According to the dictionary, the definition of an enabler is:
a person or thing that makes something possible. A person who encourages or enables negative or self-destructive behaviour in another.
Some of you may or may not have heard about or seen the new Netflix series, Afflicted. It is a series that follows seven people living with chronic illnesses or as they put it, afflictions. Before I watched, I had already seen many people tweeting and blogging about the series, it seemed that the chronic illness community were not happy at all. So, like with all of these things, I felt I needed to watch before passing judgement or comment.
I managed to watch one episode and decided not to watch any more. I flicked through the second and third episodes but found it upsetting and stressful. As with any of these series, the film makers had clearly got their angle and that was all they wanted to follow. It appeared that they wanted to portray these people as mentally ill. Without directly poking fun at them, that’s how it came across..dismissing autoimmune, neurological illness and just simply labelling these people as crazy.
For me, it was damaging. There is enough disbelief out there about these curious illness that people, including doctors, don’t believe in and this series was adding fuel to the fire. They focussed a lot on what homeopathic treatments the subjects had turned to, making them look hippy and alternative.
They failed to say that they were under specialists and had tried anything and everything to try to find help and a cure. They missed the point that these people were turning to alternative therapies because no one out there is putting money into science to find cures and treatments and even causes for these illnesses. They failed to emphasise the point that these people, like all chronic illness sufferers are desperate. They will try anything to see if it has an impact, no matter how small on their symptoms. It’s interesting to read able-bodied, ignorant people writing about this.
The programme touched on the point that some of the subjects were turning down expensive treatments that were lacking in foundation or evidence. Again, failing to tell people the actual cost and not pointing out – how would these people afford them? So, as so perfectly put by @gnomesChainey on Twitter: “Able-bodied people: They’re turning down expensive treatments! Don’t they want to get well? Also able-bodied people: Why would they pay so much money for unproven treatments? It’e like they don’t care about science at all!”
The emphasis was about the mental side of the illnesses. Why aren’t these people on anti depressants? Well, most of them were. That doesn’t make them crazy. That doesn’t ,mean the illness is in their heads. It means that the illness has affected them so badly that it’s impacting on their mental health too. If you were trapped in your body or your bedroom, if you were being told by medical professionals there’s nothing more that can be done for you, you too would probably suffer and need some help and anti depressants are an option.
There was a line in the series that hit me like a truck: “You can be deluded that you are sick. You can believe that you’re sick when in fact you’re not sick.”
And then, people who know nothing about chronic illness, have started being keyboard warriors and accusing the carers of these people of being enablers. They’ve watched the programme and seen parents, husbands, wives and friends caring for these people and decided that they aren’t caring for these people, they are enabling them. Not helping them get better, enabling them to continue to think they’re ill when they’re not.
Now, I know first hand what this is like. Early on in my illness I had someone feel like they had the authority to email my mum and tell her that both she and my dad were not giving me the help I needed. That they needed to give me a kick up the backside and encourage me to get on with things. They weren’t helping me get better. If I hadn’t experienced this, I wouldn’t have believed it. How do people have the audacity to pass judgement? To have the guts to tell people what they are and aren’t doing the right by their child!
People forget that when you live with a ling term illness, we get good at lying. We get good at covering our pain. My pain threshold is pretty high now, I can mask the constant pain and I can act like I’ve got energy when it feels like I’m wading through treacle. My parents are not enablers. Believe me, if you knew my parents you’d know that they would be the first people to “give me a kick up the backside” if they thought I was being lazy.
My parents are quite the opposite. They enable me. Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am now. They support and push me in the kindest, gentlest ways. They get me to appointments, they see me when I’m struggling and need help, they lend me an arm to hold onto when walking hurts, they give me their shoulder when I need to cry.
I would also like to point out that the majority of chronic illness sufferers that I know, including myself, are our own enablers. We do not want to be ill. We do not want to be relying on others financially, emotionally and physically. We don’t want to be on benefits and out of work. We don’t want to avoid social events, holidays, alcohol, sunshine, work etc etc etc. We are so tuned into our bodies that we notice the slightest change be that an improvements or new ailment.
At times, my parents will tell me to stop. That doesn’t make them enablers. They live with me, they see me at my best, my worst and my ugliest. So they know that I try, every single day to achieve things. But also can see me wilting when I’ve done too much and know what the fall out could be, so, to stop that happening, they will sat, do you think you’ve done enough for today? Maybe you should go and have a lay down? Why don’t you sit down and do a bit more later? This is not enabling behaviour, it’s love and support at the highest degree.
My parents at retirement age had not planned for their 30 something daughter to be living back at home, to be caring for her, supporting her financially. That was not in their plan. So therefore, I highly doubt they would enable to me continue to be like this forever…think about it, it’s just the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. No one would want to live my life or live the life my parents have at the moment. And I’m not saying they would change it because they wouldn’t have it any other way than being there for me in my time of need, but we only manage to deal with it because we live in hope that one day we can go back onto the right paths and live are normal lives again.
I guess what I’m trying to get across here is linked to a lesson I always do on the first day of the school year with my children in class. I get them to squirt out a whole tube of toothpaste and then try to get every last morsel back in using a toothpick. Obviously it can’t be done but they have great fun trying. And then I tell them, the toothpaste is the words we speak. Once those words come out of our mouths it’s impossible to take them back. They can cause unknown hurt and damage to people.
Afflicted is out there now. People living with chronic illness, especially the people featured, have had untold damage done to them. They are experiencing trolling and cruel words from people who have zero clue. One participant tweeted: “ We hoped that with it might come investment in research to find biomarkers and better treatments. We never fathomed that we were participating in a project that would instead expose us and our communities to further ridicule and disbelief.”
It’s also given people who have no understanding, a programme to watch for entertainment and laugh and jibe and make fun of people who actually need love and understanding.
The wonderful Jennifer Brea who spent five years making the film Unrest about her life living with M.E. has been fighting our corner on Twitter since Afflicted came out. She is a hero in my eyes. In response to a tweet someone put out about enabling people with chronic illness, Jennifer replied: “ Many people with severe chronic illness, if not “enabled/supported” by loved ones, would simply become homeless or commit suicide.”
And I’ll leave it there. She says it all in that one tweet.