The other day, I told a friend about my chronic pain for the first time. At first I felt weird, because I was telling someone who knew me so well about a part of me they had never known was there. But we kept talking and eventually the weird feeling was replaced with relief, because I assumed that if I explained it well enough, this person would be able to understand me and my life the way I wanted them to.
But then my friend asked me, “why do you never talk about it?” and I responded in the most honest way I could, saying, “Well, its not your fault, but you haven’t experienced anything similar to this, so I didn’t think it would make a lot of sense to you.” My friend replied with an enthusiastic, “Yeah, you’re right. That’s so true.” And my heart sank. I wasn’t upset because what they said was mean; I was sad because what my friend didn’t know was that when I answered their question, I didn’t want to be right.
What I had said to them was basically “I never told you this because you wouldn’t understand how I feel,” and all I got back was, “Yes, you’re correct. I can’t understand you.” And that was really hard to hear, because I had finally gathered the courage talk to my friends about my problems the same way they talked to me about theirs, only to be told that they didn’t get it.
For a while, I was mad that my friend wasn’t willing to understand or support me in the way that I wanted. But eventually, I realized that peoples’ ability to comprehend my challenges is not a choice they make based on how much they care about me; it comes from what they’ve experienced themselves, and that’s not something they can control. It wasn’t my friend’s fault that they had nothing more to say than “I’m sorry, but I can’t relate” when I told them about my struggles. Because we can’t expect other people to truly know what it’s like to experience something when they have nothing to compare it to.
However, it’s still fair to expect them to support us. And something else I learned from this situation is that most people have a hard time supporting someone who is dealing with a problem they haven’t have themselves. But unlike understanding, it’s not because they can’t do it. It’s simply because they don’t know how.
I’ve come to terms with the fact that I can’t force people to understand what my life is like. There are going to be people who can’t understand and it’s not their fault or mine. But something that I can control is the way people support me and people like me.
So, to the people than can’t understand, this is how you can still show that you care:Continue reading