Social media are filled with encouragement to ‘become aware’. There are all sorts of legitimate and genuinely urgent things about which awareness should be raised, and like everything else, the observer gets to pick and choose. Some of the recent efforts to increase awareness around social and political issues increase indignation rather than awareness. They are not wanted. But there are serious issues, affecting the quality of life, that should be raised.
In my career in social service, I raised awareness about accessibility for people with mobility impairments and non-visible disabilities (having both myself, disability rights, accessible/affordable housing—that’s the short version of a long list. More recently, I’ve written some things to raise awareness about Mental Health Issues, because I have those too.
‘Raising awareness’ doesn’t mean turning people into experts. It’s bringing light to a dark corner. However, some people confuse ‘awareness’ with ‘expertise’. You might become extremely knowledgeable about something, but unless you actually work in that area, ‘expert knowledge’ is not especially useful. Concerning Mental Health, the details and mechanisms are not as important as being aware that a) a condition exists, b) has these general characteristics, and c) has a particular expression or manifestation.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for example, is the result of one or more traumas. It is like having a psychic scar. Many people think it happens only to soldiers, but in fact, anyone who has been made to fear for life or safety may develop it. These include victims of violence, sexual assault, various types of abuse (including emotional abuse), and victims of disaster. I recently discovered it can happen to the parents of children with life-threatening illnesses, and the contemporaries of victims of violent crime.
Some people think PTSD is self-indulgent—I was recently told that the persistence of my anxiety triggers was due to me ‘wallowing’. The remark did not find favour in the PTSD chatrooms—the members responded with indignation. The writer could not have been more wrong—wallowing is a choice. Triggers are not.
Conditions like PTSD, Borderline Personality Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive disorders (OCD) and others represent a permanent response to a major injury. There is no cure, but people with these conditions develop survival mechanisms, which often present new an disruptive problems.
People with PTSD, chronic depression, or various personality disorders have suffered broken relationships, lost employment and housing, and even incarcerated because of their conditions. They have suffered because others do not know or understand. The need for genuine awareness abounds.
Allow us to be who and what we are; accept and know us for who and what we are. You don’t have to understand, and it doesn’t help to judge or criticize. You don’t have to agree with, or like, what you see. Simply allow that this is the way of things for us.
This is the Way to Awareness.
Paul TN Chapman
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