One of my better psychiatrists (“better” is relative, of course) wrote this about me at one point:
We worked to help her realize that these were understandable and natural feelings for an adolescent girl to have if she was stuck at home on a Saturday night with her father and had no prospects of having a real life.
Sounds really empathetic, and normalizing, and all that, right? The problem is, it isn’t true. It might be what the average adolescent girl would’ve been feeling like on a Saturday night. I personally didn’t conceive of Saturday nights as any different from other nights in the first place. There was no particular significance to them for me. It was just a crappy night in general from what I can, vaguely, recall. But I definitely was not making any special associations with the Saturday part.
I didn’t say it, either, or a lot of the other things that ended up in that report. What happened was my psychiatrist guessed. He sat there and talked to me about what he thought I must be feeling, and then waited for any sign of assent, or at least lack of dissent. I remember clearly him talking about romance and how it was missing from my life. I remember not understanding the word ‘romance’ at the time, so not having any clue what he was talking about.
It’s considered really important to make sure to acknowledge that disabled people are feeling what anyone else might be feeling in a certain situation. And in many ways it is important. But there’ve been a number of times when it just hasn’t worked. My brain works differently. Not totally alien to typical brains, but different enough that my frame of reference is often different. Saturday night still means nothing to me. There’s still a lot of words I hear and don’t understand. People still attribute all kinds of emotions and motivations that just aren’t there because I’m not built like that.
What’s important for professionals to realize, when they write things like this, though, is how much more impact their words have than our reality does. What they write on paper stays in our permanent record. What they write on paper, in fact, will often be believed by other professionals above whatever we have to say about ourselves:
“I felt this way.”
“No, actually, this paper says you felt that way.”
I think there’s something somewhere else in my records where it is said that I made a major breakthrough for wellness in declaring that I wanted to be a psychiatrist. My psychiatrist was always telling me to be a psychiatrist and eventually I got to repeating it. I didn’t want to particularly (not that there’d have been something wrong if I did, but I didn’t), I was just doing what I nearly always did at the time, repeating what I thought was required of me. I can’t count the number of times I see in my records where a doctor, well-meaning or otherwise, writes that I said something, when as far as I know, the doctor is the one who said it. I have no clue if I repeated it or not, it’s likely enough, but that should be kind of suspicious to a doctor. I go over these things, and go over my memories of my actual thoughts and feelings at the time, and there is often no match at all, even when I remember with perfect clarity.