Posted by Jennie David on April 08, 2013
This semester alone, I have heard the phase “all or nothing” easily a gazillion times. Okay, I might be exaggerating here, but what I’m trying to say is that my psychology classes have discussed – repeatedly, at length each time – the ‘danger’ in “all or nothing” thinking. And it’s very true, because things are never black or white, things are not all or nothing. It’s not as easy as saying that someone is sick or healthy, there are grey areas in the middle, that slick slide you find yourself on traveling from one side to the other.
I hear my professors say this – I have proof of this scrawled in my doctor-worthy handwriting – and yet, I watch them crash through the glass walls they just built. Today in a class, a guest lecturer was talking about chronic pain. I know the guest lecturer meant well and he was in truth ultimately very determined to make a difference for those living with chronic pain.
But – some rules of thumb for doctors/parents/anyone reading this: not everyone who will deal with chronic pain/illness is anxious or depressed. Everyone (illness or otherwise) will deal with anxious and depressed moments, absolutely, but that does not mean they present with clinical psychopathology or that it is the heart of the problem.
One of the points this lecturer made was to help encourage positive thinking, active lifestyles, and a sense of control. So here’s an important note – if you want patients to have positive thinking, the doctor has to be positive with them, if you want patients to have a sense of control (and better yet, not just a sense but actual control), then a doctor has to be willing to share. It’s not all or nothing, it’s not you versus me, it’s us, here together – the ‘chronic’ should be a hint that there’s a plethora of time together. So use it wisely.
With each passing lecture, the urge to stand on my chair and shout (no, not ‘Captain my captain’, though that would be pretty awesome) “Hey you, listen, I’m a patient and I disagree. You can’t judge me or make blanket statements about me and all patients because you don’t know me.” This might cause massive disruption to the class and/or result in a stern conversation about being adults and not interrupting others when they’re speaking. But, like every kid knows, if you don’t have anything nice to say, you shouldn’t say it at all.
Sometimes I think people forget that patients are not lab rats. We’re not a separate population, smushed somewhere between children and adults. It’s like wearing one of those really itchy and constricting outfits for a family function and all you want to do is rip it off, but that would be impolite and people might stare so you smile tightly and keep your mouth closed. It is so polarizing to say people can only be a patient or a doctor, no in-between space, or shared community or feelings or beliefs. One or the other. All or nothing.
So I will stand up metaphorically on my chair (though, in reality, this involves me typing passionately at my computer) and declare that I am not just a patient, it is not black or white, not every person with a medical issue experiences anxiety or depression or is incapacitated crying ‘why me’ in a corner with a sappy violin playing in the background. Most of us are strong and capable and fighting – we’re advocates and whole, real, amazing people. We are every color imaginable, because black and white is boring, we are everything because to be all or nothing is belittling and untrue. We are loud, and we will never be quiet.