Compassion or stigma: You choose
I read a comment on NextDoor in Cleveland Heights where a writer referred to another person as "the Tourette's guy." Based on the person’s behavior of having uncontrollable outbursts, apparently the writer assumed the person had Tourette’s syndrome (TS). I responded that TS is a genetic brain disorder and I doubt the person suffering from this disorder appreciated being categorized.
[TS is] usually symptomatic early in life. Can you imagine how young classmates treat a child diagnosed with Tourettes?
That's not the only genetic brain disorder. I've been hearing from more and more people who’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. People diagnosed can suffer from uncontrolled mood changes, on the spectrum of depression to mania. Years ago, the person was told to shake it off. That's like asking the person to move the Empire State Building with their pinky finger.
I’ve also heard about the fear of being ridiculed, so those diagnosed tend to live in a closet, so-to-speak.
They tell me they've been told to just take their medicine. Indeed, medication can help the person live a so-called normal life. Yet some endure possible side effects, such as immense weight gain, constant headaches and relentless fatigue. Compliance to meds certainly helps the person live a functional life, but perhaps an uncomfortable one.
Even when the person appears normal, I've been told their brains are churning. Nonstop. This is something unbeknownst to the outside world.
I call these invisible disabilities. These people aren't in wheelchairs and aren't wearing baseball caps to hide baldness from chemotherapy.
Clearly, people born with brain disorders are not bad people. Each of us can make responsible choices with our thoughts and words and not stigmatize. There is another way. Offer compassion.
My wise Aunt Iris taught me something of huge value when I was very young. Think before I speak. Be very careful of my choice of words. Once something is said, it can't be taken back.
Laurel Hopwood is a registered nurse and community activist