“Put yourself in someone else’s shoes” is not just a common saying that people spit out because they’ve heard it before, but it is an implicit request of help and a silent lamentation. Usually, people say that they realize they cannot be understood when their view of the world is so different from others’.
In an article for The New York Times, neuroscientist Barbara Lipska describes the moment of her life when
she totally understood her patients. While she was studying schizophrenia, she was diagnosed with brain cancer and she totally went crazy.
“Some of my normal traits and behaviors became exaggerated and distorted, as if I were turning into a caricature of myself … Like so many patients with mental illness, whose brains I had studied for a lifetime, I was losing my grasp on reality,” Lipska wrote.
Losing the grasp on reality is what keeps you from feeling a part of it. Of course, until it happens to you, it seems utterly like a fairytale. Maybe, that is because of the presumption and the arrogance that humans have. We are aware of the fact that we have a conscience that perceives reality, and it therefore seems quite impossible to us that we might one day lose that awareness.
What we underestimate, though, is that not even our inner self has total control over our minds and brains. Our behaviors and actions are certainly due to our decisions, and therefore, they are linked to our consciences. A big role is played by our brains themselves, however, which can dominate and trick our consciences. Naturally, if we underestimate our brains so much that we see mental illnesses as easily bearable, it shows that we are not able to understand those people who actually suffer from these illnesses.
Most of the time, we see them as individuals who lack willpower, and this is what makes them weak. They don’t try their best to win the illness, hence making it their fault if they feel left out from reality.
As Lipska states, you only understand them when you see it with your own eyes: “I felt I understood for the first time what many of the patients I study go through — the fear and confusion of living in a world that doesn’t make sense; a world in which the past is forgotten and the future is utterly unpredictable.”
We live in a world where people are slowly starting to consider mental illnesses to be as problematic and relevant as physical illnesses, so it should be easy for us to understand those individuals who experience them. It doesn’t take much effort. We should just sit down and listen to them — listen to what they feel, what they think and the reasons why they feel uncomfortable or left out. Understanding what they say might be hard at first, but if we open our ears and break down the walls of skepticism, we might get to see what the views from their shoes are like.