As a kid, I loved playing catcher in Little League and Babe Ruth League Baseball. Perhaps because of all the time I spent crouched down, or perhaps because that is how it was meant to happen, I developed knee pains that plagued me through middle school and high school. Doctors, physical therapists, and athletic trainers all told me it was Osgood-Schlatters, which is a fancy way of saying growing pains. Basically, they told me, the various parts of my knee weren’t in the right spots as I grew, but I was assured that once I stopped growing it would normalize and the pain would go away.
Fast forward to my senior year of high school and the pain was still there. So, I went to my doctor. After doing a brief exam of my knee she said that it looked normal and implied there must be some other reason for the pain. I assured her no it was the knee, and insisted that she order a test. So, she reluctantly referred me for an MRI. A few days later she called to inform me that the results of the MRI were abnormal and referred me to an orthopedic surgeon. The surgeon explained that bony spurs had developed, probably as a result of the Osgood-Schlatters, and that it would be a simple enough surgery to go in and remove those bone spurs. My knee still bothers me from time to time, which I assume is just residual scar tissue, but it is certainly better than it was before the surgery.
Yet I can’t help but think back to the initial doctor who looked at my knee and said that it was fine. I am sure she meant well, but I can’t help but think in retrospect that it is a perfect analogy for mental health. People look at you and say, “looks normal to me” because they can’t see the pain and struggles that are happening inside. Even when you explain that you struggle with depression and anxiety, they dismiss the idea that these are serious limitations that can significantly impact a variety of life activities, both major and minor.
People ask me why I can’t just calm down. Or they ask me why I sometimes can’t handle a simple task, like making a routine business call or attending a meeting. Even if they try to make accommodations for my battle, they often demonstrate just how fundamental their misunderstanding of mental health issues can be.
Fortunately, this isn’t everyone. Some people are really quite supportive. And I do believe that things are getting better, slowly but surely. More and more people and businesses are recognizing how real the struggle with mental health is, and are reacting accordingly. And slowly, bit by bit, the stigma is shrinking.
So I guess if there is a closing thought from this little reflection, it would be never judge or dismiss a person’s concerns simply because they look normal. In reality, you have no idea about the damage that might be taking place inside. We can all be more compassionate, and this is the perfect place to start.