Personalities tend to clash. So why wouldn’t chronic illnesses?
Sometimes we meet people with a similar health issue and we think that they will be the perfect friend or partner or whatever, only to be disappointed. The truth is, sometimes we clash – just like people with different personalities tend to clash.
In my struggles, I have found that my family members and friends WITH chronic illnesses, mental or physical, are the people I clash with most. Ignorance is easier to death with. It’s more bearable for me to be dismissed by someone who doesn’t understand, than to have to feel misunderstood by someone who knows what it’s like to be sick. That’s the worst.
A friend may have anxiety, but they deal with it in their own unique way. The problem is, they expect you to deal with it their way, too. A family member may have a chronic digestive condition, but they think their condition is worse than yours and they are not respectful of the ways you try to manage your condition. A partner may have depression but their depression expresses itself different in them than in you and so they don’t always get it.
I remember joining a Facebook support group that helped people struggling with mental illness. It was helpful at first, but then started to get out of control. Everyone’s personalities and illnesses started to clash. People were upset literally on the hour over posts and memes and comments. My phone started to ding with a Facebook notification every 20 minutes with a disgruntled person expressing their anger. The group moderator wanted to appease everyone and wound up creating a situation in the group that was difficult to manage. I ended up leaving the group because it was not healthy or helpful – at least not for me.
I started talking about this with my therapist at the time and he said something that I still wrestle with today. He explained that personality and mental illness are not really linked. He went on to say that they can affect one another to a degree, but the bottom line is that if you are selfish, you will be selfish with or without your chronic illness. If you are petty, you will be petty with or without your chronic illness.
I don’t know if I agree with him or not. I know I have days where my anxiety makes me irritable and antisocial. I have days where my chronic digestive problems and allergies make me depressed and affect my ability to communicate effectively. This may lead people to make certain assumptions about me.
What I do know, is that many of us with mental or physical health issues will clash with members of our own community because that is life. We may trigger each other and press each other’s buttons. That’s a given.
I wonder if we can be more mindful of this. I wonder if we can still grow as people despite our issues and the obstacles that present themselves daily. Can we have anxiety, but still have manners and be polite? Can we, if we are having a good day, remember to show appreciation to the people who have stood by us? Can we have IBS and still say I’m sorry for something we did that legitimately hurt someone’s feelings? I believe so, yes. I think it’s important to strive for this.
Let’s go easy on ourselves, but also strive to be better people in the process.