Awareness brings change

This week I’m exploring the needs for awareness, as an encouragement to all those I know who are fighting hard to keep raising awareness. I wrote about how different it looks from the outside, and that lead to the first reason it’s so important to raise awareness – because if we don’t tell people, they don’t know. Today is my second reason:

Reason 2: Because awareness brings change

As I discussed yesterday, when people don’t understand an illness, they make wrong assumptions – and the knowledge and assumptions we have are the basis for our actions.

Currently the assumptions that people have about ME, mostly formed from the negative portrayals in the media and their own preference for assuming the best, lead to a negative treatment and response of those suffering. They hear or assume fakery, false illness beliefs and over-emphasising, so they act as though sufferers aren’t really ill, aren’t as bad as they say they are, or that they would improve if they just thought positively.

It’s even worse when these lies and false assumptions affect the medical profession. Since they aren’t taught about the disease, they have no idea how to treat it – worse, with no accurate foundation, they are susceptible to listening to the serious miscarriages of science in the psychosomatic school of ME ‘research’. Someone with even a basic knowledge could not take such things seriously, but because they haven’t even that much, patients are treated like malingerers. Worse, many are imprisoned in psychiatric institutions, forced to exercise against their will and better judgement, ultimately making them irreperably worse.

But think of the opposite – what happens when doctors are adequately informed of how to treat the disease? Patients improve, they can manage their lifestyles. Or think about other illnesses which have previously been little-known: when enough people know about the difficulties, the much-needed research finally gets funded and there are breakthroughs in treatment. Even in the day-to-day, the way a patient is treated by someone with understanding restores dignity to a horrific situation, instead of degrading them further and adding insult to the grave injury of underserved and unremmiting disease.

Informing people is part of how we make that change. When the balance tips and people’s preconceptions are based on truth, that knowledge will bring change.

They won’t know

I wrote on Monday about how different ME, and many other chronic illnesses, look from the inside and outside. How those who don’t know what is going on simply can’t tell. So, I want to expand on this with just three reasons why raising awareness is so important.

Reason 1: Because if we don’t tell people, they won’t know.

I have noticed that we have a tendency to not want to believe the worst situation. We want to think that when someone tells us how bad their illness is, that they are over-emphasising it. Why? I suppose that it’s because if they are telling us truth then that situation is too awful to comprehend. I assume that it’s because if we knew how bad something really was, we would also know we would have no choice but to help. But perhaps that’s me not wanting to believe the worst.

It also seems that people want to believe that if someone suffers greatly they suffer because they have brought it on themselves. We may not explicitly believer in ‘karma’, but there is some comfort in the vague idea that if we are bad we get what is bad, and if we are good we get good. When we see something awful happen to someone good, we often rationalise tha they somehow deserved it, or their bad choices lead to it… because if it could happen to them, it could happen to anyone. If it could happen to anyone then it could happen to us.

As I have already mentioned, ME really does look invisible from the outside. When you’re too ill to go out, those outside can’t see the casue, just the result. So when people look on that, just the result, they maybe like to assume that the cause isn’t as bad as it really is. And as long as we let them keep that assumption, they don’t know any better.

If you add to this the tendency in most chronically ill people to hide how ill they really are, people often really cannot see or understand how much an illness effects someone. Actually, when we hide how it really is, we end up obscuring the truth of our situation and making it harder on ourselves.

We need to speak out and say this is how it effects us – the sufferers, the carers, the family & friends – this is how we suffer and survive. If we don’t tell them, they don’t know – but if we do tell them, if we don’t shut up about it, then they have heard the truth.