Last week I had at doctor’s appointment at a hospital. Hospitals are usually considered scary places, because they’re where you go when you’re sick or hurt. If you’re there, something is wrong.
But walking through the front doors and into the lobby, I immediately noticed a sense of soothing relief sweeping through me. Here in this building, I realized, I’m allowed to be sick. It is understood that I have a real problem. Here, my symptoms are not out of place.
That’s extremely calming for me, because I have an invisible illness. Borderline personality disorder manifests vividly in my head, but I’m usually able to act like nothing’s wrong. If I let myself show how I really feel, I get a lot of unwanted questions to the effect of “what’s wrong” or “didn’t you get enough sleep last night” or “why are you acting so weird”. It takes more energy for me to explain what’s going on behind the scenes of my mind than it takes to just keep my pain hidden away where no one can interrogate me over it. So I pretend to feel normal almost all the time, which is difficult and invalidating. Sometimes I even convince myself that I have no good reason to be in pain.
But in a hospital, no one is ever surprised that I don’t look happy. It’s a safe zone where no one is going to grill me over my suffering (unless it’s a neutral third party asking diagnostic questions, which does not carry nearly the same amount of pressure as getting those questions from friends). When the doctors try to help me, it’s because it’s their job: they treat me out of professionalism, not because their ego depends on cheering me up. I don’t have to coddle their feelings by pretending not to be miserable. It’s expected that I’m miserable, and I find that very comforting.
In a hospital, I have no obligation to anyone to get better. It’s okay not to be okay.