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An Allegory

Once upon a time there was a woman who, like everyone else, had preferences about food.  Though she was willing to try almost any food once, she had discovered a few things that she found pretty unappetizing, and tried to avoid those.  Namely, tater tots, papaya, and yogurt. Her family and friends accepted this because they also had preferences about food and considered it normal.

Then one day, she came down with the flu. For days, a fever raged and she couldn’t keep anything down.  Nothing tasted good–in fact, the very thought of food made her heave.  For the first two days, people stopped by to help with ginger ale and Gatorade.  The third day, she realized she was becoming dehydrated and couldn’t keep enough fluids down.  She called a friend for a ride to the hospital.  “You really should have been drinking more fluids, ” the friend commented as she dropped her off. “I really expected you to pull it together by now.”

The woman felt ashamed. Maybe this was her fault.  Certainly if she had tried harder to fight her gag reflex this wouldn’t be happening.

“It’s a good thing you came in when you did,” the doctor remarked. “Dehydration is one of the biggest dangers of the flu and can become life threatening if you don’t seek help.”  Despite hearing this from an expert, the woman struggled to believe it after the words of her well-intentioned friend.

The woman was in the hospital for a week, hooked up to an IV, before she finally began to feel better.   Friends stopped by to check on her and cheer her up.

“It’s wish I had known you had the flu,” one said. “My grandmother swears by herbal tea. Flu is over hospitalized and over medicated when it really isn’t that big of an issue.”

One of her friends refused to come and tried to get others to not go as well.  “Don’t reward her for having the flu,” she urged. “Giving her attention for being sick will only encourage her to dehydrate herself again.  No, it’s best to ignore her until this is over.”

A week after being discharged from the hospital, the woman was feeling like her normal self.  She decided to host a get together to hang out with friends and celebrate her recovery.  Although she offered to do all the cooking, they insisted on making it potluck style so as not to overwhelm her.  They were enjoying the foods of their choice and having a good time, when a friend brought her a plate of seconds. “Here, I saved you some of the yogurt and papaya fruit dish.”

Confused, the woman tried to find a gracious way out without drawing attention to the mistake.  “That’s so sweet of you, but I’m actually full.  Someone else can have the last bit.”

A friend frowned at this response. “Are you sure you’re feeling okay? I thought you were over the flu.”

“I’m fine,” she insisted bewilderedly.  “I just don’t want to eat anymore.” She also couldn’t believe they were trying to get her to eat a dish combining two of her least favorite foods.

“Maybe we shouldn’t be here yet,” remarked another friend. “You clearly aren’t eating like normal.”

Pressured and defeated, the woman took the plate, feeling like she had to eat it or be discredited by her friends.  But the combination of two unappetizing foods and having already eaten her fill led to a wave of nausea as she tried to choke more of it down.  She tried to excuse herself gracefully, but it was too late. Everything she had eaten that night came back up all over the kitchen floor.  As it happened, she heard the people talking around her.

“We should go. She obviously isn’t normal yet.”

“I’m sorry, but the flu has changed you. I can’t do this anymore,” the friend who had forced the plate upon her said, and walked out.

“I told you not to give her attention,” the friend who had ignored her during the illness remarked.

“It’s too bad you’re like this. We could have had a really good time.”

I hope that it is immediately apparent to anyone that this is a terrible way to treat someone suffering from a disease, yet many people still treat those with mental illnesses like this all the time!  People with mental illnesses deserve respect and compassion just like everyone else.  They are not defective or inferior for getting sick.  Illness is something that happens to a person, not a character flaw or something that is inherently wrong with them.  It is not the person’s fault that they are ill.  Seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness—recovery IS possible and asking for help is brave, NOT shameful.

If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental illness, please seek help!

You can text “HOME” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 at any time for free and confidential help, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.TALK (273-8255).

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