“With what incredible courage we are able to endure the suffering of others” — My favorite quote from English garden writer Christopher Lloyd. And nowhere does it apply more than in medicine. And within the world of medicine, nowhere more than in the world of mental health.
When my neighbor is poor, he deserves it for his sloth and lack of thrift. When I am poor, I am the victim of unfairness and persecution. When a young man medicates his abdominal pain with narcotics, he just wants to get high, when I have severe pain and use whichever drug works for me, it is justified by my suffering. When my neighbor has lost her hair and can’t work because of fatigue and joint pain, it is because she is neurotic and avoidant, when it happens to me, it is an undeserved tragedy.
Doctors are often unsympathetic with patients who complain of medication side-effects. Rather than assume that such side effects are the result of genetic differences in the metabolism (as is the case with almost all drugs), we tend to believe the patient is vested in “complaining” — and since we have little better to offer, it seems natural to place the blame on the patient rather than recognize the limitations of our profession. This, by the way, is why we have begun genetic testing at Kartini Clinic to better understand individual biology as it pertains to psychotropic medication. And what an eye-opener it has been.
The whole world is unsympathetic to those whose weight is higher—sometimes much higher—than it “should be”. And this judgmentalism can be so severe that there have been publicly uttered proposals that fat children be removed from their parents’ care. The ultimate in parent blaming!
For those of us who are professional “listeners”: doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses, therapists, psychiatrists and even neighbors, we need to learn to ask ourselves “how would I think about this condition they are describing if it were happening to me or to my own child? How can I make their suffering meaningful to me without having to walk a mile in their shoes?”
People face suffering every day, our challenge is to recognize them for it.