Understanding vs Knowing

Just as a warning, some of what I'm about to say may com across as moralistic and superior, and I want to say that's not what I'm trying to get at. It's taken me years to figure out this thing that people have been telling me for a decade or more. But that's the thing - there's a difference between knowing a thing and really understanding it. And now, I understand. Let me explain what I mean.

When I was in college, I had a very close friend who, for reasons unknown to me, had trouble with social situations. She told me that she had a thing called "Social Anxiety" and that meant that being in a room with lots of people or even just a few people she did't know, was something that made her very anxious. To cope, we did things like avoiding activities that would attract attention in public, and sitting near the exit when we attended large classes or gatherings.


I knew she had Social Anxiety, but her panic attacks and other symptoms didn't make any sense to me. I figured out what sort of situations could trigger her anxiety, but I was never very good at predicting when it might happen.


But recently, I've started having some anxiety difficulties of my own. I won't say I've had panic attacks, but I have had what I've called "anxiety episodes," during which anxiety is bad enough that I cannot function normally (very unpleasant, and usually involves me standing in one place, breathing deeply, and trying to figure out what the heck I'm supposed to be doing).


Suddenly, having experienced intense anxiety of my own, I understand why it was so difficult for my friend to walk into a room full of people that might notice her. I never realized before that once anxiety is aroused, it actively lowers the threshold for anxiety triggers, making it into a snowballing problem that could quickly get out of control.


I knew anxiety was a problem before, but I didn't understand it until I experienced it.


For a comparable situation, one might look at family or friends that have some sort of chronic illness. A friend gets sick once, and you worry about them. They get sick twice, and you feel sorry for them. They get sick five or six or seven times in the space of three months and you might find (to your own embarrassment, sometimes) that you no longer feel any sort of worry or pity for your sick friend. Instead, you might feel irritation, thinking that "if they just took better care of themselves, this wouldn't happen," or perhaps "they're just overreacting - if I felt that way I would never make such a big deal out of it."


The problem is that these people can't help it. They may be living perfectly healthy lives (healthier by far than I am, due to dietary restrictions or medical prescriptions for exercise or rest) and yet they get sick anyway. They are not simply chronically ill, but rather have a chronic illness which in many cases is not curable.


I know this, and yet I do not understand it, not really. I have several friends currently who suffer from chronic illnesses, and despite my knowledge of how such things work, I still find myself lacking understanding as I react with impatience, irritation, or displeasure on being told that they are (once again) too ill/tired/painful to do what I was hoping to do.


My new understanding of anxiety difficulties, I hope, will carry over somewhat into the realm of chronic illness, trauma, and other things which I cannot understand yet, having had no experience with it personally. But I need to come to terms with the fact that until I have experienced it, I cannot truly understand it. And even if I do understand it through experience - that does not make my experience more valid than anyone else's.


God instructed us to care for one another and love each other - I think that's just as much about exercising understanding as it is about charity.

#Understanding #ChronicIllness #Life

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