On Seeing Others Who Are Suffering


As someone with a disability, there are times in my week when I’m faced with the inevitable sentence of my diagnosis. These times are marked by moments when I can tell something isn’t right with my thinking. Over the last seven years I’ve developed a skill for noticing these glitches and when they occur, I’m equipped with years worth of therapy techniques and a healthy dose of antipsychotic medication to help deal with them. I’m aware an existence subdued by these myriad techniques and medications doesn’t quite sound like it would be a good one to live but, to that, I’ll say, I didn’t ask for this shit but I do what I can to not let it bother me, and if a lifelong regimen of meds and therapy techniques is what can guarantee a relative peace, well, I can adapt.

Also inherent in my sentence is an empathy not seen by most. I can tell just by a quick glance if someone is dealing with some not so good stuff, or is suffering some ill that isn’t fair. Suffering is marked, more often than not, by a chin kept up, in essence, a not entirely real confidence. They have a way about them, perhaps more sarcastic than necessary, a quick wit and a fierce resistance to being fucked with. Many times, their fingertips are marked by a yellowing from too many cigarettes and uncut nails because fuck personal hygiene. They usually wear large sunglasses that cover a good majority of their face, and if they are a man, they will have a beard and a ball cap in combination with the aforementioned sunglasses. Anything to create a relative distance from the world and give them a place to hide. They have attitude, they wear leather jackets, play in bands with explicit sexual innuendos as names, drink entirely too much and at the apex of everything, they rebel. They simply will not be told how to live their lives.

On the extreme end of the spectrum, the attitude is gone, replaced entirely by an intense apathy. There will be no regard for fashion or hygiene, they will wear the clothes their caretakers picked up at a thrift shop, not because it’s trendy or ironic but because that’s all they could afford on their government assistance. Their hair will be long and unkempt because to bother anyone with a severe mental illness with doing more in a day than getting out of bed and smoking a few cigarettes is unfair. These are the people to whom life is the most cruel. They exist only because they have to and because they know that someone somewhere, be it just their mother or father, cares about them enough. Life isn’t life for these people, it is simply a succession of days into nights spent wondering why things are the way they are and waiting for the soft cocoon of their warm beds every night which offer them their only escape.

It hurts my soul to see people who are suffering that way. I want to do something for them and to elevate them to a place where they can feel at least a fleeting sense of comfort but I can’t. I don’t know what to do for them. I’ve told my loved ones when I was going through some dark periods that the best thing they can do for me is to simply be with me and let me know they’re there and that, I think, is what suffering people need the most, to know that they’re not alone.

Here’s the sad part though, as much as I want to help these people, I also vehemently don’t. To involve myself in that level suffering only reminds me of the illness I deal with everyday. Sure I may be farther along in recovery than most of these people but to confront the truth of what severe mental illness can do to a person is, to say the least, deeply uncomfortable. It’s the reason you lock your doors when a shady figure approaches your car, it’s the reason you look away from the character that stands outside your apartment building smoking, it’s the reason you don’t give change to the man standing on the street corner with a cardboard sign.

These people are the undesirables, the people you silently judge without giving it a second thought. They exist and you know that but you will, by hook or by crook stay as far away from them as possible.
Like it or not, the people you want to stay far away from are the people that need the most help. They are the ones who’ve lost the most and who exist simply to survive. Ironically, these are the people who also have the most courage because they’ve seen the absolute bottom of the barrel. Some are able to pull themselves out, some aren’t.

I will say that there’s a strange disconnect in somebody like me who avoids these people, but at the same time, realizes that, inherently, with every fiber of my being, whether I like it or not, I am one of these people.

The only difference between me and them is that I realized that that way of life wasn’t something I wanted for myself so I worked my ass off to become as normal and everyday as I could.

Some say, when I tell them about my illness that they can’t even tell, and I won’t lie, although I never stop pushing myself to that ideal, it feels good when someone can’t tell because that means I’ve made it back to the land of the living.

I feel sorry for those who suffer everyday but if you do the things your doctor recommends and fight for the ideal everyday of your life, you can find a relative normalcy.

I’ll say this, maybe we’re not afraid of these people because they are the lowest rung but because they have the most courage and we can see that and it scares us because we know we could never deal with the hand they’ve been dealt.

image – VinothChandar