The other day I was speaking with a friend about living with a mental illness. I have OCD. She does not. She is incredibly supportive. She promised that she was not judging me and that she would always ask questions to learn more and try to understand as much as she could. She said she would never feel offended by my OCD-induced fears or put off by my struggles and pain.
What a friend right?
This same friend has some physical illnesses that cause her significant and sometimes excruciating daily pain. Like her, I try to understand. I ask a lot of questions so that I can understand as much as possible. I support and listen. I never feel offended or put off by her pain.
Later I was thinking about this conversation and conversations we have had in the past. I was feeling very grateful for her friendship. I was feeling very grateful for the safe spot I have with her to be open and honest about how my OCD really affects my life.
It made me realize that it was because I knew she believed me. Simple as that.
In that moment it hit me. That is what I want and what I think most people want.
We want to be believed.
Understanding is great. But can we really understand someone else’s pain or struggle? Even if we share the same diagnosis, it can and most definitely will affect us differently because we are all individuals who feel things in our own way.
No matter how deeply we empathize, we will never fully get it.
As a person who lives with mental illness, I can say that I appreciate people asking questions in a supportive and compassionate way. It means so much to know that someone wants to understand OCD better because they care about me.
But sometimes I just want to know that I am believed. I want to be able to say
I feel ________.
No justification, no explanation, no need to defend or prove my pain.
My friend helped me see that when we believe the people we love, we empower them and allow them to exhale and just be. We give them space to be in pain without adding more to their already overflowing plate by making them work at explaining it. And believe me, it’s work.
By simply believing what others tell us as truth, we can offer a level of support like no other.
Just try believing without proof or explanation and see what happens.