Talking with a friend the other day, I brought up the fact that mental disorders are just as detrimental and difficult as physical ones. She responded by saying, “And no one knows that anything is wrong because you look ok on the outside. No one sees the problem.”
When someone has a broken leg, others notice their crutch and help them maneuver difficult routes. Through cancer and its treatment, people lose their hair. Even someone with a cold can be spotted by their dripping nose. However, the young man who is planning to kill himself, the pre-teen who throws up her food, the Aspergerian boy who has few friends, the depressed mother who cannot get out of her bed to care for her children – they can not be easily identified.
Scary, isn’t it? People who are suffering mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically in an internal way are often ignored, forgotten, or belittled. After all, that young man can choose to find a job and be happy, that pre-teen can stop worrying about her weight and just eat like a normal person, that lonely boy can just be more friendly, that mother can stop being lazy and self-centered so she help her family, right? Right?
No. The truth is that depression, OCD, anxiety, eating disorders, bi-polar, PTSD, autism, ADHD, and other such disorders are real, painful, and deadly. Those who suffer with them might not look different physically but that does not take away the severity of their health problems. After all, one cannot see cancer itself in the patient. Does that make it less real?
Some of this lack of empathy and knowledge stems from the important role of appearance in our society. If someone looks healthy, they are. If someone looks sick, then they must be sick. Sounds logical but it simply is not true. So often assumptions are made based on looks. She is pretty so she must be popular. He is tall so he must play basketball. Blonde is dumb, glasses are smart, tattoos are tough, etc. Without even noticing it, we are surrounded by visual judgments all of the time.
When I stopped over-eating and started to not eat, I rapidly began to look different. When people noticed, they complimented me numerous times on how “healthy” I was becoming. Just because I was losing weight, they assumed I was leading a happier, stronger, and more health-conscious life. In actuality, my heart was beating under 40 times a minute as my body began to burn off itself to keep me alive. Lying in bed listening to the slow thump in my chest, I often thought I would die. Is that really health? If so, I want nothing to do with it!
Anyway, leaving with a disorder that people cannot see and might not believe is difficult. However, I hope that people can keep trying to raise awareness so that others can understand more about mental, emotional, and personality disorders. Next time you meet someone for the first time, try not to put a label on them. You never know the battle that is going on inside of someone.