Richard Cohen and Me

I just finished watching these videos my husband wanted me to see. (  I don’t know why he wanted to me to see them exactly.  I haven’t yet asked him.  Of course, I found nothing new in these.  I know what it is like to suffer from a mental illness (depression) as well as a chronic (and progressive) illness.Image

For the most part I think they were informative and Richard Cohen seems to take his bouts with illness in stride, as everyone must. What surprises me is that it surprises people when ordinary people with less than ordinary illnesses survive and thrive and have ‘normal’ lives.  The interview with Piers Morgan seems to me to be one of the better of these.  He treats Richard with the due dignity of any accomplished individual, regardless of his physical condition.  The one I found interesting is the one where Meredith Viera (Richard Cohen’s wife) interviews (if briefly) several individuals who participated in Richard’s book “Strong at the Broken Places,” in which he talks about people with chronic illness. Among them a man with bi-polar disorder, a young man with MD and a girl with Crohnes.  She knows how to treat these individuals with due respect, not hero-izing them, or with condescension or pity.

ImageMy problem comes with the last video, with MSNBC host (I can’t think of her name, maybe Debra Norvill?) who seems to both belittle and hero-ize Richard in the same introduction.  Personally I really disliked her tone.  I know she didn’t write the script she spoke, and it was for America’s benefit, it was so over the top and her tone sort of condescending.  To me it seemed she felt deeply sorry for Richard and his travails.  From what I have seen disabled or ill people do not want anyone’s pity.  What an ill person wants is “normalcy.”  To be treated just like everyone else, while wanting people to understand you.  SInce most of us do not understand each other, at least treat everyone equally. 

(If I may be so bold by using “We” and include the general chronically ill population), We don’t want our feelings disregarded either.  Please if someone is in chronic pain don’t make them “feel better” by trying to commiserate and saying, “I know, I had a charlie horse once, and man did that hurt.”  Please, if someone with chronic illness mentions they are not feeling very well, don’t say, “But you look great.”   Please if you are talking to someone with chronic depression, don’t tell them to “buck up” or, my personal favorite, “smile, it could be worse.”  I understand why people say such things; they don’t know what they should say, they don’t really care, they truly think they are being ‘nice.’  All of these things are dismissive and imply a complete lack of understanding. Image

As for the stigma attached to being mentally ill, I can only speak for those with depression, and the stigma that we are self centered; that only a selfish person commits suicide.  Or worse, we could be happy if we just wanted to.  Ugh, that one really makes me scream.  There is nothing more a depressed person wants than to be happy.  Nothing more someone with bi-polar disorder wants than to be on an even keel.  Saying we have control, when we don’t is demeaning.

Of course, we can control how we think and change the way we think.  I know, I’m one of these, but I didn’t believe that even two years ago, or even six months ago.  But it has taken years of therapy, and drugs to realize this.  It isn’t exactly as easy as “smile,” or “look on the bright side.”  Until misconceptions and stigma end, may I make this suggestion: Unless you have experience in this area you should just keep quiet.  Just a suggestion.

17 thoughts on “Richard Cohen and Me

  1. Brilliant post in every way. I have a friend whose husband has been admitted to hospital for an extreme episode of bipolar and when he says he feels awful, instead of saying those ridiculous positive platitudes, she simply says, “I know” and hugs him. One thing people often say to me, if they’ve visited Anthony in the nursing home, or out here on the farm is, “He looks so well!” I feel like punching them because that is a stupid lie!

    1. Exactly what I am saying. I guess you have to experience a chronic illness to learn the more compassionate things to say. When stupid people tell you ‘he looks so well’ you should tell them, “No he doesn’t he’s very ill and he looks it. But I don’t love him any the less.”

  2. Very informative post. Having a chronic illness I can relate to what you are saying and agree that people can say the wrong things all the time, without realizing what they are doing. When people ask me how I am, I will respond by saying, “Today the pain is not as bad as yesterday” or “Today is not a good day. It usually makes the person realize that everyday can be different for me and so next time they are more considerate.

    I also feel like many people are dealt with shitty cards, some worse than others. It’s not about how bad those cards are, it’s about how I deal with the cards I’ve been dealt. That’s where I feel I have a choice. I can choose to cry, complain, get down or I can choose to see the humor in things. I know it is different with depression so I am just talking about chronic pain. It can really suck and I allow myself to have my own pity party but then I get tired of that and try to think positively. Humor definitely helps me. 🙂 Glad you are finding your way.

    1. You’re right, keep your sense of humor. If you lose that, you lose the race! Even in my depression days I had a dark sense of humor. Probably why I survived. And I’m patient with stupid people saying inane things.

  3. You are right. A great post. Some of the best to ask, when people are depressive could be, how are you today?
    Depression needs time and help in one or another way. We just need to remember, that it is possible to go through and come out and see the light again. Personal experience.

  4. You make excellent points! Since my motorcycle wreck, I’ve heard many unintentionally inappropriate remarks, most commonly, it could have been so much worse or you are so lucky!
    Yes indeed to both! But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been tough.
    Keep on writing!!

    1. Is it so much for people to just say, “sorry to hear that” or “that’s terrible/too bad”? Though to be honest, I’m sure I’ve said similarly stupid things to people in the past.

  5. I’m glad I read this post. I’ve got a friend who is struggling to endure her emotions, and pain, and fears while she undergoes cancer treatment. I can tell when I’ve said something wrong when I sometimes get stone silence in response. But I *do* think she looks beautiful in that last photo. It’s probably my favourite photo of her that I’ve ever seen. Maybe I need to account for the possibility that she feels awful, and doesn’t want to hear my gushing, even if it’s genuine.

  6. I can’t imagine the emotional upheaval dealing with cancer can cause. I’m sure some people making stupid comments are trying to be supportive and I realize that (now), but when you’re feeling down, physically or mentally, you don’t want platitudes like “but you look good” because when you’re that low, you could care less about how you look. I’m so glad you are doing what you can to be supportive to your friend. Even if you get some stoney looks, I’m sure she appreciates all your love and care. I had a friend who was dying last year (he did die last April) and it was tough to know what to say, but I went with honesty and compassion and never got a negative response. Sometimes silence says enough, or just saying, “I don’t know what to say or do to make you feel better, but I wish I did.” That would mean the world to me in my darkest days, and what my husband used to say to me.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s