Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Awareness Takes More Than A Telethon

It appears in the news all the time.  You see awareness pushes for autism, depression, cancer, childhood diseases, adult diseases and mental illness.  There are walks, there are telethons and there are auctions.

Millions of hours are donated every year to raise awareness and research funds for a menagerie of diseases and disorders.  It is awe inspiring to see how much can be done by the families and friends of those with issues.

The other side of the coin is the group of people who do not want anyone to know they have a problem.  They feel embarrassed, shamed, or just uncertain.  These are the people we do not see on the television or in the paper.  They are the ones who either do not admit there is a problem or do not want others to know there is a problem.

I am no stranger to illness.  My medical records would take a fork lift to pick up if you added everything from my surgeries and hospital stays to my doctor's records and lab results.  I am sure I have paid for more than one trip to the Bahamas for my doctors over the years.

I know firsthand how hard it is to be different.  I know what it is like to see others running and jumping and playing when you can't.  I also know what it is like to be made fun of.  As a child my medicine made me gain a lot of weight.  I didn't have a choice really, it was breathe...or not breathe, so I took the medications.

As I have become a parent I have faced new medical challenges with my family.  Maybe it is because I know what it is like, or maybe it is just my personality, but I choose to tell people what is going on.  I give them details, resources and ways to help.  It takes the stigma out of the situation and makes it easier to work through.

As I have spent time educating people about the issues my family faces I have found compassion, support and even relief.  As I continue to share my experiences with others I realize my choice is not the choice of every family.  There are those who are not ready to take that leap.  They are not ready to expose the tender underside of their emotions to others.  That is okay.  Everyone is exactly where they are.

As a society we may forget there are those who are not exactly like us.  For every family who is athletic, there is a family who is bookish.  For every healthy child there is a sick child. For every outgoing person there is an introvert.  Please remember that when you meet someone who doesn't meet your criteria of normal.

There are children who are rude, not because their parent's never taught them manners, but because they are autistic and don't understand social rules.  There are adults who are too blunt because they are struggling with mental illness.  There are women who take risks because they live their lives to the fullest after surviving cancer. We never know where their journey has taken them and the brief view we have into their lives is not enough to draw conclusions.

I guess what I am saying is there are a lot of people out there and we can't possible understand them all.  Many of those individuals, be they adults or children are struggling with medical and mental issues we may not understand.  It takes humility for them to open up about their needs, but it also takes humility for us to be gentle and nonjudgmental.

While we may see awareness increasing in our society we need to remember we are surrounded by those in need.  They need compassion, understanding and sometimes space.  They say you never know a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes.  If we are going to raise awareness for anything, maybe it should be for that.


  1. Thank You! So very well put on this day when I needed to read this :)

  2. Jennie,

    I am so glad my words were what you needed. I know a lot of us deal with this every day. You are an amazing role model to me so I am touched you found my words important to you. Have a great day.