You don’t have to understand. I understand that you want to but you don’t have to.
It’s OK not to understand. It’s ok to be totally at sea and bewildered and confused and just totally fucking ignorant to it all ok?
You don’t need to understand to care or to support or to squeeze my hand or to push back my hair to look me in the eyes and tell me that really it will all be alright.
It’s because it’s emotional isn’t it?
It’s made of the same things that ask what do you mean you’re scared of clowns? What do you see in him? Why are you crying about that film? How can you not like kittens?
If something is a made of emotion it is so often assumed that we have a choice, as if we wake up one day and think, yeah, I’m going to be properly shit scared of yellow flowers, just because I feel like it.
You can’t help who you fall in love with and you don’t decide to hate cauliflower or love the smell of cut grass or that you’re gay or straight or just not really bothered. These aren’t decisions but things that are engrained into our selves. They go by, for the majority I hope (because sure, there are some people who perhaps have slightly bigoted views out there) unassuming and unnoticed and unquestioned.
Because no one, on learning that the person sitting opposite them cannot stand cauliflower, leaps from their chair sending cutlery flying through the air to exclaim oh holy shit. This…this isn’t going to work. This…we…we can’t do this anymore. I mean, I just don’t understand. It’s cauliflower dude. What…how…I mean, cauliflower. How can you not like it? Why. Why have you made a choice to have these feelings and emotions and how can I overcome all of my misunderstandings so that I can still look you in the eye.
There’s a lot in life that I don’t understand. A lot. Like how I lived with a boy at university when I was a teenager and he had a ridiculous Tasmanian Devil towel and I ironed his shirts (even then) and he taught me to play poker while we watched the Lion King on DVD in my cupboard sized bedroom – that boy and I somehow managed to create and subsequently sustain human life. I’m shaking my head in disbelief because, I mean…
The same goes for why I love pineapple so much or why my little toes curl rebelliously making my feet wide or exactly why one eyebrow is millimetres higher than the other naturally but even with all the will in the world (because I like the snark) I can not make it raise independently to the other.
Who gives a fuck right?
Who cares why so and so doesn’t like biscuits or loves the feel of cotton wool, who cares?
There are people in my life who I have seen transform from healthy to nothingness. I have seen the effects of illness and disease and the devastation that it brings in its wake.
There are others who I watch live their lives with something, some ailment or illness that they have to manage or control or simply try to push firmly into the background and use all their energy to give real life it’s rightful place in the spotlight.
All of the above are crap. You would wish suffering on no one. But I don’t understand it. I don’t understand why that bit is wrong with this bit and those tablets do this so that this bit can keep working…
I don’t understand and I don’t need to because not understanding doesn’t stop me from being able to talk or laugh or cry or hold or, well, anything really.
So why the fuck do people feel such a need to understand mental illness?
It’s not a choice, it’s an illness – that is literally the beginning and end of it and all the information that you ever need to know in order to continue to associate with someone unlucky enough to suffer.
Maybe I’m naive, lucky that I have never seen someone close to me suffer badly from any illness. Maybe if someone I loved dearly was desperately ill I would feel that I needed to understand as much as I could so that I could deal with it better, I really don’t know.
All I know is that although I have never, ever had to explain myself to my family – although I often try to and want to explain how I feel – I certainly have had to justify my illness to others.
If you were told that a friend or an acquaintance or the son or daughter of that nice bloke you bump into at the chip shop every Friday evening while you wait for your cod to fry had a broken leg or any physical illness you would never, ever act in the same way as if it was a mental illness.
If you don’t understand, it really, really doesn’t matter. Can you honestly say that you understand the common cold from genetic make up to transmission to the way the germs interact with the antibodies in the blood and how and why because I really, really bet that you can’t. But does that stop you buying oranges and magazines and cuddling someone you care about through their snotty sneezes and as it sounds like they are making a valiant attempt to cough up a small country? No, right?
No one decides to catch a cold or the flu or break their neck or develop diabetes or arthritis and no one decides to get mentally ill, just for a laugh/attention/to be cool/something to do.
An illness is an illness and no one suffering really wants your understanding, your reassurance and your presence is all that’s needed.
Hold their hand, don’t make them justify the unjustifiable.