I'd group people into the following categories to describe their frame of reference for understanding chronic illness and empathy.
I don't really have any patience for the non-empathetic non-sick and dealing with this group is highly vexing for me. I don't mind and even typically enjoy educating others, answering questions and helping to better understand and support others in their lives. But when a person doesn't have any interest in such things and only feigns interest for their own hidden benefit, I don't really care to answers questions. I don't want to be a part of their games or help them in their games. I also don't really care for such people to pry into my life and know details of my health or my day to day health and symptoms. So it's no surprise that I have very little patience and a short fuse with such people.
- The Sick. These are people with chronic illness, not with bowel disease though. This group can relate to us with bowel disease because they too understand chronic illness. This group is usually very empathetic toward others with health issues and have a medical understanding.
- The Bowel Sick. This is our group of people, all with some bowel disease. We relate to each other better than any others with health issues. Again, we tend to emphasize with each other a lot.
- The Non-Sick with Empathy. This group doesn't really have any health issues but sincerely want to understand what we go through. They may or may not have any medical understanding, but are willing to learn. Someone with empathy doesn't require medical knowledge in order to empathize and often have tendencies to have a basic understanding simply due to their inclination to empathize and imagine what life is like for someone with illness. This understanding also tends to be present for not only physical but also emotional symptoms and effects.
- The Non-Sick with No Empathy. This group doesn't really have any health issues or experience and don't really care to sincerely understand or learn about our conditions or that of others. They may inquire but it is usually due to etiquette or to satisfy curiosity.
I don't have the energy nor the patience to teach an adult how to empathize or how chronic illness affects one mentally, emotionally as well as physically, especially when it's not a sincere interest. I'd rather maintain my privacy and steer clear of my health as topic of discussion. I've encountered several people like this and I don't trust individuals with such behaviors. There are people who will use knowledge about someone's health and chronic illness to manipulate the person, others involved with the person or a situation with such personal information. We must especially be weary of this with employers. Recently I had an individual ask about my PTSD and they didn't understand how I could have PTSD now when my physical health has been stable. This person was also trying to use my health as a tool for religious debate and manipulation. So I'm confident that this person belongs to the last group. It doesn't take a psychologist to understand basic tenants of PTSD as long as they know a summary of what PTSD is.
Simply, PTSD is the mental effect of a traumatic event causing an individual to have depression and negative stressful symptoms that are triggered by the trauma experience being relived. Such symptoms include night terrors, severe anxiety, fear, flash backs, emotional numbing and avoidance. Most people have a basic understanding of PTSD due to the prevalence among war veterans. Therefore, I find it hard to believe that an educated, aware adult doesn't have any reference to PTSD to draw from, especially if that person has a capacity for empathy.
My PTSD symptoms have subsided in frequency and severity over the years due to counseling and medication treatment. I don't believe that an individual ever truly stops having PTSD, just that symptoms can improve as well as better coping mechanisms may be learned and utilized. Although my health is fairly stable now and I don't have as many regular invasive tests and procedures, when I am placed back in that medical environment and those situations I begin to experience those same PTSD symptoms that I've had before although now I'm better equipped to cope with the situation so that the symptoms aren't as severe or debilitating as they were previously. But I'm never rid of it all and sometimes without provocation I begin to have symptoms again. I have to be cautious of what I watch, read, listen to and even what I think because I am easily transported back into time to any one of those traumatic medical experiences and am reminded of it all again. If I'm not cautious, I'll quickly be reliving the traumas. I'm so in tune with the pain and those memories are etched into my mind so deeply that seeing or hearing others' pain is physically felt on my body.
I also believe that one is never truly free of depression completely. A person may stop having depression but I've found that after having depression, one is much more susceptible to have depression again at a later time when under duress. I've found this also occurs with suicidal tendencies. Once a person has become suicidal, even after no longer being suicidal one is much more likely to experience suicidal ideations when under duress. It's as if once that those doors are opened, they're easy to open again even if not intentionally.
I acknowledge that these can be difficult things and notions for others to understand. Chronic illness runs in my family but it's still hard for my parents to understand how deeply I've been affected by my health even though my parents are better able to relate than most. My husband has a hard time understanding my morbidity, how warped my mind has become due to such traumas. Yet they empathize and support, they listen and they show that I am understood and accepted. A close friend with similar health issues probably knows me best as he better understands the mental effects during his years of medical traumas than anyone else I know and is as warped as much if not more than myself. Most people have capacity for empathy and if they don't you are better off befriending someone who does. Without empathy, there isn't room for a true friendship - only a one sided benefit.
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