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Is He In A Coma? No? Then Walk It Off

September 13, 2017

Any thing I don’t understand must be simple.
-Dilbert’s Pointy Haired Boss

Have you ever been sad? I mean really sad? Like someone you loved died? Maybe a grandmother. Did you get over it? Are you still distraught?

Depression doesn’t mean your sad. It doesn’t mean that you had a bad day. After your loved one passed away, you probably went through a grieving process. You are probably still somewhat sad when you think how much you miss being around her, or just knowing she isn’t in the world anymore.

That’s not depression. That’s sadness and grief.

I was talking with a famous science fiction author and his wife about a story set on a world where everyone is deaf. His wife questioned whether a deaf society would be more believable than, for example, a blind one. The author, Ben explained,

Our world is almost exclusively governed by sight. A deaf society would not be that different than ours. A blind person can function pretty independently in the world. A blind person not as much.

We tend to take sight for granted. Think of something as simple as crossing the street. A deaf person just watches for the light to change and then walks across the crosswalk. A blind person needs some sort of audio clue and then needs to identify even where the crosswalk exists. We treat the things we can see differently than the things we cannot.

We tend to approach “health” issues with what I call “the coma” test. If someone is sick with a condition that we can test for if they are in a coma, then we consider them truly sick. My granddaughter, for example, is just a month old. She’s spent that month in the NICU at Primary Children’s Hospital as the doctors tried to figure out what was making her sick. She had enlarged organs and a weak heart. Because it would stress her heart when she got anxious they kept her sedated most of the first few weeks. She wasn’t in a coma, but the concept is the same. They did multiple tests finally discovering she had a rare genetic blood disorder.

No one would assume that my granddaughter wasn’t actually sick. She came very close to dieing during the first week of her life. It was touch and go for a long time, but even after she was stable, the doctors could empirically test her condition. She passed “the coma” test.

Yesterday I talked about Executive Dysfunction and ADHD. These are conditions that can only be observed by how they make people react. There is no blood test for ADHD. Maybe an MRI on the brain might show something, but generally we simply have to base diagnoses on observation. ADHD doesn’t pass the coma test. If someone were in a coma there is no way to test for ADHD.

Why is the coma test important? Because some people think if it’s “all in your head” then it’s not really a condition or disease. Remember your dear departed grandmother? Those people also lost a grandmother. And they were genuinely griefstricken over it. But, (and this is the difference in their mind) they got over it. And, the expectation is “If I can get over it, so should you.”

I have friends and family members who struggle with mental health issues. Some struggle with mental illness, bi-polar, for example. Others, like my friend Rory struggle with less severe issues like Executive Disfunction, or my ADHD.

If your friend broke their leg, you would naturally take them to the doctor to be treated. No one would assume that someone should suffer with a broken leg, or try to resolve it themselves. And, if your friend said, “I broke my leg. It really hurts. I need you to help me get to the doctor,” you wouldn’t think he was being at all unreasonable.

And yet, when the situation shifts to the sickness we can’t see, when we fail the coma test, we don’t have nearly as charitable an attitude. “I suffering from depression. I need you to help me get to a therapist.”

“Geez, man. Suck it up!”

“Everyone has challenges.”

“Take some time and just focus on your own happiness for awhile. That should help.”

“I was really sad when my grandmother died too. You’ll get over it.”

All well intended, but ultimately harmful. We can recognize a broken leg. Or at least recognize the pain associated with it. But, the things we don’t understand? Those are a little tougher to acknowledge. I still get told that ADHD isn’t really a “thing.” It’s just an excuse that lazy parents use to medicate their kids rather than deal with being a parent.

Just because you can’t see it, or don’t understand it, doesn’t mean it’s simple. . .or doesn’t exist.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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3 Comments
  1. So well written and explained. Too many people still think of mental illnesses as an excuse

    • You almost want them to experience it first hand so they finally understand. ALMOST, because anyone who has dealt with mental illness knows that it’s not something you would wish on anyone.

      • It isn’t. We must try and make them understand what it is. Which is obviously very hard but that is the only way

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