to be conscious that others have their own struggles and that no harm has come from a genuine smile and a caring attitude. Just having an awareness that everyone has their own struggles can really help make your every interaction with others that much more real and give you a sense of gratefulness for what you have.

*To clarify: I don’t think that people affected by these diseases just think about these diseases for a month and can change their focus like a light switch. Sometimes, I do feel these months are taken for granted and there isn’t necessarily an awareness for the illness as much as just a name for the month.

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