This incident brought up a memory from when I was training in a dojo several years ago. I was sparring and I noticed that my asthma was starting to trigger. I told the instructor that I needed to sit down and catch my breath. When he came over to ask me about it, I explained that I was having an asthma attack and that I needed to sit and not be active for a while in order to get my breathing under control. I wanted to make sure he knew that I wasn’t just taking a break, that I honestly couldn’t breathe. He asked if I needed my inhaler and I shook my head explaining that as long as I sat still, I would get it under control. His response surprised me.
“I always thought asthma was like that. You can get through it if you’re strong enough mentally.”
Because of his experience with me on that day, I am confident that I cemented his opinion on what asthma is. He had a preconceived notion (or perhaps it was based on experience, I do not know), and I served as another case to verify that definition. I think we as human beings like to define things solidly. We like to make a clear definition of what something is. It either IS something, or it IS NOT something. It is asthma or not, black or white. But here’s the thing – it isn’t black and white. It is not a binary decision, no matter how much we want it to be because of our natures.
I can get through most of my asthma attacks by sheer power of mental will. However, that is just my case. I know other people with asthma who are not quite so lucky and no sheer power of mental will alone will get them through an attack. Yes, I have asthma, but I do not have it in the same way or as strongly as others. It is not a bitwise decision; it is a greyscale one that has different degrees of severity. You cannot assume that someone else can easily overcome their asthma just because I can get through most of my attacks with a calm mind and focus.
And I think it is important to realize that this goes a step further. As I said, it is in our nature to want to define things and create bitwise categorizations. It is either A or B, yes or no, black or white. But that is often not the case. It should be no stretch of the imagination to think that this goes beyond the physical and treads into the category of mental state.
I have friends who are depressed to varying states. I have people in my life who have PTSD for different reasons and to different degrees. They respond to their triggers and pain differently. This is not a bitwise condition. Not all depression is the same. It is a greyscale. Just because one person can climb out of the mental hole they have fallen into does not mean another person can do it in the same way. It does not always look the same, and it is a mistake to assume it does.
I have seen people say that “So-and-so can’t be depressed, they don’t do X, Y, or Z.” That is a case of assigning your definition of depression to someone, something that falls into the bitwise trap I was mentioning before. Just because someone doesn’t fit your definition doesn’t mean that you have the authority to say whether or not they are depressed. It doesn’t matter if you know someone who is – heck, it doesn’t matter if you know ten people who are. Different people feel things to different degrees and it is not just a simple switch.
And here’s the thing. I also know people fall into that same trap when talking about themselves. “I can’t be depressed, I don’t do X, Y, or Z.” This is the exact same trap, just projecting it on yourself rather than someone else.
Remember, just because I have asthma and can breathe, doesn’t mean everyone else with asthma can. Or perhaps more pertinently: just because someone with asthma can’t breathe without an inhaler, doesn’t invalidate my asthma.